At the very beginning of my sales career I had to deliver a lot of bad news. My first ad sales job – back in the mid-80s – was at a small, specialty automotive magazine that was critical to many of its advertisers. I didn’t know when I took the job that the magazine was in financial trouble and that I’d have to tell many of our longtime advertisers that they’d face an immediate 60% rate increase.
As a 25-year-old ad sales newbie, I can say I was categorically unprepared for the shitstorm that ensued. Heck, I don’t think I’d be prepared for it even now. Advertisers yelled, they threatened and more than a few pulled out of the magazine. We were snubbed at trade shows and our calls often went unanswered and unreturned.
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Fast-forward 12 months. Virtually all of the advertisers on my list returned to the fold. Some even increased their spending with us. Over dinner at a barbecue joint in northern Mississippi near the factory-headquarters of one of these comeback advertisers, I asked him how we got “from there to here.” How exactly did we overcome all the bad feelings, disappointment and rancor to get to such a good place? His answer was immediate, simple, and one that I remember to this day.
“It’s really pretty simple,” he explained in his gruffly-distinguished Southern accent. “You came to our house. That matters a lot to us.”
He went on to explain that very few of the salespeople they spent money with had ever taken the time to visit their headquarters, to walk the factory floor and see how their stuff was made. “They’ll call me on the phone when it’s time to renew and they’ll shake my hand at the trade show, but they don’t come here.” During the dark period when they weren’t running ads with us, I’d made two trips to Northern Mississippi and was now making a third.
Despite all the technology and the instantaneous communication, people are still people. They take pride in where they work, where they build things. And they know when they’re being respected and treated like a valued customer. Often, there is no next best thing to being there. You just have to go.
Carry this principle a little further… to the internal constituencies at your own company that you need so badly to execute and activate the programs you sell. Have you “gone to their house” lately? Most sellers don’t ever go and sit at the desks of the people they depend on every day. You send them email when you need something, you have a beer with them at the sales meeting, but you don’t go there.
Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. Be the one who came to their house. You’ll find, as I did 30 years ago, that it makes you exceptional.