Quit Whining, and Grow Up

Tonight I’m off to participate in a leading Web publisher’s annual sales conference. With two other agency execs, I’ll give the publisher’s sales staff insights into the agency world. We’ll also provide tips on how to maximize sales efforts.

Today I’ll discuss some leading issues around the buyer/seller relationship in the interactive space. First, an observation.

Having grown up on the buy side of the traditional media world, I have a solid foundation for comparing old and new media. As I think back to the days of traditional media planning and buying, I remember fondly being wined and dined, schmoozed and boozed.

The relationship between buyer and seller was pretty clear: I was the client, and the media vendors (or partners, as they’re now called) were to keep me (and my client) happy. Happiness came in many forms: a fantastic marketing program, great rates on a media buy, or even some type of graft, such as Broadway show tickets. Although some may disagree, I believe I was a tough but fair negotiator and always tried to get the most for my clients. I was a strategic hunter, and the media were the hunted.

Nowadays, we hear things from interactive sales organizations that conjure up images of a big group hug, scented candles, Kitaro, and partners working together in symbiotic bliss.

Come on, now.

When I speak to sales organizations about the business, I hear statements like:

  • You guys are being unfair.

  • This kind of buy is not profitable for either of us.
  • We should sit down with the client and have a group brainstorming session.
  • Don’t be cruel.
  • I prefer working directly with the client.
  • These are unreasonable deadlines.
  • If I don’t have a full picture of the client’s business and goals, you are doing both of us a disservice.

Unfair? Cruel? Unreasonable? Disservice?

For heaven’s sake, quit whining.

Certainly we can collectively work on some things to make our complicated business better. But we may have forgotten some fundamentals of the naturally antagonistic and sometimes adversarial buyer/seller relationship.

The thing that really gets me is when I hear, “We aren’t going to move this industry forward unless you guys start acting like [fill in the blank].” If we can’t operate with the same level of professionalism, mutual respect, and efficiency our traditional counterparts do, this industry doesn’t deserve to move forward.

So, holding that jaded view of the world, I will soon be in front of a hundred or more salespeople looking to me for guidance. This is actually a group of people who “get it” and whom I respect — even if they’re sometimes a part of the overall whining majority.

I’ll share with them some candid comments (like the above) on the basics of buying and selling in the interactive space. I’d like to put them in the shoes of an agency media planner or buyer so they can understand some of the pressures and challenges we face.

I’ll talk about structure and mechanics inside a large “integrated” agency environment. Then they’ll have a better sense of how to channel their energies to deliver a mutually beneficial outcome.

It’ll be interesting to hear what they (honestly) think of my team and our agency. Maybe they can share what they think we’re good or bad at. It would be nice to get a sense of some quick fixes they think we could apply to our business. It should be a healthy discussion.

I’m sure we’ve all returned from our extended vacations with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm for the new year. I’m optimistic about our prospects. Let’s work on making this an industry of confident, secure, intelligent, and strategic thinkers. Not a bunch of whining infants who spend most of our time bellyaching about the injustices of the world and not nearly enough time just getting the job done.

It’s time to grow up.

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