Question: Hands-On Or Hands-Off?

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Distributor Asks: Do you prefer to use a more consultative approach when working with clients, or just take their order? When I refer to consultative, I mean that aside from helping clients identify solutions, you also make an effort to learn about their pain points, identify competition, note priorities, understand the structure of the organization, discuss constraints and so on. In the past, I chose not to use a consultative approach, especially as clients are becoming more and more reliant on email, as opposed to talking on the phone, to communicate, but I’m curious as to whether I should consider new strategies.

In my opinion—and we are just a contractor decorator, so I’m not in your shoes—but it seems to me that a lot of the promotional products are readily available for purchase directly on the web without a professional getting involved. Also, more and more manufacturers go directly to the end user. It is those who have more to offer than just the lowest price who will survive. Our customers who are promotional product consultants, rather than product peddlers, are the ones who have relationships and were doing well in the pre-virus economy. I would imagine they will be in demand again as they provide the solutions to the problems and bring something that end users cannot do on their own when they shop online for the lowest price.

Pierre Jamnicky
CEO
Blue Moon Promotional, Inc.
Eastlake, Ohio
PPAI 669328

In my view, it’s situational and depends on the customer as to whether I serve as a “consultant.” However it goes, it depends heavily on my relationship with the customer. I have one customer who very much appreciates suggestions and ideas for not only marketing, but for a few “internal” concerns regarding his much larger business. As an aside, and though I love this part of our relationship, I sometimes wonder if I ought to get paid for the “consulting” I offer. In other situations with customers, it’s sort of hands-off for me when it comes to “consulting,” depending on a sense I have as to whether ideas and suggestions would be welcome. Nonetheless, and again, based on the relationship, I may say something to the effect: “I wonder if you’re interested in another idea or perspective?”

Tom Lynch
Owner
IdeaGuy Specialty Advertising and Promotions

Consultant works best for me. My clients value my input to give them the best way to present their brand. I never have been an order taker. The goal is to help them succeed and keep them for as long as I am in business. It’s not a transaction, but a relationship. I want them to know I believe in their business, and I want them to succeed. It may require more time, but it’s worth it in the long run. Referrals come easy because they are satisfied customers with out-of-the-box ideas. In the end, you have to decide what kind of business you want to have and services you want to offer.

Lanelle Henderson
Owner
Oh Nellie Promos
Atlanta, Georgia

I have had a couple of meetings similar to that when we actually met and brainstormed about ideas for future pieces but, for the most part, my clients don’t have that kind of time to go in-depth. I know their industry and competition, and they will ask for suggestions, but many of them discuss things internally amongst themselves on what they want to do.

Greg Alan Miller
Owner
BRAND-Tastik
Lakemoor, Illinois
PPAI 576761, D2

I always aim for this sort of client relationship because it makes you ‘stickier’ with them. It makes you able to do better work making them cooler, more effective products and campaigns. And it makes your job more interesting. Here’s two things I think are important:

It is rare that you will sit down in a single conversation and get all the answers to everything you mentioned above. Working through all that and building a deep understanding of the client takes time and spreads out over the relationship with them. Chip away at it, but do some of it all the time in every conversation from the very start. If you start with, “Here is a quote for the coasters,” it is more difficult to build a relationship.

With that in mind, if the business you are working with is more complex, the person you are talking to may not even know those answers. Find out the specifics of their role, their challenges and how they see themselves in the big picture. Build a relationship with them and they’ll refer you through the organization. Ask those same kinds of questions to the other folks. Get enough little pictures of pain points and how people fit, and you’ve got a bigger picture to look at.

Stephen Musgrave
Vice President and General Manager
Rightsleeve Marketing
Toronto, Ontario
PPAI 221036, D2

I present as a consultative seller, but if someone is dead-set on the best basics, like pens, for example, I pull a SAGE presentation together based on the budget, style preferences, etc. I ask these questions on the initial call. Those are my quick, transactional clients. For the long game—those that require multiple meetings, calls, samples, strategy artwork development—I am adding an hourly consulting fee moving forward, because if it all falls apart, what do you have to show for your time?

Finally, I learned from experience—get to know the ultimate shot-caller/decision-maker. Sometimes it’s the office manager, sometimes it’s the CEO. Get to know them. Build a rapport and only take direction from that person.

Shari Hoffman
Owner
Neon Collective, Inc.
Las Vegas, Nevada
PPAI 764944, D2

For me, there is a difference between giving a free estimate for a project and charging someone a consultation fee. If they have a clear idea of what I’m doing for them and what the end result is, that’s an estimate. If they need my expertise and there’s going to wind up being several conversations, I bill for my time.

Michael Cohen
Vice President
Emunah Graphics LLC
Vandalia, Ohio  

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A Distributor Asks: Looking ahead in a post-coronavirus world, are any distributors making changes to the services they are offering clients, or updating or changing presentation materials to pitch to clients, directly as a result of the pandemic’s effect on business?

What’s Your Answer?

Email your answers to Question@ppai.org for the chance to be featured in a future issue of PPB.

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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