Archive for August 12th, 2005

Selling Value

copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

Okay, let’s segue from the big vs. small discussion for a few minutes because I need to address the subject of value; more specifically, the role value plays in presentations made by an agency to a client. (This came up at lunch today.)

If you are an ad agency (big or small), it doesn’t really matter how smart you think your strategy is. It doesn’t matter if you have the coolest ad concept in the world. It doesn’t matter if your superpowers have created the ultimate idea. No, none of that matters…

… unless you can $ell it.

It’s incredibly frustrating for creatives and strategic thinkers alike to bring to the table the ultimate plan for world domination… and watch it be ignored or misunderstood or trivialized in some way. No, let’s just be honest, it sucks.

(And yeah, we’ve all been there.)

Is it because the plan or the idea weren’t as good as we thought they were? Maybe… But if you’re reading this blog, it’s unlikely. (I have carefully targeted this site at ubbersmart creative thinkers… which is why only six or seven people in the world ever visit it.) So let’s assume that your idea is indeed the shiz and the nit. So what happened? Why didn’t everyone jump up and down at the thought of the happiness and success it will shower upon them?

Because you didn’t sell it. That’s why. You expected it to be so good that it would just sell itself.

Truth? A great idea + your enthusiasm aren’t usually enough. The people sitting in those chairs across the room don’t necessarily have your marketing or design savvy. They may not understand their own market the way you do. More importantly, they probably can’t connect the dots between your presentation and its many layers of positive outcomes. Not really. besides, at that moment, they don’t care how cool your work is. “Cool” and “smart” come later. (And yes, I’ll get to that.)

Here’s the thing: You’re not giving any of this away. You’re selling it. That means they have to pay for it. Whether it’s in the form of a check for your services or an investment on their part, it’s going to cost them. They’re thinking about ROI. They’re thinking “do I really need to do this?” “Is there something else I could spend this money on?” “Should I spend this money at all?”

You’re selling something. So you’d better make sure they know it’s worth buying.

Your first mistake is probably to broadside your audience with an “unveiling” of what you’ve been working on. Classic. You’ve just asked them to completely switch gears at a moment’s notice (no matter how good of an intro you’ve put together) and they’re automatically going to be disconnected from it.

See, the many crossroads that have led you down the road to your idea, plan or concept are completely and utterly foreign to them. You’ve connected the dots over time. Even you, as smart as you are didn’t put this whole thing together in ten minutes… Yet you expect them to be able to do just that. Though possible, it’s kind of unlikely.

To overcome that, you have to involve your clients, bosses (or whatever) in the process of connecting the dots long before the presentation. You have to help them help you come up with goals, with identifying obstacles, with coming up with creative ways to get around them. While the cooperative environment you’re creating will help you a) narrow-down the best strategy possible and b) gain more insight into your client’s world, your main objective in terms of selling your solution is to prep them for the big day. By the time your presentation comes around, they’ll be ready for it, and they’ll be your champions inside their own organization.

You can’t just throw the whole thing at them at once. They’ll go into shock. They just won’t be able to relate.

Okay, that was part 1, in a nutshell.

Part 2 is all about building value… because guess what: If you don’t build value before you tell them how much it’s going to cost, you’re done. Dead in the water. Kaput. Finito.

People know value. That’s what they’re after. That’s what justifies the investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the client side of a presentation which completely failed to build value… to generate excitement… to touch core motivators in the decision-makers. The plans, the strategies, the ideas were all great. Some of them were often fantastic. But you have to present them in such a way that everyone in the room relates to how great they are. You have to make people understand where they come from, how they will solve their problem(s) and what they will do for them. You have to make them want them. Crave them. You have to make people drool – not at the ideas themselves, but at the benefits they will shower upon them and their business.

Sales are emotional, boys and girls. You have to reach into every single chest in that room and make a connection with the beating hearts within. Some in your audience love revenue. Others love whooping the competition. Some just want to see you come up with something cool and inventive. Others don’t care as long as there’s no chance that your plan will backfire. You have to consider all of these things – expectations, motivations, fears – and then you have to find in your work the elements that will best address them.

Selling isn’t even about the product or the idea. You can sell a terrible idea. People do it every day. (Don’t get me started. It’s a pandemic.) You have to be aware of that before you go put your presentation together. Merit is irrelevant. Selling isn’t about dissecting and explaining what you have to offer. It isn’t even about how cool or original something is. It’s about making people see, feel and relate to the actual value in it, which is kind of a personal thing. It’s about conveying the promise that it will achieve not only results, but the results that matter to them. It’s that simple. (Well, easier said than done, but whatever.)

Wanna know how to do that? That’ll have to be another post. In the meantime, take a few steps back from your plan, squint at it until you can barely see its edges, and focus on the effects it has on your client’s world. Focus on the results. That’s really what you’re selling in there.

Look at it this way: People don’t buy cars. Cars are machines with axles and engine parts and undercarriages. What people buy are the elements of the car that will enrich their lives. They buy comfort, style, power, speed, safety, status, image, freedom. They buy the color red. This is no different.

It’s an art, this sales thing. It really is. So all of you frustrated geniuses out there, take my advice: Talk to sales professionals. Pick their brains. Learn their trade. Watch people you consider great public speakers. Study folks in your circles that people listen to and seek advice from. Learn to sell and close, Jedi style. You’ll be doing yourselves, your clients and even the world a huge favor. (Nobody else is going to save us from all of the bland, average, “good enough” junk that’s cluttering our airwaves and store shelves and billboards.)

The more good ideas you sell, the less bad ideas will make the cut.

They ought to give out medals for that.


PS: Wanna read more on the topic? Check out Kevin Hoffberg’s piece “The First Rule Of Selling“. His 11 lessons are as quick to flip through as they are dead-on.

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copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

So… what happens to great little companies once they reach a certain size? Why do so many of them stop thinking like the bold and creative little commandos that made them who they are? Why is it that the balance of power between risk and opportunity in the decision-making process shift from “let’s do it” to “don’t fix it if ain’t broke.”

(I know… I know… I’m just quoting.)

As with many initially broad questions like this one, you kind of already glimpse the answer before you’ve had time to finish asking it… and in this case, my mind kind of flashed back to my childhood and some of the wonderful little lessons that a certain Mr. Lafontaine was kind enough to drive deeply into the French psyche. Let me explain.

Most kids here have never heard of Lafontaine’s Fables, but in France, that’s basically how most kids are introduced to both poetry and philosophy. From a very young age, you start learning some of these fables, and they follow you well into high-school with all their lyricism and valuable life lessons. To this day, I can still recite verses from “Le Corbeau et Le Renard” and “La cigalle et La Fourmi”. In every poem (or fable, as it were), the characters are animals. Not to get too Jungian or anything, but each animal represents certain archetypal aspects of human personality. Every poem also tells a story, and each of these stories ends with a moral. Very simple but relevant stuff.

And yes, if you’ve studied your classics, you’ve probably figured out that Lafontaine completely ripped off this old dude by the name of Aesop. But I digress…

So. Lafontaine. The Fables. Complascent companies. I’m actually going somewhere with this, although probably not where you think.

When I asked the question earlier (and this was before I started writing this post), my mind flashed back to Lafontaine’s work… but more specifically to one of his favorite characters: The fox. Now, in case you aren’t familiar with Monsieur le Renard (Mr. Fox to the rest of you), he’s the shady little furry guy who can smooth-talk just about anybody into giving him what he wants. When that doesn’t work, he can usually trick his mark into letting their guard down long enough for him to rip them off. And incidentally, the fox doesn’t always win. Sometimes, he gets sloppy… because on those occasions, he just isn’t hungry enough to make sure he’s 100% in the game.

So, let’s leave Lafontaine to little French schoolchildren for now, and let’s consider the fox for a bit: He’s small. He’s swift. He’s cunning. He knows he can’t fight off a dog or a barn cat. So he has to be creative. He has to be nimble. He has to be confident. The fox is a renegade. He’s a guerilla fighter. He thinks his plan out, easily improvises when he has to, takes chances, and more often than not, he gets away with it.

Even when the farmer tries to keep the fox out of his henhouse or rabbit hutches, the fox figures out a way to get in there. If things get too tight, he moves on to the next farm. He’s an opportunist, he’s a survivor, and he’s wicked clever.

Why? Because his life depends on it.

Now… given two foxes scoping out the same farm, one having just eaten a nice juicy chicken and the other being hungry… Which one do you think will come home with dinner later that day?

Okay… you never can tell. Fair enough. But I’d be willing to bet that the fat fox isn’t going to take the kinds of chances his hungry counterpart will. Why? Because he doesn’t have to. He’s already eaten. He’s comfortable. He doesn’t have to put out today. (And that’s where I’m going with this.)

All right, fine. I know. It’s an overly simplistic way to look at the question… but I haven’t really gotten to the meat of it yet. I’m only just scratching the surface here. This whole diatribe is about the first impression my mind conjured up when I asked (in a very broad way) what happens when small companies get BIG. Why do they often become (for the lack of a better term) ‘corporate’? Why do they so often become watered-down versions of their old selves?

(We’ll get to other more specific aspects of what happens a little later.)

At its core, the motivation to drive business and innovation really boils down to necessity. Sure, you have other elements like vision, ego, greed, ambition, imagination, passion… and I’ll get to those eventually (oh… deja-vu). But first, you have to recognize the importance of necessity. You do. Really. No joke.

If a business needs to be aggressive in order to survive, to grow, to overcome obstacles, then it will be aggressive. It will take more chances when it comes to creative and strategic direction. It will pay greater attention to detail on every project. It will treat its customers and clients with particular care. It will do what it has to to compete against the big dogs. It’s a matter of survival. It’s a matter of necessity. If it doesn’t do this, it will become a statistic. Another failed business… or possibly worse: a mediocre one. So, okay. Aggressive. Nimble. Creative. Fearless. Confident. In complete control of its game.

And let me let you in on a little secret about the fox: he gets a kick out doing his thing. He loves it. It is his nature. (Remember that, boys and girls, because this topic WILL come up again.)

On the other hand, the big company with decades of growth and huge resources, the big brand name that people know by reputation before even doing business with them… well, for them, all is well. There’s no need to take chances or push the envelope… or test the waters beyond their market’s comfort zone. Any risk it takes, any change it makes to its current formula carries with it a serious risk. Something could flop. The balloon might get deflated. The brand could suffer a terrible blow. All it takes is one black eye. Definitely two. Why risk it when there’s no need?

Fat fox vs. hungry fox.
Risk vs. opportunity.
Big vs. small.

… in a nutshell.

Don’t worry, this discussion is far from over. Next, we’ll look at inefficiencies that are inherent to large organizations, and we’ll discuss the scourge of antiquated hierarchical models.

(ooops… big words. Sorry.)

Let’s see… instead of foxes, next time howzabout we use… dinosaurs and toy soldiers? Wanna?


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