Saturday, December 31, 2016

Politely drawing the line with clients

It's tough to be tough with clients. But it has to be done or you end up giving away the only thing you have to sell.

As a media rep, I work mostly with ad agencies. This group of folks is lovely. They're my people!

Occasionally agencies make promises to *their* clients about how efficiently they can buy media. These secondary promises are often for things that the media did not agree to, and it will be costly for us to deliver. Certain agencies lean heavily on the stations suggesting "we represent so much business and we can take it away if you don't comply." Party foul. It's not good negotiation; it's poking a salesperson's weak spot and profiting from that pain.

The worst part of giving in to that approach is on the next order. Today, they wanted 10% of the schedule for free. Next time, they might ask for 20%. Stations can end up both giving 15% back to the agency for commission (which is fine) and also giving another 20% in a free schedule. A schedule we might sell for $1000 to a direct local client can end up getting squeezed down to $650 when this kind of agency is done with it.

For years we have drawn the line at free ads. I have permission from my boss to even walk away from a deal. That can make buyers mad.

Usually, buyers just want confidence they are getting the best deal they can possibly get. They are: everyone gets the rates on the rate card. Nobody gets a better rate than *YOU!* They recognize I'm treating them fairly, I have rationally shown them consistent ratings, provide good service and keep my promises. Reasonable people see this as reasonable.

Then there is the Over-Reacher. We have an agency that asked not just for free ads but also wanted a say in which voice talent goes on the ads, as well as if that talent voices other clients in their category, they wanted social media postings, and for us to attend activities outside of the announcer's typical work. The value of their demands was 5-8x the cost of their schedule. They are booking ads, but expecting endorsements.

I wrote my client a letter to address their over-reach and maintain our value.
Here's how to hold the line, politely:

  1. State the value of the relationship.
    Click to read the complete letter
    If you're taking their money, you have a responsibility to acknowledge and respect the relationship. This brings in the other party and also softens what might feel like an affront. Everyone wants to be liked and appreciated.
  2. Agree where you can agree. This is basic diplomacy. When my Economics professor helped negotiate d├ętente between the US and USSR in the 1970s, the only thing they started the meeting agreeing on was that they all liked the breakfast rolls. It's a start. 
  3. It's not you, it's me. Take a page from the marriage counselor's book by making it about your own perspective of things rather than using the more accusatory 'you' statements. You're not going to comply with the request/demand, not because you don't want to, but because you cannot. It might be a problem of rules or capacity or bandwidth or increased costs from China. In my case, I explained we don't sell access to our social media feed. Knowing it's a hollow assurance and expecting the reader to see that for what it is, I offered that no other competitor will get it either. 
  4. Help them see the absurdity (or cost) of their request. I offered to charge the Over-Reacher the full rate of their request about where exactly their ad ran. I'm helpful. I know the agency will not pay more, but they may not have recognized I've already given them something of value. In fact, they got what they wanted even before demanding it. But since they didn't realize what they had, I pointed it out. You win!
I politely but clearly established the objective value of our stations. I put it on record so we have a precedent for next year. I took their demands and offered (politely) to explain that they did not have to demand to get good, valuable things from us.

Over the years, numerous clients have volunteered that they appreciate how we always give them a fair deal. A few have gone away mad because we didn't play along with their bullying tactics, and that's probably for the best. Mostly, we've ended up with clients we like who respect us and have confidence in us as businesspeople and marketing consultants. Who could ask for more than that?

Good luck holding your line with over-demanding clients.

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