Is The Marketing Director Wasting Your Time?

A few months ago, I wasted several hours in a very nice Midwestern city.

Shocker: You can't sell if they can't buy

Photo by Igor Gromoff /dpc


A television station salesperson had set an appointment for me with the Marketing Director of a large medical practice. The AE assured me that this was the person who made all the advertising decisions for the practice.

To put it mildly, this turned out not to be the case.

It turned out that Marketing Director’s role was to gather proposals from advertising salespeople, and show them to the Controller. From there, if the Controller liked a proposal, it would be shown to the partners at the practice.

How did I find this out?

Simple. I asked.

Rookie media sellers often fall into this trap. They are introduced to the “Marketing Director” and assume, that this is the person who can make the decision. About half the time it’s true — many Marketing Directors do run their own ship.

But in other cases, this person’s authority is very limited. A significant number of people with big-sounding titles have to get approval from someone — and often several someones — higher up the ladder.

This scenario is common with larger companies, and extremely common in health care organizations.

In the medical practice we were calling on, the Marketing Director could say no, but she couldn’t say yes. She could refuse to show our proposal to the Controller, but she did not have the authority to buy it.

The Controller could say no — he could refuse to show it to the partners — but he couldn’t say yes.

The real decision-makers were the partners. And the partners were two levels above the Marketing Director.

How can you know if you’re in front of the real decision maker?

Ask. Carefully.

Don’t ask, “Are you the decision-maker?”, or “Who makes the advertising decisions here?”

A question this direct can put your prospect on the defensive. An insecure customer might claim to have the authority whether they do or not.

The question I asked at the medical practice was: “When someone shows up with an advertising idea and wants you to make an investment in it, what’s the process for evaluating the idea? Who else besides you gets involved in those conversations?”

The Marketing Director was very open about the path from her office to the Controller to the doctors.

A good rule of thumb is this: If your proposal has to go more than one rung up the ladder from the person you’ve presented it to, you should be presenting to someone else.

With health care, you often have to start at the bottom and work your way up. It takes patience and perseverance, but over time you can get in front of the doctors. Just don’t kid yourself before you get there.

If they can’t buy it, you can’t sell it. You’ve got to find the person who can buy.

Question: What’s your best technique for qualifying a prospect? You can leave a comment by clicking here.




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