Since 2014, I’ve worked in (and with) a number of technology agencies. They all have varied in their philosophical approaches, their leadership structure, and their ability to serve their clients. They all had different sales approaches too, but each rubbed me the wrong way for the same reason.
They all were convinced they “can” do whatever their clients needed.
In coming to Untold, there was one thing I could count on: Our team would not lie to prospects or clients about anything. Especially around our areas of expertise, we were all willing to draw clear lines on what we “can” do and what we “can’t” do.
Sadly, this is unique in the technology vendor space.
Oh “Can” You?
As someone who’s managed plenty of tech agencies in my career, I’ve noticed that the vast majority tell me that they “can” do exactly what I want. They nod a lot. Yet when I offer push back or ask for proof and a reference, responses become elusive and evasive.
As I’ve seen this song and dance many times now, I know how to spot it instantaneously. It makes me long for agencies that were clear about what they excelled at, not what they “can” do.
But how can agencies escape revenue pitfalls and service stagnation if they don’t “get hungry” and explore new areas of work?
The Better Question
Please stop telling your prospects and clients that you “can” do something. Instead, I offer you this brave simple question schema that is far more helpful to prospects and clients looking to make a real impact within their organizations.
It goes a little something like: “So… why do you need that?”
Instead of focusing on escaping revenue pitfalls and service stagnation, asking “why” to your prospects and clients will help you find ways that your areas of expertise “can” help them achieve their real business goals. It comports that you and your team are confident in what you do well and you are there to serve – not take advantage – of the people sitting across the table.
Asking “why” is brave. Many potential clients (and maybe consider if these would be the ones you want to work with) might balk at the question altogether. They may feel offended or insulted, so creating a safe space for this conversation is key. I recommend doing it over a one-on-one phone call or in person with only a small and intimate audience. Self-deprecation is also a great way to lead here...
“Obviously I don’t understand your business as well as you do, so I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around this. Could you explain it to me like it’s my first day on the job?”
This is a sales strategy that may not get you the short wins that makes your finance department happy, but it will foster trust from your prospects and clients... not to mention your team.
"Why" Your Team Will Like This Too
I've been lucky to have many close friendships come out of my work in Portland agency life. I get together with former coworkers and agency partners on a regular basis, and our conversations usually center on the work they do, their passion for it, and who's currently f@*#ing it up for them.
Typically, it falls on "bad" clients, though those who are paying attention more closely often cite the sales team as the source for their problems.
This is totally understandable. A sales team says that their team "can" perform a service that you may not feel confident in providing. The client is glad to get their problem "solved" with their new expert partner, and it is at this moment that the fulfillment team has already lost.
When client expectations aren't set correctly in order to achieve a short-term win, that eventually falls on the team in charge of excelling in a field you told your client that they "can" do. It's a losing situation for everyone. You "can" count on it.
"Why" You Should Take My Word for It
I've met quite a few marketing leaders that – like me – have made career jumps back and forth from agency side to client side. We typically agree on the principles stated above, and we feel bad for both sides when "can" culture takes over. Those people courageous enough to ask "why" and help their clients achieve their goals with better-equipped teams or more sound tactics will experience far more long-term success than their short-sighted counterparts.
Trust me on this. I’ve been on both sides of this equation. Saying goodbye to “can” and embracing “why” will help you and your agency create clients that trust you and prospects that want to work with you.