In the course of a conversation I once had with the chairman of the board of a major advertising agency I asked, “You’ve been in the service business for quite a while. What is it that you think is the most important thing for you to consider in making your organization a success?” He replied, “It’s having great creativity and providing for the proper care of my inventory.” Puzzled, I said, “What exactly do you mean by ‘your inventory’?” He replied, “It’s what goes down in the elevator every day at 5 o’clock. It’s my people.” Needless to say, the chairman of that advertising agency understands and believes that this is truly a people business. Regardless of computer analysis, Internet communications and mechanized ways of doing things, including media planning and/or buying, in the final analysis it is all about the chemistry between people. This chemistry also extends to the relationship between buyer and seller, between advertiser and his/her agency and the particular piece of advertising business a media salesperson is trying to gain or retain. Therein lies a real challenge — to show that you as a salesperson care enough about a particular account to make some specific efforts. This often translates into the quality of sales calls as opposed to the quantity of sales calls. In many instances, a sales call should really be two sales calls. It should involve one data-gathering meeting, as in, “Tell me something about your major objectives, about your strategy, about your communication goals related to the consumer. I need to understand your media planning to make my proposal more pertinent to your marketing objectives.” You may also want to include a visit to an outlet that sells the product or services offered by a potential account. It may be useful to speak to customers when you go to the outlet. Calling the 800 number the advertiser provides for the consumer and evaluating the experience could also be useful. Letting the advertiser or agency know that you took an extra step to gain insight shows that you really care about the particular business and that you have an interest in delivering a package that can truly help the marketing effort. During an initial sales call, presenting a new package that the medium has created and is now offering for sale is often a turn-off for an advertiser or agency. The customer being called on quickly recognizes it as a one-size-fits-all proposition that was developed to satisfy the medium’s own goals. Bringing up such a proposal in a first meeting gives the advertiser the impression that you think you know everything that you need to know in order to make an appropriate proposal. Even if that is the case, you are better off not doing it on a cold call. If you must push the standard offering that your boss has told you to go out and sell, try to reclothe it so that it appears to be specially put together for this prospect. Having a good interpersonal relationship with an advertiser and/or agency also helps on those rare occasions when a problem on the account crops up. It may be that the wrong spot ran, the spot ran in the wrong program or some other mishap took place. A good relationship can get you at least one chance to both fix it and make everything right so that the advertising campaign continues in your medium. The lack of an interpersonal relationship generally means that an error results in a cancellation. There is a story, repeated many times — and one which rings true, at least in certain instances that I know of — about how a new business prospect called the advertising agency’s chairman. The chairman was there, and since his secretary was away he picked up his own phone. The advertiser was so pleased with this interpersonal contact that he awarded that agency the account after a very brief and noncompetitive review. It was a people business, it is a people business and it will continue to be a people business. Thanks for reading. Joe Ostrow recently retired as president and CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau and is now a consultant to that trade organization.

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