When the Client Just Won’t Make a Decision

When I sold advertising for the New York Mets, my efforts were aided by some built-in urgency: every advertiser wanted their fence sign to be up by Opening Day.

Photo by Michael Flippo

Opening Day was fixed on the calendar, in early April every year. Clients had to have their copy turned in by mid-February. 
Before the painter would even start work, we required a signed advertising contract. This hard deadline forced clients to make a decision. 
Advertising sales in the “real world” doesn’t generally work that way.
With the exception of some special programs and events like Valentine’s Day or political season, there’s no natural deadline.
Clients can start their radio, television, print, outdoor, or digital campaigns whenever they want. This week, next week, next month, six months from now. 
This can make it tough to close business.

                   Photo by Boyan Dimitrov

A TV sales manager recently wrote to me looking for ideas to create urgency and close business faster. 
I replied that this isn’t always possible, or even desirable. Customers will buy when they’re ready to buy, not when you’re ready to sell.
As Kevin Davis put it in his book Slow Down, Sell Faster,
Every sales leader wants fast sales; the trouble is, there aren’t many fast buyers…They are unlikely to change their buying process to match your selling process, so your only option is to be the one who switches.”
A further complicating factor is that if there are multiple decision-makers, each one may be at a different point in the sales cycle. Pushing a client faster than they’re ready to go can result in a shut-down of the whole process.
That said, sometimes a client is just about ready to go, but needs a push to take action. Here are some ways to create a little urgency when appropriate:
  1. End every meeting with an agreement to move forward somehow.
  • Has the client asked you to re-work the creative or the broadcast/digital plan? Set a face-to-face meeting where you can bring the revised plan in person. If the advertiser asks you to email it, ask them to commit to reviewing it by a certain date, and schedule a meeting or at least a phone call to discuss it. 
  • Does the client need to talk with his accountant? Ask when that will happen, and make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting the day after that conversation is to take place. This requires the client to put something on his calendar, which will force him to either talk to his accountant or admit that he hasn’t.
  • One note: “Why don’t you call me some time next week?” is not an appointment. An appointment has a date, time, and location — recorded in the client’s calendar.
  1. Put an expiration date on every proposal. Nothing fancy — it can be as simple as “Proposal valid through 5pm Friday, December 9.” Not in small print — in big print where the client can’t miss it. What happens on December 10 is up to you, but to protect your credibility the deal needs to change somehow. Rates might rise; sponsorship mentions could be pared back. 
  1. A variation on this: for the right piece of business, a “sign by Friday” bonus can be very effective. Extra commercials or sponsorship mentions; free production if you normally charge for it. They only get the bonus if they sign by the deadline.
  1. If the idea’s strong enough, and the client likes it enough, tell them that the idea’s too good to go to waste, and you’re going to have to take it to a competitor if they don’t sign on by a certain date. Then… take it to a competitor. 

None of this will work if the client’s just not ready to buy. But if they’re on the edge of doing something and need a push, these things may help.

The key is to have your pipeline full enough with clients in all phases of the sales cycle that you don’t need any one deal to close right now.



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