A: “This idea is shite.”
B: “But that’s what the customer wants.”
A: “No, that’s what the client wants.”
B: “The client is our customer, so he’s always right.”
A: “Perhaps so. But ultimately the customer is John Public. Shouldn’t the line of communication be tailored to that end, rather than to the whims of a fledgling shopowner with no business sense?”
B: “I guess. But that’s what they want.”
A: “As a sales rep, isn’t it your job to analyse the client’s business needs, market demographic and competition to craft an effective advert strategy?”
B: [Begins to softly cry.]
A: “I know: ‘It’s what they want.’ But look at it from the perspective of the reader -- who is the potential customer. Your idea creates little interest or curiosity. This tells the reader nothing aside from the sig [name, contact info]. I can’t even tell what sort of business this is. I can mock up some better specs myself if you can squeeze some better copy out of him.”
B: “Well, his nephew had already built it in PowerPoint, but the file got corrupted. And since he spent so much time on it --”
A: “--Then that’s the design he wants. Got it. You’re right -- the ‘customer’ is always right: He has final sign-off. If a man wants ketchup on his filet mignon, who am I to stop him? But let it be known that I made a good faith offer to provide a visual solution, to the best of my ability, in lieu of your lack of a strategy for your client. When the rateholder has ended its run, I will hear no complaints.”
B: “Can you get me a proof by noon...?”
Thirty days later...
ACT II: THE PREDICTABLE FALLOUT
B: “The client’s really upset. He got no calls. Or any response.”
A: “I offered a solution one month ago. Naturally, a stubborn client wouldn’t hear of it. But you’re the one who took the easy way out. You’re the rep -- the professional who’s supposed to know better.”
A: “I’m not going to repeat myself or my volume will rise and I’ll see bloody tears again. If you think you have a case, take it upstairs to Mandley.”
ASIDE I: THE BASICS OF PERSUASION
Organisational decay and office neuroses aside, persuasion techniques are not too difficult to understand when one is familiar with human nature.
There is one key approach that is sadly lacking in communication today, from puppet-filled protests of the street to the slick mass media avenues of 30-second TV spots and nattering network news commentators: Unless your prospect is a microcephalic 9-year-old, do not speak to them as such.
Thirty minutes later...
ACT III: THE SOLVENING
A: “Good day, sir.”
M: “Good day. How are we going to solve this problem?”
A: “One month ago, your rep failed to provide a solution. I offered one, which was left unconsidered.”
M: “I see. What can we do?”
A: “Sir, I just told you. What would you have us do?”
A: “To be blunt, sir, these kids you hire can’t do the job.”
M: “I need to fill those seats with warm bodies!”
A: “Rather than hire seasoned professionals at a premium, you hire college-aged kids with no experience.”
M: “I’m limited by the budget.”
A: “Yet no training or foundation is offered to the greenhorn and naif, which could at least attempt to bring them closer to parity with your ‘idealised professional’ who would work within your budget, albeit without an investment in the basics.”
M: “I’m limited by the budget!”
A: “Yes, I did hear you the first time. So the short term outweighs the long term?”
M: “Perception is everything.”
A: “Perception does not trump your numbers. Or lack thereof.”
M: “Do you like your job, mister?”
A: “Yes, sir. So much, in fact, that I stand up to face problems head-on rather than run away from them. Even when they’re other people’s problems that end up in my lap. But finger-pointing aside, let us clean up this mess. How about I sit down with the client myself and sketch out some possible solutions?”
M: “That is the rep’s job.”
A: “Indeed it is. Your point?”
A: “I’ll sit with the rep and client and sketch out their ideas and show what works, what doesn’t, what is best for both client and potential customer. I’ve done it before with Mr. Gutts and the Orville account...”
DIAGNOSIS I: CORPORATE PATHOLOGY AND THE BIGGER PICTURE
The obvious dilemmas:
• A Mom-&-Pop shop proprietor with little savvy, saddled with confusing a hobby for a business. [Poor Planning]
• A sales/media representative lacking the training, tools and temperament to carry out their job. [Q.E.D.; also: Buck Passing]
• A designer given poor instruction on a thoughtless plan with no recourse for alternate proposals. [G.I.G.O.]
• A manager given to massaging sales figures, perceptions and busy-work, rather than providing direction and counsel. [C.Y.A.; Dilbert Principle]
• An unseen department head even more myopic than the manager, distilling everything down to hollow numbers. (“Quantity > Quality” delusions) [Dunning-Kruger Effect]
• Passive as long as the right numbers breeze in, Corporate-level brass sleeps soundly without any regards for oversight. [Peter Principle]
[Other Symptoms Observed: Administrivia, Meta-Ignorance and “Weighing the Pig.”]
[Across-the-Board Observation: Deterioration in Skills Ecosystem]
PROGNOSIS AND TREATMENT?
Obviously, an inexperienced business owner can be sensibly counseled by the experienced advertising professional. Hire them?
“Limited by the budget.”
Okay, hire someone with less experience, and provide some basic in-house training -- and not just on how to properly fill out paperwork, but on fundamentals in this field of work.
“Time is money. Get out there and sell.”
So, inexperienced reps are sent out with little tools to service both long-standing accounts as well as new ones. From a business owner’s standpoint, this amounts to a different face walking in the door every six months, asking the same inane questions repeatedly: “What do you want?” rather than “What do you need?”
Constant turnover leads to rapport destroyed. Accounts dry up. Numbers go down. This ineffectual hiring pattern is a managerial problem.
Should the hiring/promotion process into management involve some sort of “grooming process”? A vague and simplistic solution, perhaps. Would the initiative come from department heads or the corporate level?
Comfortable with decades of cushy profits, Corporate had become loath to micromanage its far-flung properties, even whilst the internet’s growth was making their business model obsolete. The only “grooming” that went on was the nepotistic fast-tracking of favourite sons.
“Yes, but...” [The Loose-Tight model]
And so go the efforts toward any kind of solution. Not only is the business model outmoded, but the rot that has seeped in at almost every level has left the organisation unable to rectify itself. Can’t blame a guy for tryin’.
ACT IV: THE WISDOM OF OUR BETTERS
Several years later, after the whole structure had withered to a husk and profits inevitably dwindled, the company sold off self-amputated limbs and shuffled arrears in a panic.
One day, word trickled through the desolated office that Big Honcho from Corporate would be dropping by. Whatever for? It couldn’t be more bad news -- that was done the brave and accountable way: over the phone. It had to be more than a pep talk.
Cubicles tidied and shirts pressed, the staff stood at attention as Big Honcho strode into the office and mechanically made his way around the room, meeting each employee with a token handshake and a few muttered syllables.
What message from on high could he possibly bestow?
A rousing vision of re-purposing the business model? A well-considered media re-alignment tailored to clients’ business demands deferential to changing market forces? Some Grand Plan, if not big words? After all, Honcho had access to the best and brightest of analysts and consultants.
The exec finally came to this office drone, pumped his hand twice whilst beaming a most vacant smile and blurted two words: