Let’s Talk About Agency Relationships

The Direct Marketing Association asked me to lead a discussion group on this topic some time back. So I reluctantly agreed thinking the attendees would be clients searching for better agency relationships. Such a topic rarely got the kind of attention other DMA issues did in my opinion, so I expected my group out of nearly 8 other more interesting topics would languish on the side due to low interest and poor attendance.

But to my surprise, my session was the best attended! And what was even more surprising was that the attendees were primarily vendors seeking guidance on how to sell their products to advertising agencies.

So within 5 minutes of launch, my prepared comments were scrapped and we discussed agency relationships from the suppliers’ perspective.

They were asking about what titles and what individuals in agencies were most responsible for influencing the client sales. Were they production managers, traffic managers, account executives, account supervisors? And the answer to that question was yes.

As with any business-to-business sale, there are purchasers, influencers and end users. And rarely do they lie within the same individual.

But my advice was to treat agencies as you would any client. Become a student of their problems, then set out to solve their problems.

Don’t focus on your capabilities. Focus rather on the kinds of problems the agency faces. Time pressures, the ambiguity of evolving strategies, needed research to understand the clients’ problems --- all the while looking at the client problem from an eagle’s perspective and sharing the agency’s discomfort. Then you are ready to demonstrate how your capabilities fit the problem to be solved.  

As we got deeper into the discussion, it became clear that vendors have clients just as clients have customers. And we are all selling our services and products to people with problems.

So we need to focus on the solutions we bring and not the capabilities.

What other things could I have said that would make vendors more successful in selling to agencies, consultants and advertisers? Where are they missing the boat?

Posted on August 8, 2007 and filed under General.