An Open Letter to Snake Oil Sales People…

Duncan Parry, COO of STEAK, began his career in search in 1999 at Lycos, during the early days of the industry.

In 2002 he joined PPC engine Espotting and rose to the position of Agency Editorial Manager, working on campaigns for some of Europe's leading brands. He left Espotting in 2004 to work as a consultant in both paid and natural search, during which time his clients included publisher VNU's portfolio of UK IT, finance and recruitment websites.

In 2005 he reunited with ex-Espotting colleagues to found STEAK. His roles at the agency have spanned PPC, SEO and Insight, as well commenting and writing in trade press for the agency, and contributing to STEAK’s social presence.

Working in sales can be hard. I want to start this week by acknowledging that - and saluting all of the hard working, diligent, honest - yes - honest - sales people out there. Whether I've bought from you, worked with you or employed you - this isn't about you.

This column is about the rest of the sales "professionals" out there - and sadly a 80:20 rule applies in sales. More like 95:5 in fact. I'm talking about the sort of sales people who pull tricks, stunts or plain lie.

I know you're not going to stop being what the Americans call "snake oil salesmen". No doubt economic pressure on the organisations you work for, when the economy is far from healthy, adds to the pressure on you. I get it - you've targets to hit, a boss to keep happy, commission to earn, bills to pay.

So here's a hint that might help you hit that quarterly target: people in the digital industry aren't stupid. We work in a fast moving, ever-changing industry. We're used to researching tools or companies, asking hard questions and making quick decisions. Processing information and making judgement calls quickly is a common skill. And we talk to each other. We swap stories and we're some of the biggest word of mouth advocates of suppliers out there. Just ask Google how they grew.

So if you tell us your tool, platform or service is "used by brand X" or "partnered with agency Y", we can probably check - if not directly, then a quick look at LinkedIn or shout-out in the office reveals somebody who knows somebody.

Claiming you've been recommended by our client, or you've met/talked to us before won't help either. 9 times out of 10 when somebody tells me that – normally on an unsolicited email or voicemail – they're lying and we'll check our emails or stop to think for 30 seconds. Clients tell me the same thing – this immediately makes them suspicious of the individuals and company involved.

If we've told you we're not interested, that there's no budget available or that we already have a partner in place, deciding to ignore this and repeatedly try to contact us won't work either. We'll remember you – but only as a nuisance.

If you really want to make enemies, ignore the agency after they've talked to you and go straight to the client. Even better, bad mouth them to the client – it's amazing some sales "professionals" think this is a good idea; even more that some do so on email. News flash: clients forward those emails to their agencies – sometimes for confirmation this can be ignored, but often with an exclamation mark or a comment like "Can't believe this company – unbelievable". If you want to really make enemies, ignore the client's digital team after they've told you "no", and go to their boss, or some unsuspecting person in the non-digital marketing team. Always a good idea to try and sell to clients by sparking some internal politics.

I could go on - and I'm sure anybody reading this who has any involvement in supplier decisions has stories of their own to share. If you're a sales person reading this and trying to ignore the fact you use some of these tactics or others that don't exactly prompt glowing LinkedIn recommendations – stop to think. You know that colleague who always has clients coming back to him for more, signing long contracts and introducing new leads to him from other companies? He's in the 5%. You're not.

By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK


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