The Hand Talks

It’s not just content, it’s how it is delivered

by Natasha Ellard-Shoefield

It has long been accepted that creativity in business is a good thing. The idea is brought home to us every day: creativity will benefit our careers and personal goals. We all have to think outside that box. Those of us who are not ‘creative’ by trade, whether visually or in the written word, will all see and recognise this, wherever we personally think we may be on the ‘creative’ spectrum.

So, why is it that within the creative agency world, there is little similar reflection about deploying business techniques and processes?

Of course, agencies grow from small seeds and acorns into flourishing shrubs or trees, not by sheer creativity alone. We all know that tending to our own internal business needs is important – that stimulating and measuring effectiveness within any organisation, especially within the service industry, requires this. But why is it that in 2012, so many smaller concerns, which predominate in the creative industry landscape, which want and need to grow, are not employing the proper business sales techniques in order to do so?

Note, no use of the term ‘business development’? a sanitised phrase for the agency world. In fact, this I believe is the root cause of the problem (as well as a serious lack of sales skills). For if you truly believe that your agency will standout purely on the face of your work alone, you are mistaken. And ‘business development’ and ‘new business’? They won’t get you there without you fundamentally embracing what ‘sales’ means first.

Let’s face it, sales, in the UK, is still somewhat of a dirty word.

To admit that, in life, we are all selling something to someone else is hard. But we do sell, each of us, in every communication we make. Whether the stakes be conveying a particular point in a meeting to gain a desired response or negotiating your next trip away with your loved ones, we are each selling.

Selling is about need and fulfilment.

Selling and buying are fundamental to gaining food, a roof over our heads and warmth in the home.

The stereotype of a sales person is a used car salesman, or a double glazing cold caller. The negative associations of these images still exist within the agency environment. Often large agencies will employ a ‘business development and marketing’ team but won’t understand how to measure effectiveness or set realistic targets in the first place. All too often this is because the process is little understood and is simplified into sending out mass mailshots and slamming out phone calls, which is a fundamental mistake. The whole dirty sales process is misunderstood, seen as necessity, somewhat sordid, beneath the agency’s shiny creative output.

Sadly, what this does is remove the knowledge- gathering, in the form of empowering the whole business with sales techniques, and just engenders an ‘us and them’ feeling within an agency: ‘me creative, me accounts person, you sales monkey’.

Until the murky mystery of ‘how to sell’ is unravelled and embraced within a business, that business is not going to effectively sell itself. In fact, most creative concerns can benefit from as many client-facing roles being fully versed in sales techniques as possible.

OK, some key truths and skills to acquire and engender throughout the business:

1 – Selling is about building trust. So it is not a one-off push for a meeting, it is about relationship building. To sell, you pull, you don’t push. You build up a dialogue to get into the privileged position of listening, then diagnosing the problem and then suggesting a solution.

2 – Research, planning and preparation are key to developing a true sales pipeline because whilst you are selling services not widgets, understanding your marketplace rather than selling your own talents will provide more new quick wins.

3 – Selling is intrinsically connected to marketing and the two teams should be as versed in PR and creating marketing tools as they are using those tools across all new and traditional platforms.

So, what does this all mean? Most important of all:

Showing off your work is not enough. Whether a stunning show-reel, something funky on Facebook or worthy on LinkedIn or beautiful in print, or with gravitas in a brochure… it is not enough.

You need to join it up, it’s the SO WHAT? factor. It ultimately comes down to effectively understanding that your offer is brimming with ‘features’ but your clients will buy ‘benefits’. To discover the benefits your clients truly want, you need to apply the above methodology – research, listening and planning, in order to sell. With your head held high, you will have uncovered the benefits that your clients truly need, indeed desire.

To learn more about making the above a reality within your business, contact The Hand, we offer bespoke business development services and training workshops for sales and account management teams.