When the Client Won’t Listen

I’d love to say that clients always accept my advice and do exactly what I tell them.

sales tip: sometimes the client won't listen

Photo by pathdoc/pdc

There are some furniture store owners and auto dealers who think they know more about advertising than I do.

Sometimes they’re right. But not often.

Let’s make a deal. If you don’t tell me how to write your ad copy, I won’t show up at your funeral home and tell you how to embalm the bodies.” — Something I once thought about saying, but did not, to a client.

This is a topic of much conversation among well-trained advertising salespeople. You are held accountable for results — if the advertising doesn’t deliver, you be blamed. But you are on commission — if the client doesn’t run with you, you don’t get paid.

How do you handle it?

As Dan O’Day points out, much depends on how your customers perceive you:

If you want to provide your clients the most for their money, you need to:

1. Educate yourself to the point where you do have genuine expertise in radio advertising.

2. Make that expertise clear to the client at the beginning of and throughout your entire relationship.

As an Account Executive, I made a point of talking about the books I’d read, the CD’s I’d listened to, and the seminars I attended. I sent a monthly email newsletter to my clients that talked about marketing, not about my stations.

I started a blog in 2008 — the one you’re reading now.

In spite of the credentials I built up and trumpeted at every opportunity, I would sometimes find myself sitting across the desk from a business owner who was determined to write his own laundry-list commercial and run it on my competitor if I didn’t like it.

If you run into a situation like that, you have two choices:

1. Refuse the business. Tell the client that you would love to have the business, but cannot accept the order when you don’t think it will accomplish the client’s goals.

2. Give the client the best advice you can, and then take the money.

Here’s the approach I settled on:

  • If the order was a little one, I’d refuse it. I set a minimum dollar figure (my “Evangelista Number“) below which the business wasn’t worth my time. If it was below the Evangelista Line, I was happy to let my competitor suffer.
  • If the dollar figure was substantial, and the only way to get the order was to run the ad my the customer insisted on running, I’d accept it — but only after saying this:

Advertising Sales Tip:
The “Two Responsibilities” Gambit

Mr. (or Ms.) Client, I have two responsibilities. The first one is to my station and my own checking account, and it’s this: if you want to give me your money, I am prepared to take it.

But I also have a responsibility to you to tell you if I think your plan isn’t going to work. And I don’t think it’ll work. If you still want to go ahead and do it, let go ahead.

Sometimes the campaign failed and the client ultimately agreed to try it my way. Results, and the customer’s perception of my expertise, generally improved when that happened.

Sometimes the campaign failed and the client just stopped advertising. In that case, I’d shrug and move on to someone else who was willing to listen to me.

Occasionally customer was right and the campaign worked after all. As Joaquin Andujar was fond of saying, you never know.

In a perfect world, you could walk away every time a client wanted to advertise the wrong way.

Alas, the world ain’t perfect.

You have bills to pay, and a budget to hit.  Winning the argument might feel good, but allowing your competition to cash your commission check does not.

Under the right circumstances, using the “two responsibilities” gambit will allow you to cash the check and still sleep at night.

Question: What’s your best strategy for dealing with a client who won’t listen? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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