After half a career in which my income depended on the sale of advertising, I decided upon a change, and became the head of a national retail chain.
Overnight, I became The Client.
I would enjoy this, I thought. I would be able to use my considerable knowledge of advertising to my new company’s advantage. Oh, yes, I could be the proverbial poacher turned gamekeeper . . .
Then something struck me.
I knew how to sell advertising.
I didn’t know how to buy it.
Sure, I understood rate cards and all the jargon that could easily trip up a beginner. But how could I engineer a great deal?
In a moment of inspiration, I thought back to my previous role at a commercial radio station and recalled with a wince the client we all knew had the best deal of all – the deal we regretted almost as soon as it was done.
I rang and asked to meet him for lunch. I had a proposition for him – could he teach me how to negotiate a killer deal?
Flushed with my confirmation that he had, as he’d suspected, been heavily on the winning side of his past deals, my new best friend set out to educate me.
“First, insist their rep meets you in your office. Make sure there’s a couple of business cards, or a proposal folder, sitting somewhere in the office or on your desk. It doesn’t need to be right under their nose – trust me, they’ll spot it.
“If your actual budget is $5,000, make a big play of the fact that you want a proposal for a campaign that will cost no more than $3,000. Infer that you’re shopping around and whoever comes back with the best proposal for $3,000 will get your business.”
I’m easily confused at the best of times but hadn’t he said I really had $5,000 to spend?
He frowned. I really didn’t have a clue . . .
“Here’s what will happen. Your rep will come back a week later with a proposal for a deal that will cost $5,000. They’ll present it to you and wait for you to negotiate the price down to your budget of $3,000.”
Ah, now I understood. “So I’ve saved $2,000, right?”
My teacher looked horrified.
“Heck, no, you reach across the table, grab their hand and shake it. You tell them it’s a fantastic proposal and you can’t wait for the campaign to start!”
My lunch partner smiled. He was enjoying this.
“Let me put you in the shoes of that salesperson. He or she will be sitting there, feeling the warm glow rising up through their body. Their brain isn’t thinking rate card – it’s thinking of their monthly target, their commission cheque and how they’ve just paid next month’s mortgage.
“They’ll be itching to get back to work, to tell their sales manager what’s happened.
“They’ll say: ’Remember that client I said I was going to get $3,000 from? Well, guess what? I signed him for $5,000!’
“At that stage, the sales manager and rep will whoop, give each other high fives and add the sale to the whiteboard sales team total.”
The scene was familiar. When working on the other side of the fence, I’d witnessed it many times before.
“But what happens next?” my teacher asked.
“The rep produces the campaign schedule you’ve agreed. The one you’ve negotiated while the rep was flushed with excitement. You will have said you’re happy with spending the extra money, but want more ads in the campaign, better placement, better everything . . . you get them to sell the farm.”
I knew what happened next. I’d been on the receiving end before of one-sided ad contracts. I’d rarely seen one rejected – after all, the salesperson had come back with more than we’d anticipated and it did help us reach our target . . .
So there it was. One lunch and I saw the world differently.
And I vowed that when I next worked with a sales team, as I inevitably would, I knew the first thing I would seek to change . . .