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Dodgy Dealings, Snake Oil Salesmen and Bad Business – What’s Wrong With The Online Marketing Industry

May 13, 2015

Having held senior ecommerce and marketing positions both client side and in agencies and consultancies, I have worked with, acquainted, befriended and unfriended my fair share of men and women working in the digital sector.

Most of these individuals are good people; talented, unassuming, hardworking, even passionate. And most of them will do what they can, within the constraints of their role, to do their best for their clients and customers.

Yes, most people on the front line, in delivery roles will often be overworked with a busy schedule, multiple clients and an ever changing job description, but that goes with the territory and those that I know will tell you that they thrive in this fast paced environment.

Then there are the account managers; the hand holders, the spokesperson, the fire fighter, the buffer, the first line support. They have the thankless task of getting none of the credit when things go well and all of the blame when things don’t quite go to plan. We don’t have account managers at Venture Stream, but that’s another story for another day.

My problem with the industry I call my own, is not, however, with those talented, innovative consultants, or with the tireless and dependable account managers; it’s with those who fuel the fires of business development, those who continue to throw more business, however (in)appropriate, or in spite of the ability (or lack thereof) to deliver, into the top of the hopper, with little regard of what might be leaching out of the bottom.

Connect with any five salespeople on LinkedIn and go and look at their profiles and let me know if you can spot the difference. Sure their proposal documents and pitch presentation deck will look slick, be full of the latest buzzwords, maybe even some fancy graphs, and offer you the opportunity to work with their award winning team, where you’ll be valued as a true partner, but scratch behind the surface and it’s a whole different story.

I’m not naive enough or idealistic enough to realise that a salesperson often requires the motivation of a target – it appeals to the machismo of SMASHING them. However, I happen to think that sales targets are detrimental to sales people, and indeed to the entire business. How can a sales person focussed only on an ever growing target each month say that a potential customer is at the centre of their thinking, and that they have that potential customer’s best interests at heart?

Also, how can a sales person with acquisition-based targets only be expected to care about the fulfilment of all of the promises made during the courtship period? They can’t be, until it comes around to contract renewal time, of course.

Again, if you happen to be connected to those people working in business development on LinkedIn, or even better, on a more personal social network such as Facebook or Twitter, you’ll doubtless gain an insight into what makes them tick, and it doesn’t take a detective to figure out that it’s not all about customer delight. And this is perhaps where my biggest problem lies – of course we’re all pleased and proud when we work hard to gain a potential client’s trust, display and demonstrate our expertise and knowledge of them, their sector and how our experience can benefit them, and we all doubtless have a mini-celebration every time we get the call to say we’ll be working together, but an outward, brash and crass display of commoditising “client wins” really turns me off our industry.

Targets shouldn’t be there to be ‘smashed’, leads aren’t there to be ‘knocked into the back of the net’ and clients aren’t there to be ‘won’.

Of course, I’m generalising – not all agencies and not all sales people adopt this approach, but it’s one I’ve seen all too often, on both sides of the client / agency divide, and it’s something that does the reputation of our industry no good.

At Venture Stream, as mentioned earlier in this blog post / rant, we don’t have account managers, and we don’t have sales targets. We believe in nurturing real partnerships, based on trust and honesty, with an understanding and ethos of doing what’s genuinely best for our clients, sometimes to the detriment of our short-term bottom-line, but always to the benefit of a long-term, solid relationship based on the mutual desire to achieve real results.

We have turned business away that we didn’t feel was right for us, or where we weren’t the best fit for the client; where we didn’t feel that the client and the team were aligned in what success looked like, and how best to get there.

However, we have also consulted with SMEs and start-ups who only have a modest budget to work with, and put together a strategy and a framework to deliver results that shows that investment in digital can provide the return required to invest further.

We have also committed an agency sin of recommending that potential clients and indeed clients reduce investment in marketing, or in advertising spend where they are not seeing the return required, and consult with them on the best way to invest their budget to have the desired impact; whether that’s in other digital marketing channels, in broader business consultancy, or in offline marketing channels.

When Vic, the founder of Venture Stream, first floated the idea of me joining him on this road, he described his vision as creating the ‘anti-agency’, and that’s what really struck a chord with me.

Where agencies sell, Venture Stream consults.

Where agencies target their sales team, Venture Stream gives them the freedom and autonomy to work with the right clients, at the right time (for the client and for the team), at an appropriate level of investment.

Where agencies ‘knock them into the back of the net’ and move on to the next ‘big pitch’, the Venture Stream work is only getting started when a partnership is formed.

If you’d like to talk to refreshingly honest people about investing in online marketing, give us a call – you’ll be surprised, we may even turn you down!

Written by Andy

Andy is Venture Stream’s Chief Operating Officer and has over 15 years’ experience in ecommerce consultancy, design and retail marketing.

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