Part 1.0: Selling isn’t ideal, but it is necessary sometimes.
I need to address the subject of value today. More specifically, I need to address the role that value plays in presentations made by an agency to a client.
Now… I know, I know… I’m a pull (demand) guy, not a push (sales) guy, so I understand your dismay at finding a post about “selling” on this blog, but this post is way overdue. As much as I hate to admit it, some things in the B2B world need selling. Like, for example, really good ideas.
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 sell it to the client.
Sometimes, the idea just sucks. (Let’s face it, not everyone brings their A-game to the table on a daily basis.) But when the idea is solid, it’s incredibly frustrating for creatives and strategic thinkers alike to bring to the table their ultimate plan for world domination only to watch it be ignored, misunderstood or trivialized in some way.
No, let’s just be honest, it sucks.
Now… Let’s be pragmatic for a sec. Did the idea get snubbed because it wasn’t as good as you thought it was? Maybe… But if you’re reading this blog, let’s assume that you rock and that your idea is indeed the shiz and the nit. So what happened? Why didn’t the client jump up and down at the thought of the success and ass-kickery it would 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, and you were dead wrong. (Hint: If your clients all knew a good idea when it hit them, they probably wouldn’t need you.)
Truth: A great idea + your enthusiasm aren’t usually enough. The people sitting in those chairs across the conference table don’t necessarily have your marketing or design savvy. They may not even understand their own customers’s psychology and motivations the way you do. More importantly, they probably can’t connect the dots between the key elements of your presentation and their many layers of positive outcomes. Not really.
Here’s the thing: You’re not giving any of this away. You’re selling it.
How do you know this? Because your clients are paying for it. Whether it is in the form of a check for your services or an investment on their part, it’s going to cost them. While you are standing there “presenting,” they are 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?”
That’s how your client’s mind works. No matter how “into” your relationship they may have seemed yesterday, no matter how much you think they normally “get” what you have to offer… come pitch day, come “this is going to cost how much” day, you’re swimming against the current again.
Every single time.
If you don’t realize that every presentation is a sales pitch from start to finish, you have gravely misjudged the situation. So don’t assume that you already have your client’s buy-in when you walk into your presentation. Instead, make damn sure the client knows whatever it is that you are going to do for them is worth every red cent – and then some.
Part 1.1: The Pitch
Your first mistake is probably to broadside your client 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, 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 for yourself 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. Remember that they aren’t looking at your work the way their customers will. They aren’t able to. That’s why they came to you in the first place.
To overcome “unveiling shock syndrome”, you have to involve key individuals within your clients’ organization in the process of connecting the dots long before you deliver your presentation. You have to help them help you come up with goals, identify obstacles, and come 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 will have helped their peers get ready for it, and they’ll be your champions/ambassadors inside their own organization.
Seriously. Let me say this again: You can’t just throw the whole thing at your clients all at once. They’ll go into shock. They just won’t be able to relate. The more brilliant and original your idea is, the harder it will be for them to digest it in one sitting.
This is the kind of thing that makes clients shy away from great, original ideas and adopt a more boring, less risky, and ultimately ineffective strategic position.
The proverbial shooting one’ own foot most often stems from this simple and common miscalculation. Don’t fall into that trap.
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.
Part 2.0: Building Value – The difference between features and benefits
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 with 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 crushing 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 (especially fears) – and then you have to find in your work the elements that will best address them.
What you have to come to terms with right now, right this second, is that selling isn’t 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.)
Selling isn’t about dissecting and explaining what you have to offer. It isn’t even about how cool or original something is. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be rational at all. (Think benefits, not features.) Selling is about making people see, feel, taste and relate to value in a way that makes sense to them. It’s about conveying the promise that your idea will achieve not only results, but the results that matter to your client. It’s that simple. (Well, easier said than done, but whatever.)
So before you get too far into your tried, true but haphazard process, 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. Mostly, focus on the results. That’s really what you’re selling in there: results.
Part 2.1: The client doesn’t care about your dancing chimps. Seriously. That isn’t what you are selling.
Look at it this way: People don’t buy cars. Cars are machines with axles and engine parts and undercarriages. What people buy are those 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 sale 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. Not the sleazy ones, mind you. Talk to the ones you trust. The ones who sell with confidence and insight, not clever little sales tricks. Watch people you consider great public speakers. Study folks in your circle(s) whom 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.
Why? Because the more good ideas you sell, the less bad ideas will make the cut this year. And next year. And the year after that.
And between you and me, they ought to give out medals for that. (And I don’t mean industry awards. I mean medals.)
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.