I learned something new last week in NYC when I taught my seventh 2-day, high-level advertising sales class: Masters of Media Selling. Sales people need training in how and when to entertain prospects and clients.
Despite the “its all about the results” mantra we hear from advertising buyers, it’s not. It’s also about the relationship. And building relationships is one reason sales people have jobs. The strength of the relationship helps sales people learn the nuances of the clients’ needs in order to be better positioned to win business. Sometimes the strength of the relationship can even break ties.
Furthermore, it’s well established that one principle of influence is ‘reciprocity.’ When we as sales people do something nice for a client, or prospect, there is a natural human response that the recipient of the favor will be inclined to return the favor.
Entertaining is one aspect of building relationships. So how can sales people entertain right?
This came up in my Masters of Media Selling seminar when a sales person described a situation where a client demanded her credit card at a bar full of agency employees. Lots of discussion ensued around the big table about how to handle abusive requests from customers.
So here are a few principles that should be honored:
- As a sales person, you must be in control of the entertaining. It’s about you doing thoughtful and possibly extravagant things for your contact, not about bartering favor for favor.
- The best ‘treats’ for entertaining involve you spending time with your client, or prospect, to get to know them better. Providing them tickets or sending gifts may be appropriate in some situations, but it doesn’t accomplish the core goal of building the relationship by getting to know your prospect or customer.
- Clients and agencies being human may make, or agencies pass-on, unreasonable demands as they think “we’re spending a lot of money with those guys…” Your success in that situation will be directly related to how well you can turn it into a relationship builder, rather than a tit-for-tat pay-off. For instance, if an agency asks for tickets for a client, you might agree but only if you can supply the tickets directly…and perhaps even sit with the client. This tactic will also smoke out the agency who is hiding their own unreasonable request behind the client’s name.
- In building a relationship, the objective is a respectful, peer-to-peer relationship, not a boss-to-toady relationship. Part of earning a peer relationship is earning respect by standing up against unreasonable demands, in the most diplomatic way you can. If you don’t have the moral fiber to resist, you’ll soon be subject to more and more demands. And when the relationship is up-for-sale, you can lose the relationship or the business to the first competitor who offers a higher pay-out.
Sales people want and need to be liked. But respect is more valuable. Earn respect by being a leader in entertaining, not a follower.