An informative discussion came up in an industry forum with an issue that has impacted almost all distributors at one time or another. A distributor invested time and effort in researching and providing options for a client’s holiday gifts. Much to the distributors surprise the client/prospect took these ideas and went to another vendor for a better price. This is very frustrating.
Many comments were made, from charging the client/prospect with upfront agreements for creative work, to firing the client.
Bruce Reissaus, MAS, a seasoned distributor from Advertising Specialties Alliance/Kaeser & Blair offered some very insightful information regarding agreements and business positioning that we would like to share with you. There is good stuff here!
Here are Bruce’s insightful thoughts on the topic.
Some industry advisers will tell you to sell creative services and make prospects pay for your ideas if they don't buy the products you present. Although it is good advice to sell our creative services, there is more to it than just an expectation to be paid for our time. We can't skip over trust, partnership, and care.
New prospects come to us looking for product. They are not buying ideas nor, in their mind, creative services. Product ideas are a dime a dozen and a quick Google search will find multiple hungry distributors to do the work for free. We can’t get someone who is thinking about a commodity purchase to agree to pay us for our product ideas after they have the ideas. We have to establish and grow a relationship that continually generates value for our clients and for us.
When you tell someone that you must be paid for your time, it makes any relationship all about you before you have shown any value or differentiated yourself from your competition. That gives the client permission to be all about themselves and feel no guilt about using your services without pay. That is not a relationship that benefits either of you.
As promotional products salespeople we have to go thru some version of the following when clients or new prospects ask us for product ideas. This has worked for us, and a version of this might work for you in similar circumstances.
First, you make sure your prospect works for an organization that merits your time and energy. Then start by engaging your prospect in a conversation about them, a conversation that stays focused on creating success for them. They will decide for their benefit, not your need. People will act respectfully of your time and effort if treated the same.
Although every instance is slightly different here is an example when a prospect asks us to do work and provide product ideas.
Us - "Ms. Prospect, I have to gather some information about your project to make the best recommendations possible. Before I start, you must agree to something."
Prospect – “What is that?”
Us - "I don't want for us to waste our time. If I think we are not a good fit, I'll let you know right away so we can end this meeting. If you think at any time that we are wasting time, that this is headed the wrong way, will you speak up right away and end our meeting?"
At this point they may hesitate, their jaw may drop, but they always say yes.
Then we continue - "I ask this because in my experience, people don't want to be rude and may hesitate to speak up. But it is better to speak up and get it over with before wasting too much time, do you agree?”
Then we get confirmation a second time.
If they agree, and they will, then dive deep into their project. Ask questions that penetrate to discover their organization's needs and their personal interest in the project. You can even ascertain their power and position from their answers and their concerns. Give feedback that explains how specific things they said will help you do a better job for them. Then set some tasks for you and them, with deadlines for both of you. If you've done your job right, they will have to prepare information that they did not have ready for the meeting. They must provide the information you'll need before you begin work. Get their agreement to those next steps and to review your presentation together.
When you present, you present with products, tactics, and strategies that will move them to obtain the objectives of their project successfully. When presenting product tell them how this product is the right one based on the criteria they gave you in that first interview. Talk about the pros and the possible challenges and how to plan for the potential problems that might arise. Do your due diligence as you would if you were buying this for yourself. Do it for them.
Notice that everything you have done is to help them. You've also created a partnership with them from the very first agreement to not waste their time through discovery to the shared task phase into the presentation. By the way, they should be active in the presentation phase as well. You obviously care about the success of this project but have also shown that you care about what they think and about their personal success.
They now know and respect you. They want to be associated with you. They trust you because they know you and because you have shown you care about them. You have been forthright with them every step of the way, leading with strength and insight but willing to walk away if there is not a fit with them. By the way, when you are willing to walk, they hold on a bit tighter than when you seem desperate to stay. Their fear that you might leave them is about equal to your fear they might leave you.
If you do this, you don't look like every other SWAG salesperson. You don't look like any sales person they have ever known. They'll find another category to place you in their mind. Partner? Adviser? Consultant? It doesn't matter. Your brand is not a title on your card; it is your position in their head. They want to make sure you get paid because they want to make sure they have you as a resource. They also feel like you understand them. In this case, their feelings are right. You do understand more about them and their needs than even their current provider. That is powerful. Use that power wisely to always get the best possible for them, and nobody can touch your client.
You don't have to tell them your time is important or that you have to be paid for your time. You have shown them through your actions that you value both your time and theirs. They will be happy to pay you a portion of the profit you bring them.
Mutual respect will win out over a statement at the end of a presentation saying they owe you if they buy the product elsewhere. Mutual respect and trust win over everything else, including average existing relationships.
Notice the momentum. They have a huge investment in you as well as you in them and you have had the opportunity to establish trust while learning to serve them better. This creates the foundation for growing a mutually beneficial relationship.
© Bruce Reissaus, MAS, Advertising Specialties Alliance/Kaeser & Blair