Agencies Stink at Selling -- Especially Their Own Services

Our Inexperience Gets Us Into Trouble With Clients

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Derek Walker
Derek Walker
Yo advertising! Stop trying to sell; you're not good at it.

No, seriously, you suck at selling.

When it comes to selling things, you suck through the nose side ways.

Look if you sucked anymore, your name would be Dyson!

But it's not your fault; you haven't been trained to sell.

Most advertising is not selling, not "good" selling anyway. We (the advertising industry) don't know what good selling is. If we were honest with ourselves, most advertising professionals would admit that we've never taken a course on selling or had to sell something tangible for a living. We may have dabbled in it when we were in high school or college, but it isn't something we have had to do full-time to make a living.

A quick show of hands, how many of you have taken a course on selling? Now taking "a" course on selling is like taking "a" course on flying -- you might be familiar with the plane but you don't know enough to fly me anywhere.

The funny thing is that if we were good at selling, clients would have never come to the conclusion that advertising must sell (not the selling they are thinking anyway).

Huh? Let that marinate for a second or two.

Hold your righteous indignation for a second, and let me see if I can explain this.

Here are four of the more common types of selling (there are more types but I'll go with the ones I was trained with):

  • Consultative: Consultative selling relies on asking questions to identify needs and relating the need to the potential solution the product or business offers. Good car salespeople try to do this. This type tends to take into consideration objections and deals with them before the person has a chance to offer an objection.

  • Relationship/partnering: It is all about building trust with relationship/partnering selling. This takes a little longer than other forms, but when done correctly the bond is strong and loyalty is very high. This style is best suited for services more than products but can work effectively for either if the trust is there.

  • Hard Selling: Hard selling is just that, hard selling. It is all about closing the deal and moving on to the next sell, there is very little relationship here. This is the style that gives used car salespeople their reputation. It is all about volume. And it is what most people think of when talking about selling.

  • Persuasive: Persuasive requires knowing the person well enough to craft a message that offers the product or service as a solution to a specific problem or need. It is a mix of consultative and relationship, borrowing a little of both. Persuasive goes on the offensive using the knowledge to state a reason why a product or service is just what a person needs.
Now, like I said, there are more styles of selling. More often than not good selling is a mix of several styles. But selling doesn't happen by accident. You have to understand a lot about yourself and the people you are trying to sell to.

So, once again, advertising, you suck at selling.

Not all clients require or need to have their advertising sell the same way. They deserve for us to understand the different styles of selling, and select the one that will best help clients to accomplish their goals and objectives. It is too easy to settle on using hard selling, we need to equip ourselves with as many styles as we can.

I am not a huge fan of claiming that advertising should sell. I think what we do is more like matchmaking; we introduce our clients to people. We pave the way for selling. We address the objections and highlight the benefits, we get people to lower their barriers so that the real selling can be done.

It's our inexperience at selling that has gotten us into this mess with clients. We are not comfortable selling advertising to clients. We can't convey how advertising can help a client with the problem or situation that they have. We fail to recognize the objections and work to overcome them. We decided that it was not worth our time and energy to invest in building a relationship with clients because we've got numbers to make. Is it any wonder that we rank right next to used car salespeople in trustworthiness? We so closely resemble them in our actions.

Sure, everyone since David Ogilvy has bemoaned that advertising should sell, but where has the training been? Where are the sales classes or courses? If selling were really and truly part of our purpose, we would require selling as one of the skills we look for when hiring.

I've never been asked in an interview, "How good are you at selling?"

We talk about selling but that's all we do is talk.

If we were good at selling, we would have been able to address the clients' concerns about advertising producing sales

If we are so good at selling:

  • How come we can't convince clients of the value of our services and what we bring to the table?

  • How come our salaries are so low and turnover is so high?

  • How come our trust level with the public is so bad?

  • Why do so many great concepts/ideas never see the light of day?

  • Why aren't clients flocking to us for our services?
The cold hard fact is, we suck at selling.

I started this post convinced that we in advertising are wrong for saying that advertising should sell but I've come to realize that advertising selling isn't the problem. It's our lack of understanding of what selling is and how to do it well that is the problem.

How sold are you on selling?

Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising based in Columbia, S.C.
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