Opinions

How to Get 5,400 Agency Buyers to Answer the Phone…And Take a Meeting

Posted by Jim Nichols on May 7th, 2014 at 3:15 pm

The case study below is a synopsis of the presentation I delivered during the iMedia Agency Summit.

It’s getting tougher than ever for media and technology sellers to connect with media professionals at leading agencies. A big part of that challenge comes from the sheer number of sellers trying to break through.

For example, a dear friend – who is planning director on a medium sized for-profit education brand – tells me she averages about 35 unsolicited seller phone calls a day, and at least as many emails.

It’s the flip side of those crowded lumaScapes – every one of those companies are wangling for an hour of a buyer’s time. That kind of environment is tough on everyone – buyer and seller alike. It’s only natural that buyers tend to be skeptical of seller promises, and frugal with their meeting time.

When our company began planning our relaunch as Conversant, we knew that breaking through and getting agency people to care was one of our biggest challenges. We were prepared to “go big” – but wanted that bigness to help deliver our differentiation and make our transformation as exciting (well, okay, ALMOST as exciting) to them as it was to us.

So how could we create outstanding brand awareness in just a few days, vividly exemplify the meaning of our brand, and make buyers excited about hearing more?

INSIGHT

Every marketer knows that the best initiatives start with an insight into the target audience. Ours came from conversations our sellers had with clients over the course of 2013. Many agency pros talked about the challenges they face in a constantly changing media environment. But where was the fun? Where was the creativity? Where was the excitement that drew them to the ad biz initially?

One area where buyers reported that they saw virtually no imagination was in the ways that sellers tried to connect with them. Emails. Calls. Drop-bys. Lunch invites. All okay for what they are, but hardly the sorts of things that help a company stand out from the pack.

We wanted a program/concept that would encapsulate our new positioning and mission. We wanted to be understood as a different kind of company, focused on giving brands richer, individual–level consumer understanding – understanding that helps them deliver individually relevant marketing messages and create lasting customer relationships. Unique. Individual understanding. Brand conversations. A big deal.

PROGRAM

To attract the attention of buyers and get them to take a meeting with us, our team devised the “Answer the Call Program.” On the day of our brand launch, 8,200 media planning professionals arrived at their desk to find an interoffice envelope. We had actually prearranged with the office managers at many large agencies to have them hand-deliver these “interoffice” envelopes – to stand out and grab immediate attention.

These days, getting an interoffice envelope is pretty rare, so you know there’s something important inside. And in this case, that was definitely true.

Inside the envelope was an actual working “burner phone” and a mini brochure explaining that Conversant would be calling that phone sometime in the next three days. If the recipient answered it when we called, they’d be eligible for a great prize.

The timing of that call was a mystery, but the prizes definitely weren’t. They ranged from a Roku 3 or $100 in UBER credit to UBER for a year or a great trip. The prizes were enough to get the blood going, but what we were really counting on was that the need to wait for a call – and heck, the inside joke of a media person actually wanting to answer a vendor call – would take us a lot farther than some simple prizing.

On the Conversant end, our sales team conducted a three-day sales blitz, with each seller placing 100+ calls apiece. Some more than 300 calls. Thousands of names and phone numbers were loaded into Salesforce to ensure accuracy.

Marketing ordered prizes to arrive in time for the first scheduled meetings. Well, we thought we did. (Note to selves – make sure you build in a couple of days for when an East Coast blizzard strands thousands of prizes in Lackawanna County, PA. Fortunately, the agency pros in those first meetings were forgiving. Thanks!)

In addition, a special sales intro to Conversant deck was created – low on hyperbole, high on real, substantive points of difference.

GOALS AND ACTUALS

We felt our goals were pretty aggressive – to get 2,300 answered calls (28% of total mailed.) From there, to get 820 booked client meetings (35% convert to meeting) to showcase Conversant to clients and prospects.

But response was much greater. Much much greater. Our first inkling that we were onto something was when hundreds of posts began appearing in social media, from phone recipients. Comments like:


When our sales reps started making calls, we heard that entire departments were taking their phones everywhere. One agency even sent us a picture of the entire team with their phones!

Phones were answered on toilets, in a funeral procession, on Manhattan subways, the Chicago El and in the 11th lane of the 405 by the The Getty. Agency people pranked each other by calling a neighbor’s burner phone and pretending to be Conversant. I got an email from a rep at another leading media company complaining that our call made the AMD they’d been trying to get in front of for 4 months leave their meeting.

By the time the dust settled three days later, our sales organization had successfully:

• Placed 7,264 answered calls (89% of received phones)
• Booked 5,345 meetings (74% convert to meeting, 651% of total meetings booked goal)

In a world where a rep can expect perhaps 1 answered call out of 40 placed, and about 0 call backs when they leave 40 messages, these figures stunned us. The program has since driven strong growth in our RFPs received and revenue booked.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

So what was it about this program that reached out and shook the industry, and, according to one West Coast GMD, “made time stop for all media people everywhere for three days in February?”As you can imagine, our team has put a lot of thought into this. We think it boils down to five things. We challenge the entire “sell side” to try and reflect these ideas in their future programs:

1. Focus on your KPI, not a Surrogate. It’s easy to blow a lot of money trying to drive awareness and interest with buyers. But if it doesn’t translate to meetings, what have you got? We wanted phones sanswered and meetings booked. Nuff said.

2. Find a Leverageable Target Insight. We built our program around the buyer lament that there just isn’t enough creativity in the business anymore. And tied that to the “truth” that buyers have created great strategies and tactics to avoid unsolicited meetings and messages. It’s not that buyers don’t want to meet with us – but they do want to know that the meeting will have genuine value. While we offered a promotional layer to our program, what we’ve been told is that it was the size and depth of this program that convinced buyers that our news was more than a name change and likely warranted a listen.

3. Bring the Creativity. There’s a reason why people join agencies instead of accounting firms. The passion and creativity of our business are arguably its greatest draw. And then we try and do business with the same dishwater dull strategies and tactics as everyone else. What’s wrong with this picture?

4. True Success is in the Details. My little narrative above doesn’t really give you a sense of the mind boggling amount of planning that went into this program. We worked with a promotions agency, Deare|2 who were invaluable on that score. In addition, our team spent weeks ensuring that we had the right contacts, prizing, programs, recycling partner, collateral, and the million other things that made it possible to deliver and call 8,200 phones to 8,200 people at over 1,000 separate addresses on one cold day in February. So many members of our team spend nights, weekends, and yes, even New Year’s Eve preparing this program. And it really paid off.

5. Sales/Marketing Partnership Was Essential. Ask anybody at Conversant who made this program possible, and you’ll hear it was hundreds of people, because virtually everyone had a role to play to ensure this went off right. The time demands on both Marketing and Sales were enormous, and it was the willingness of everyone to commit and follow through that made it all possible. We drove each other crazy kvetching and demanding and wanting and needing and delivering, and through all of that we made something we can all be proud of.

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