Monday, October 26, 2009

Ideas are Exponential
Even salespeople have them

By Jim Walton
President & CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction, real estate and motorsports.

We’ve all heard the old adage that two heads are better than one. Well, how about three, six or twenty heads. How about if some of the heads are on salespeople?

I’ve always been fascinated by attitudes toward sales reps. They’re often seen as evil, greedy, annoying money grubbers who are to be avoided like a carrier of H1N1. Hurry, grab the hand sanitizer and put on your paper mask. Here comes a salesperson! Lock the door and turn off the lights!

Like many of you, I’ve been on each end of this equation. I’ve been the chaser, desiring to sell my goods or services and I’ve also been the chased, targeted by people wanting my business.

Several years ago I was a media rep, selling time on a radio network of about a hundred radio stations. One evening, while having dinner with a friend who was the ad manager for a major farm machinery manufacturer, I suggested he partner with one of the seed companies to offer free seed to any farmer who bought a new planter. If was just an off-the-cuff comment but he got real excited about the idea. He got so excited about it that he called his ad agency and told them to make it happen. That’s when things got ugly.

The owner of the agency was so threatened by my involvement that he called me the next day and ordered me to kill the project. “As far as this client is concerned, all ideas come from us,” he demanded. “If you don’t kill it, we will never spend another penny with you.” Even though I thought the guy was wrong, I called the client and tried to politely back out in such a way as to protect our friendship and not tarnish the agency. “No way,” the client said. “It was your idea and I want you on the team. Fortunately, the client saw me as an important part of his team and protected me as the agency owner worked his way through his temper tantrum. But it did get a little dicey at times. Rather than viewing me as a threat, the agency would have been far better off had they welcomed me as part of the team focused on the client’s needs.

Great ideas are not the exclusive property of certain people. Even salespeople have them. At Brand Acceleration, we make it a point to meet with and listen to any sales rep that comes our way. They often bring ideas that just don’t fit us but they also bring ideas that answer questions and solve challenging problems. The goal, of course, is to serve the needs of the client.

I remember another of my old radio advertisers who held a completely different attitude about sales reps. Each year, usually about August, the company began its planning process for the coming year by conducting a mega meeting where company executives, media reps and people from each of their three ad agencies got together for several days of brainstorming. The rules were simple; we’re all friends and we’re here to work together in the best interest of the client. Leave your ego at the door. How refreshing!

Over the years, that client built a culture of trust and encouragement that transcended the traditional lines that separated the company, agencies and media. We were all in it together. Salespeople were treated as friends – partners in the company’s success.

A message to salespeople
Please remember that your purpose is not just to sell your products or services. It is to serve the client’s needs. If you keep this in mind, you are much more likely to develop a relationship that establishes you as a partner rather than someone to be avoided. You’ll gain respect and credibility that will result in increased business for you and your company. Plus, if you are unable to serve the needs of the client, it’s in your best interest to admit it and even recommend someone who can.

Salespeople bring their best ideas to their friends
Some companies, such as the one just mentioned, have figured out how to capitalize on the ideas of sales reps and those reps reciprocate by taking their best ideas to their friends. I like the idea of having such players on my team rather than with my competitor. Don’t you?

Two heads really are better than one. In fact, I believe that ideas are exponential. When you bring several people together, each working toward one goal, they feed off one another. Ideas come faster and more abundantly than ever imagined. Why else do you think that little number in the “exponent” position is referred to as the power?

Jim Walton

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