Sales Reps Are From Mars, Media Planners Are From Pluto

It’s inevitable. Place a dozen media planners in a room together, and they will certainly have a conversation about the sales reps they deal with on a daily basis. Ten minutes will be spent talking about the bad ones to every minute spent talking about the good ones. Media planners love to bitch.

I can’t argue with some of the complaints I hear about sales reps – lack of technical knowledge and lack of respect for the agency-client relationship are the two legitimate complaints I hear most often. However, I can’t relate at all to many of the complaints I hear about service.

Sales organizations are paying consultants to teach them how to sell to agencies. Why? Because they can’t get a thorough answer as to how agencies want to work with them. I can’t help but think that it would be so much simpler for agency media planners to be proactive and explain their expectations to their reps.

I’m not talking about communication of client goals here. I’m talking about open dialogue between an agency and a sales organization regarding how they should do business together. Believe it or not, sales organizations consider information on how agencies work to be extremely valuable. And if they can’t get this information directly from their agency partners, they will hire the aforementioned consultants to help them sell to agencies more efficiently.

Why planners keep information about the inner workings of their agencies so close to the vest is a mystery to me. I’ve found that the most successful relationships I have with sales organizations were started with a frank discussion about expectations and workflow between the sales organization and my agency. It’s not always immediately obvious to salespeople how your agency works, and they do want to know the answers to some basic questions so they can service your agency and your clients better:

  • When does your planning cycle start for each client?
  • How important are RFPs to the process? Do you prefer formal presentations or informal discussions?
  • How are accounts structured? Who is responsible for what on each piece of business?
  • Who is the best person to pitch an idea to?
  • Do you prefer a single point of contact at the sales organization? Or do you want to speak directly with each person working on your business?
  • How does your agency handle insertion orders? Optimization and buy maintenance? Billing?

I could go on for pages… There’s a lot of information to be gathered by a sales organization that wants to work with an agency. And media planners should volunteer this information in order to lay the groundwork for a solid partnership. You might want to consider putting together a document to email to all sales reps that can answer these questions and any others they can think of – a sort of FAQ for doing business with your agency.

The alternative is to watch the number of sales reps servicing your agency dwindle. The market is in a state such that many sales organizations can turn around three direct-to-the-client sales in the time it takes to seal one deal with an agency. With most reps working on commission, it’s easy to see how the situation will unfold if the ground rules for working with your agency remain too much of a mystery.

Make it easy for sales reps to work with your agency, and you will reap the benefits of solid relationships for many years to come.

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