Selling Value

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copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard

Okay, let's segue from the big vs. small discussion for a few minutes because I need to address the subject of value; more specifically, the role value plays in presentations made by an agency to a client. (This came up at lunch today.)

If you are an ad agency (big or small), it doesn't really matter how smart you think your strategy is. It doesn't matter if you have the coolest ad concept in the world. It doesn't matter if your superpowers have created the ultimate idea. No, none of that matters...

... unless you can $ell it.

It's incredibly frustrating for creatives and strategic thinkers alike to bring to the table the ultimate plan for world domination... and watch it be ignored or misunderstood or trivialized in some way. No, let's just be honest, it sucks.

(And yeah, we've all been there.)

Is it because the plan or the idea weren't as good as we thought they were? Maybe... But if you're reading this blog, it's unlikely. (I have carefully targeted this site at ubbersmart creative thinkers... which is why only six or seven people in the world ever visit it.) So let's assume that your idea is indeed the shiz and the nit. So what happened? Why didn't everyone jump up and down at the thought of the happiness and success it will shower upon them?

Because you didn't sell it. That's why. You expected it to be so good that it would just sell itself.

Truth? A great idea + your enthusiasm aren't usually enough. The people sitting in those chairs across the room don't necessarily have your marketing or design savvy. They may not understand their own market the way you do. More importantly, they probably can't connect the dots between your presentation and its many layers of positive outcomes. Not really. besides, at that moment, they don't care how cool your work is. "Cool" and "smart" come later. (And yes, I'll get to that.)

Here's the thing: You're not giving any of this away. You're selling it. That means they have to pay for it. Whether it's in the form of a check for your services or an investment on their part, it's going to cost them. They're thinking about ROI. They're thinking "do I really need to do this?" "Is there something else I could spend this money on?" "Should I spend this money at all?"

You're selling something. So you'd better make sure they know it's worth buying.

Your first mistake is probably to broadside your audience with an "unveiling" of what you've been working on. Classic. You've just asked them to completely switch gears at a moment's notice (no matter how good of an intro you've put together) and they're automatically going to be disconnected from it.

See, the many crossroads that have led you down the road to your idea, plan or concept are completely and utterly foreign to them. You've connected the dots over time. Even you, as smart as you are didn't put this whole thing together in ten minutes... Yet you expect them to be able to do just that. Though possible, it's kind of unlikely.

To overcome that, you have to involve your clients, bosses (or whatever) in the process of connecting the dots long before the presentation. You have to help them help you come up with goals, with identifying obstacles, with coming up with creative ways to get around them. While the cooperative environment you're creating will help you a) narrow-down the best strategy possible and b) gain more insight into your client's world, your main objective in terms of selling your solution is to prep them for the big day. By the time your presentation comes around, they'll be ready for it, and they'll be your champions inside their own organization.

You can't just throw the whole thing at them at once. They'll go into shock. They just won't be able to relate.

Okay, that was part 1, in a nutshell.

Part 2 is all about building value... because guess what: If you don't build value before you tell them how much it's going to cost, you're done. Dead in the water. Kaput. Finito.

People know value. That's what they're after. That's what justifies the investment. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the client side of a presentation which completely failed to build value... to generate excitement... to touch core motivators in the decision-makers. The plans, the strategies, the ideas were all great. Some of them were often fantastic. But you have to present them in such a way that everyone in the room relates to how great they are. You have to make people understand where they come from, how they will solve their problem(s) and what they will do for them. You have to make them want them. Crave them. You have to make people drool - not at the ideas themselves, but at the benefits they will shower upon them and their business.

Sales are emotional, boys and girls. You have to reach into every single chest in that room and make a connection with the beating hearts within. Some in your audience love revenue. Others love whooping the competition. Some just want to see you come up with something cool and inventive. Others don't care as long as there's no chance that your plan will backfire. You have to consider all of these things - expectations, motivations, fears - and then you have to find in your work the elements that will best address them.

Selling isn't even about the product or the idea. You can sell a terrible idea. People do it every day. (Don't get me started. It's a pandemic.) You have to be aware of that before you go put your presentation together. Merit is irrelevant. Selling isn't about dissecting and explaining what you have to offer. It isn't even about how cool or original something is. It's about making people see, feel and relate to the actual value in it, which is kind of a personal thing. It's about conveying the promise that it will achieve not only results, but the results that matter to them. It's that simple. (Well, easier said than done, but whatever.)

Wanna know how to do that? That'll have to be another post. In the meantime, take a few steps back from your plan, squint at it until you can barely see its edges, and focus on the effects it has on your client's world. Focus on the results. That's really what you're selling in there.

Look at it this way: People don't buy cars. Cars are machines with axles and engine parts and undercarriages. What people buy are the elements of the car that will enrich their lives. They buy comfort, style, power, speed, safety, status, image, freedom. They buy the color red. This is no different.

It's an art, this sales thing. It really is. So all of you frustrated geniuses out there, take my advice: Talk to sales professionals. Pick their brains. Learn their trade. Watch people you consider great public speakers. Study folks in your circles that people listen to and seek advice from. Learn to sell and close, Jedi style. You'll be doing yourselves, your clients and even the world a huge favor. (Nobody else is going to save us from all of the bland, average, "good enough" junk that's cluttering our airwaves and store shelves and billboards.)

The more good ideas you sell, the less bad ideas will make the cut.

They ought to give out medals for that.


PS: Wanna read more on the topic? Check out Kevin Hoffberg's piece "The First Rule Of Selling". His 11 lessons are as quick to flip through as they are dead-on.

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