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When selling isn't a dirty word

By on 13.05.14 in News

Our industry is no place for people who blanch at four letter words. Especially when it comes to briefing copy amends last thing on a Friday before a bank holiday.

However, there is one four letter word that more and more communications professionals seem to baulk at. And that's the verb 'to sell'.

When I entered the profession as a post boy (well, junior copywriter) in the very late 1980s, the role of account management in my agency was defined as 'to sell the agency's services to our clients'.

Such language seems almost politically incorrect these days. The contemporary equivalent of this mission statement generally seems to be 'to own the client relationship'.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not altogether comfortable with this change.

I think account people have become squeamish about the notion of selling. Perhaps they think it's beneath them. Or maybe they think it's something a premium brand doesn't need to do.

They should spend some time behind the counter at John Lewis. Despite the premium reputation of the brand, the partners in that business are by no means afraid of selling.

They will openly use the word, even in polite company. Because they know that when it's done with the best interests of the customer in mind, selling is essentially the same as serving.

I've been a copywriter, a planner, and - for one brief catastrophic moment - an agency CEO. I certainly wouldn't consider myself anyone's idea of a good client service person. But I've had the privilege of working with a few, and this is what I've observed.

Good account people know their product. They know their agency's case studies as well as the agency's new business team. Not just that, they also know the backgrounds and skillsets of the agency's key players. And the capabilities of other companies within the agency's broader group.

They are brilliant listeners. Whether they're in a meeting, on the phone, or reading between the lines of their clients' emails and presentations, good account people are always alert to those subtle signs that signal an imminent need.

As well as knowing their wares and walking round with their ears open, good account people also have the quickness of wit to put need and product together to create a relevant solution for their client.

Of course, the solution is never a fully cooked one. It's usually something along the lines of: 'That sounds a bit like the problem our Amalgamated Foodstuffs client was having. What we did for them was…'

Good account people deliver this throwaway thought with the disinterested, matter-of-fact inflection perfected by Roger Sterling of Mad Men fame. But they have a plan to follow up and make the solution easy to buy.

For neither of the parties involved does this kind of selling feel like selling.

It feels like someone's come up with a creative idea that solves a problem, and has enjoyed delivering it with panache. Which is as it should be. Because isn't that precisely why we all got into the business in the first place?


Richard is Chief Strategy Officer at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas.