To Sell Major Advertising Accounts: Start at the Top
How much easier would mountain climbing be if you could always start at the top? You would rappel down and have the aid of the rope during the climb up! That principle applies to selling advertising to major accounts.
Many advertising sales people start their client relationship at the bottom, because it is easier to get a media buyer to return a call or take a meeting. Client or agency staff at the bottom consider themselves decision-makers, because they have been assigned to gather information or even assemble a recommendation. They decide what to recommend. Some sales people believe that they are talking to decision-makers when they talk to planners or buyers. But good sales people know that approval at higher levels is required to close a sale. We know that staff, at every level, want to please their boss and get a recommendation approved easily. So we know we’re going to have to influence those at the top of the hierarchy.
Sales people who start at the bottom must scale the heights of the organization the hard way. It is a stretch to safely – diplomatically – ‘go over the head’ of your contacts. On a major account when you call on the media planner or buyer and they like your property, they still have to get it approved by their superior. And the planner or buyer can’t explain your media as well as you can.
Sales people can do what mountain climbers can’t: start at the top. By starting at the top, sales people open up a channel of communication with, and stay connected with, the senior executive who’ll approve the plan. Even if you don’t get a meeting on your first call, the personal assistant of a senior executive will be much more likely to give you the direct dial, or the email of the VP of Marketing, and so on down the line. Then, when you make the call to the lower-level buyer you have a referral. Then you are making a warm call rather than a cold call.
And a savvy sales person can keep the door at the top open a crack by sending a thank-you note, including some information of value, and explaining a plan to work with their staff to develop a plan that you hope will be presented to back to the top executive for approval. Sometimes you’ll be so lucky that the senior executive will ‘buck’ your item down the chain with a note saying ‘let’s look into this’ or ‘I’d like your opinion on this.’ That query from the top will further open doors for you, and get your emails or calls returned more promptly or more often.
By inducing a senior executive to ask for the opinion of a planner or buyer on your media, you are creating an opening of ‘permission’ for them to look at the new alternative solution you are selling.