Five Simple Questions Agencies Should Ask All Sales Reps

With any length of time in the emerging media space, media buyers develop a sixth sense that helps them sniff out the charlatans.  We’re pitched by companies at all stages in the game, from established media brands to week-old startups, and they all claim they have the secret sauce for engaging consumers with your brand.

Media buyers also have a special talent for asking tough questions while vetting the latest and the greatest ad tech and new media platforms.  But what if I told you that five simple questions can trip up 80 percent of the fakers?  Here they are:

1)     How do you make money?  You would be surprised how many presenters get tripped up by this very simple question.  The programmatic shysters tend to hesitate, as they contemplate how willing they are to get into a discussion about margins, while the startups that haven’t completely thought through their business model will many times hem and haw.  Any kind of hesitation here should be a red flag for you.

2)     How much does this cost?  Money questions are usually music to a seller’s ears.  When they’re asked a money question, it means that they can stop pitching and the buyer can begin making a decision.  But, just like the “How do you make money?” question, you should get a fairly straightforward answer right away.  If the sales rep continues pitching instead of answering your question, it should be a warning sign that they haven’t thought through their pricing model.  In many instances, lack of a consistent pricing model means they’re probably not working with too many other agencies or advertisers.

3)     What can I get from you that I can’t get elsewhere?  Any sales rep should know the unique selling proposition (USP) of whatever he’s selling.  This is Sales 101 – The USP is the thing they learn to articulate in a concise and easy-to-understand manner from day one.  If you don’t hear this come through cleanly and quickly, it likely means that they’re just another “me, too” vendor that isn’t worth your time.  If the sales rep waves away the question and asks for a small test to showcase what they can do, run screaming.

4)     What kind of scale can I get with this?  There’s a distinct advantage to being one of the first brands to use a new technology, advertise in a new environment, or test out a new targeting tech.  But sales reps should be prepared to give you a picture of what might happen after a successful pilot.  The most engaging ad programs aren’t worth a thing if they only engage a small handful of people and can’t scale beyond the size of a small test.  Your sales rep should be able to help you size the opportunity for your brand.

5)     How are you funded?  Anyone who survived the first dot-com boom knows that the VC dollars don’t last forever.  It’s always a good idea to ask how a potential partner is funded.  Asking this question can give you valuable information that you can use after the meeting to expose companies that are in trouble from a funding perspective.  In other cases, it can reveal a parent company relationship that’s questionable – like a majority stake owned by company that competes directly with you.

For many agencies that evaluate opportunities for their clients, these are five very basic questions that often get asked during every sales presentation.  Even though they may seem rudimentary, don’t let that fool you.  They will still trip up most of the fakers.

Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs for healthcare and healthy brands. He is a 20-year veteran of the integrated media business.