Hell is other (sales) people

This is not about people you see at the checkout in stores. Plenty of comedy routines have been dedicated to wonderful beings who sell you groceries, shoes, perfume or cars. No, this one goes out to your company’s sales team. Specifically, web company’s sales team. Arguably the life-force of an online business. Folks, you can be such a nuisance sometimes.

Not those who bring in new clients and keep them coming back. These people are by definition Salesmen – they can engage a client, successfully negotiate a deal, see the project/product completed to satisfaction, and give the client reason(s) to come back again. I got no problems with you – you rock!

I also don’t have a problem with sales people who know the product/service they’re selling. If you come to a meeting and know exactly what’s on the table, what can be delivered and where the technical limitations are – my respect. It shows you go beyond numbers and deadlines, black or red.

What irritates me is a sales person who doesn’t find such info critical. Knows how to sell, does it well, but has no full understanding of the product. Worse, doesn’t know its costs and benefits. Because a sales person like that might end up with the following mess (feel free to make a mental checklist if you ever witnessed it):

  • give a client a ballpark figure without doing a proper quote (resulting in “retrofitted” quote that will either be bloated to match the earlier imaginary $ figure or chiseled down to bare bones thus undercutting the quality of the project, its team, components or timelines.
  • give the client a launch schedule without verifying a realistic work-back schedule. If a web channel is to launch on Jan 1st (why on earth…), do we really need developers spending their New Years Eve glued to computers?
  • promise a client functionality that the web team or web tools cannot deliver effectively. It’s fun to imagine that your web team can build anything, but there is a world of difference between a 3-month-long web campaign on a major web site and “something kinda like YouTube but only for Ontario residents and only for recipes”. Yes, that was a real phrase used in a pitch, for a 3-month campaign.
  • present a solution that will not benefit the client to reach/audience/engagement. This one is a very common offender, and most of it is caused by lack of product knowledge.

Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent:

  • don’t go all Flash if you plan to reach phone users;
  • don’t build online games if you’re aiming for inventory/traffic boost;*
  • don’t invite comments/feedback if you don’t have solid spam protection and moderators in place.
  • rely on “make-good” as a contingency plan.

It’s not always possible to deliver a month’s worth of traffic in a week, and not affect other web campaigns or web sites.

Web projects have come a long way from the ‘advertiser’s logo in a corner of a web page’ concept. They have costs, tools, functions, timelines, measures and most importantly, teams. If you don’t know all of them, you are at risk of underpricing, overpromising or downright misrepresenting both your company and your client and their product. Worse, when you sell poorly, you undercut all your company’s teams you’re throwing under the bus in the process.

And if that’s the case, who the fuck cares if you got the VP of Big Car Company in your phonebook? Instead, talk to your web team(s), find out what they do, how the sites work, and what tools they use to measure their performance.

And don’t even think of just throwing a number out there without doing a proper quote. Nobody likes that, especially the clients.


*this was written before in-app advertisements and gaming went massive, and ad-refresh allowances. It still holds true for on-screen desktop games that capture player’s time, but do not built ad inventory.