The Downstream Effect

Why go to the trouble and effort of bringing your customers big, creative deals when the batting average for such deals hovers well below .100? Why expend the creativity, vision and ambition to develop these "Black Swan" deals if the vast majority of your business will flow in through normal transactional channels? To really understand the rationale, you need to factor in The Downstream Effect.

A senior industry executive reminded me of this during a workshop I conducted last week. To paraphrase: Our company must have brought one customer at least 15 big, cross-media ideas over the course of two years. We'd have great discussions but ultimately they didn't buy a single one. Yet, quietly, their spending with us grew 500% over those two years, all of it coming to us through normal channels.

So what's going on here? Is this business the company would have gotten anyway? Was this all a lot of arm flapping? Unlikely. The sales organization that consistently pushes smart ideas up to the customer is winning even when it doesn't land the sexy 'Black Swan' deals. It's getting regular access to primary upstream decision makers and self-branding along the way. When well-executed, the process itself has value to the marketer. They learn and grow along the way -- they enjoy the process -- and they subtly but measurably reward companies who make the effort. Here's a checklist to follow if you want to prepare your sales team to bring quality ideas to clients and enjoy the benefits of doing so:

Have a Point of View: Your team needs to have strategic yet dynamic POV on the customer's marketing and competition, and your ideas should flow directly from it. Every member of the team should be able to articulate it simply and clearly. The client will know instinctively that you're not just throwing stuff against the wall.

Build from Strength: The best ideas aren't invented, they're aggregated. What you do for a client should be based on those things that your company does really well. So what are your strengths? What can you put on your "First/Best/Only" list?

Collaborate: Marketing ideation isn't a talent show, yet too many organizations focus too much energy on preparing beautiful decks and demos instead of opening up the process to the customer. Don't stage a presentation; host a whiteboard session. A client will always build something bigger with you than he'll buy from you.

Strategy Doesn't Travel North: If you're trying to drive ideas up through planning teams or on the back of RFPs, you're wasting your time. You need to create an open channel to the marketer and to the strategic agency people they speak to every day. And never ever throw your ideas over the wall via e-mail; if it's worth consideration then it's worth a face-to-face meeting or WebEx.

There's no reason to choose between strategic, creative sales and your everyday transactional business. You can have both, and thanks to the Downstream Effect, one will actually feed the other.