13 Tips for Closing the Sale

Let’s talk selling for a moment — or rather — not selling. Because all of us in digital see a lot of not selling every day. Too many people in our industry are like the fisherman waiting for the trout to jump into the canoe.

There are very few really good, really brand-transforming digital advertising executions, and that’s because selling has become a lost art. “You are the 1 millionth visitor” is not an idea. Nor is a digital reprise of a print ad. And yet that is what passes for a concept in our space.

Now, I don’t sell for a living, so it may seem a little odd for me to offer advice about this lost art. Wait, that isn’t quite right. I don’t have “sales” or “business development” in my title, but we ALL sell for a living — I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have to pitch her ideas or work to someone. Twenty two years ago when I started in advertising, the agency I worked for understood that simple truth, and it consequently put most people through sales training. We learned skills that have served us throughout the years since.

So with that in mind, I offer the following thoughts on how we as an industry can sell more ideas more effectively. Here are thirteen simple rules that will hopefully make it easier for us all to produce better marketing:

1.) Know the problem you are solving. What you sell needs to meet a need. There is a rep who calls me at least weekly asking me to have our clients advertise on his site. Trouble is, his edit and target have no connection to the needs of ANY of our clients. By making even a small effort to understand a client and her needs, you differentiate yourself from the pack of unprepared wolves.

2.) Have an idea. There needs to be an idea to sell an idea. Sounds stupid, but lots of people miss this part. Make sure there is an idea that drives your product, not just an executional element. Blue is not an idea.

3.) Define the idea before you get to the meeting. Many times, strong extensible ideas die on the vine because the agency or publisher has trouble elucidating them. You don’t define an idea when there are nine clients staring at you in a conference room. Further, every person on the team should have the same definition of the idea. One of the more embarrassing moments of my career came in a meeting where each of the three people from the agency (myself included) defined the campaign idea differently.

4.) Pre-sell. By staying in communication with a client before a meeting, you can shape the level of receptivity she has to your concept. You do this, I might add, without revealing the idea but rather through outlining the thinking that is getting you to the place you want to be.

5.) Recap the background to the assignment and idea. Agencies and publishers forget that clients and prospects have lots on their minds and need to be reminded of past agreements and direction. In reminding them, you also help guide people to make a decision based on the criteria that you believe to be the most important.

6.) Explain the implications of the idea. Is that creative campaign extendable to lots of executions? Does it encapsulate what’s better about the product? How does it work across media, target segments, and time? Tell the client exactly what the idea offers.

7.) Give credit for ideas where credit is due. Clients often provide us with the insights and thoughts that make ideas possible and better. In my experience, a healthy set of constraints from a client drives creativity more than it stifles it. If you are able to say “The impetus for this idea was something Client Jane said about the users…” you simultaneously demonstrate that you listen, and you give Jane a stake in seeing your ideas get bought — because now it’s partly hers.

8.) Show excitement for your idea. For others to believe in something you are selling, they need reassurance that YOU believe in it. I once heard an art director say, “Well, here’s an idea we threw together that seems to do the job.” Translation: No thought went into this, and we have no idea if it will deliver. You should be going to clients with ideas you believe in — that you are excited about. And you should show them that excitement in the way you present.

9.) Defend the idea. Many clients make counterarguments to ideas as a way of testing your belief in them. Before meeting with the client, you and your team should sit down and consider what questions are likely to arise. Any account person or sales rep should be able to anticipate 65 percent or more of the client’s questions after working with them for a little while. Make sure you have well thought out answers. If you defer to counterarguments instead of demonstrating the value of an idea, you make it less likely that you will EVER sell anything, because the client will have no faith in your judgment.

10.) Pick your battles. Know that not every executional element is essential to most ideas. Too often I have seen agency people fall on swords for meaningless executional slivers. This diminishes your ability to create a working relationship with a client; they won’t think you’ll listen to input.

11.) Present to everyone in the room. Over and over again I have seen pitches reach deaf ears because the presenter delivers the message only to the most senior person in the room. While the senior person’s acquiescence is usually essential to buying an idea, ANYONE in the room can kill an idea.

12.) Have a recommendation. If you present three alternatives, recommend ONE. “We like them all” shows a lack of conviction. Some people do this because they want to sell something — anything — and want the client to feel free to pick whatever they like. In actuality, you make it less likely that they will choose any of your ideas.

13.) Close. Get some concrete next steps agreed to. “Go ahead and think about it for a few days…” is not a wise course of action if you want to sell good ideas. It allows people to stew over things, and make the sort of “tiny” changes that are reaching right into the mouth of the campaign and perform an idea-ectomy.

These are pretty simple steps. Yet many consciously avoid them because they feel selling is dirty. In fact, the opposite is true. Selling at its essence is demonstrating a solution to the greatest need of the client. And it’s something all of us have to do in order to do the kind of work we can take pride in.