Advice to Tech Companies: 10 Ways to Sell to Me

A couple of weeks ago, yet another technology company came in to sell my agency on its hot new product. One of our clients was interested in the company, and our preliminary glance at its technology had whetted our appetite for its services. We were ready, willing, and able prospects, eager to hear what they had to say.

That is, until the CEO opened his mouth.

“We don’t consider ourselves to be a technology company,” he told us via conference call (he was landing a big contract elsewhere and couldn’t make the meeting in person). “We consider ourselves a full-service marketing communications company.”

Yeah. Right.

You could see my colleagues’ faces around the table fall as their eyeballs simultaneously clicked back in their heads. A full-service marketing communications company? Isn’t that what we are supposed to be?

Needless to say, it was tough to pay much attention to the rest of the pitch. These guys seemed to be setting themselves up as our competitor. I could just imagine the fun that would happen if they got between me and my clients!

Yup, yet another gaff from a tech company trying to sell to an ad agency. But this company certainly wasn’t the first. Over the past five years or so, my agency has suffered through (as, I’d imagine, thousands of other agencies have) clueless sales pitches from technology companies that provide services to marcom companies. Ad networks, serving technologies, online market intelligence services, rich media companies, tech outsourcing firms, Web developers, you name it. The Web boom has created an endless stream of vendors providing cool products with enormous potential — if agencies could only get through the pitches.

I may just be weird (OK… I probably am, but that’s a different story), but it’s not like I don’t want to buy their services — I do, in many cases. It’s just that they make it so tough to buy what they’re selling. By not understanding my company, my business, my relationships with my clients, many of these firms shoot themselves in the foot. They might have great products — it’s just too tough to tell.

Not every pitch has gone bad. In fact, the best sales-pitch-that-wasn’t-a-sales-pitch I ever heard was from a guy named Michael Weaver, formerly with Bluestreak, a provider of cool rich-media and ad-serving tech. Michael’s whole pitch consisted of this line: “We’ve got some cool stuff. I’d love to come in and show it to you next time I’m in town.” And he did, in a low-key conversation in my office. I’ve been a huge Bluestreak fan ever since.

And hired Michael the first chance I got.

But the Michael Weavers of the world are few and far between. So after the last ill-fated pitch we were subjected to, Michael and I decided to work together to come up with a list of the top 10 ways that tech companies should sell to ad agencies. Why? Because we need innovation to survive and thrive. We need new products to offer our clients. We need their technology and services to differentiate ourselves in an increasingly competitive and difficult marketplace. We just don’t need the bull.

  1. Stop selling the whole Internet if you have one tiny piece of technology. Just because the Net is an accountable, targetable, and optimizable medium does not mean that showing people TV ads on their desktop is a guaranteed selling tool. Just tell me what your tech does.
  2. Be honest. Remember, we’re in the ad biz. We can smell BS a million miles away. Heck, our industry invented it! We’re going to challenge your claims. We want proof.
  3. Stop telling me about your investors. I don’t care. A lot of big companies and famous financial wizards made a lot of bad decisions over the past few years. A simple sentence about your financial stability (and some client references) is enough.
  4. You are not a full-service marketing communications company. We are. You are a technology company that can help us with a piece of our business. These days, I’ve gotta zealously protect my turf. If I think that you’re trying to step in to compete against me with my clients… forget it.
  5. Just a question: How many “leading companies” can there be? The claim’s gotten so overused that no one believes it anymore. Take it out of your collateral and your PowerPoint slides. It’s working against you.
  6. How many partners do you think my company needs or wants? And what do you mean by “partner”? Do you want us to invest in your company? Are we going to be bound by an exclusivity contract? Are you going to give me special pricing? Or does “partnership” just mean “you get to give me money”?
  7. Understand my business. Can I say that again? Understand my business! Know how I get paid and how I get rewarded by my clients. Understand that I need to be able to mark things up. Understand that your product is only one small piece of the programs I offer. Understand the range and depth of services I offer and how you fit in.
  8. Understand my pain. I’ve got a lot to deal with managing many simultaneous programs with one client. I’ve got little time and even less patience. Your product should make my life easier and more profitable.
  9. Understand how I get paid. Can I mark up your services? If not, how am I going to make any money by selling your product to my clients? If so, how’s the structure going to work, and how can you make it easier for me to implement? Who’s going to do the billing? I’m in business to make money, too. Show me the money.
  10. Finally, understand that my business is based on relationships. If your company can help my relationship with my client, that’s good. But if you get in the way of that relationship and insist on stepping in between me and my client, bye-bye!

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