SalesRants 8: Stage One=Denial

How big of a deal is it really when a huge account falls through? Secret Sales Guy’s about to find out

A Salesman Runs Through It
Besides teaching me fun, homespun, business-related jargon such as “all sizzle and no steak,” and “let’s chuck some jelly at the wall and see what sticks,” my first Publisher taught me something pretty valuable about the business.

“Sales Guy,” he said, “What does a tea bag string manufacturer in India, a coffee grower in Guatemala, a Starbucks owner in Baton Rouge, and a manufacturer of coffee roasting machines in Dusseldorf have in common?”

“Beats me, Boss,” I answered, “They are all B-level prospects?” At the time, I was working for a business magazine about the retail coffee business. Boss looked at me with barely hidden exasperation — and some pride. He was training me, a former senior editor, to be a salesman.

 

“Yes, and no, Sales Guy. You see, these people have absolutely nothing more in common — besides being in the coffee industry — than the fact that they read Retail Coffee Journal,**” he said. “They may never meet, but every month they look forward to reading our magazine and catching up on the latest news. We are their lifeline to the industry, and we are the strongest community they are a part of.”

The information was, frankly, somewhat stunning. Did over 50,000 people with a tangential relationship to the coffee business really depend on RCJ to bind them together? Was the CEO of the Singapore-based coffee export company sitting on the throne for his morning constitutional and reading it at the same time the Honduran plantation owner was leafing through RCJ with his evening Cuba Libre? Amazing. The idea that our small business magazine was influencing and binding this disparate community together was intoxicating.

As our new sales guy — armed only with an outdated media kit, a BPA statement, and a corporate AmEx card capped at $4,000 –I was going to be the brand ambassador for RCJ. I would be an intrepid man on the street funding our wise editorial one $6,790 net page of advertising at a time, until the entire coffee industry was bound under our glorious banner. While I was at it, I would also collect a copious amount of airline frequent flier miles, and have the opportunity for much duty-free shopping. It was the ultimate dream: a way to be on the business side of publishing, and also work for the greater good.

The dream lasted until Guatemalan coffee roaster went 120 days past due on his first two pages of advertising, slashing my September commission check in half. There were a few more bad apples in the “community” as well, leading me to believe that the international nirvana of RCJ was more like a melting pot of mediocre businesses all struggling to make a buck off of Starbucks. The airline miles kept adding up, though. But after a few swings through industrial centers in Germany, Central America, and the midwestern United States, the glory of “international travel” has diminished faster than the balance in my Chase account.

Lord, help me believe again.

Stage One=Denial
We lost a big one today: Big Electronics Company decided to pull the plug on Project New Media, a $300,000 whammy of a sponsorship with more bells and whistles than my daughter’s new tricycle. It had everything: print, online, live events, Webcasting — the works. It was the project that proved #1 Industry Magazine was more than just the leader of the pack in terms of market share — we were a cutting-edge Publisher, ready to “deliver the leading edge in content-based marketing.”

The saddest part is that our plan worked. We produced beautiful advertorials about Big Electronics Company’s latest equipment. We built them a Web site with famous people using their gear. We packed auditoriums full of enthusiastic business consumers, ready to get the latest technical information about their products, and offered them a “hands-on user experience” with Electronics Company’s latest products.

We delivered ROI like nobody’s business, too. Mailing lists, online statistics, survey data, user feedback, banner ad stats. You name it, we had it. Then we sat down in front of Big Electronics Company with our Powerpoint, ready to get our renewal (the net cost of which had already been factored into our fourth-quarter P&L), and got the Heisman. The big “talk to the hand.”

What happened?

New Guy was in charge now, and he had other ideas about Big Electronics Company’s marketing. Our ambitious program wasn’t his idea, and therefore he wouldn’t get enough credit for its success.

Well, it turns out that the guy we sold this albatross of a program to got canned, walking off into the sunset with an early retirement package and a consulting job. New Guy was in charge now, and he had other ideas about Big Electronics Company’s marketing. He was going to “shake up the team” and “bring in some new blood” to their stodgy, yet reasonably effective, business media plan. Bottom line? Our ambitious program wasn’t his idea, and therefore he wouldn’t get enough credit for its success.

I haven’t told the team yet.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/17/2006]

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