I’m from a charming Kentucky town with a not so charming name: Paducah. It sounds like a swear word invented to express utter disappointment.
Part of Paducah’s charm is that it is the Quilt City, USA, home to the National Quilt Museum. Yes, that is a real thing. No, don’t stop reading, this gets saucy.
Every year the population doubles as quilters from California to England pour into our town for Quilt Week. The economic impact is significant. And if you are going to have your town flooded by a group of people, well, quilters are an ideal crowd. Nice, pleasant, surprisingly fun, and law abiding . . . usually.
A clerk at the local fabric store told me of the dirty underbelly of Quilt Week: sampling. I asked her for a fabric swatch to match my guest room’s paint. She refused to cut the sample.
Apparently some of the quilting ladies shop in groups and get as many samples as possible. However, they never intend to return and buy the sampled fabric. Instead they use samples as pieces in their smaller projects. The store was losing yards of fabric and revenue. Thus the new sample policing.
The devils in hand quilted vests had ruined it for everyone.
What Does Quilting Have to Do with Agencies?
It’s not just sneaky quilters that engage in sampling. During our sales process we, like many agencies, provide prospective clients with a hefty account analysis. These outline, in great detail, the current health of the campaigns and our ideas for the future of the campaigns. The process is challenging, exciting, and ultimately very time-consuming. It is also essential for winning the confidence of a prospect, and most prospects expect this analysis to occur.
But here’s the dirty underbelly of PPC sales: some of these folks are merely sampling. They have no intentions of hiring our agency, or any agency. Others might begin with good intentions, but after receiving a wealth of suggestions, they decide to implement the action items themselves. This is a fatal mistake. If they lack the SEM chops to generate these strategies, they probably also lack the experience to properly implement them.
How do you know you have been duped? Silence. A prospect who chooses another agency will politely thank you and inform you of their decision. The samplers just slink away.
So, How Can You Spot a Sampler?
Ask questions. It might be uncomfortable, but remember, just like with the succubus client, you are protecting your team and resources. Not only does the pitch take precious time, but it damages your team’s morale to prepare a stellar pitch for naught. A true prospect won’t mind the questions. They won’t seem evasive or vague. They are also looking for the right fit. They want you to ask questions.
In addition to your usual qualifying and discovery questions, pay extra attention to how they answer these:
Why are you looking for an agency?
A prospect who is truly seeking help knows exactly why. Avoid those with vague answers.
What are your plans for communicating with the agency?
Or ask any other detailed housekeeping question. Remember, you are listening for concrete detailed plans for on-boarding an agency.
Who is currently on staff in your digital marketing department?
The fabric store clerk told me one way to spot the samplers was how many women were in the group.
Does your prospect already have a new team ready and waiting to implement your strategy?
Are you currently managing in-house?
Another way she spotted them was if they brought scissors, i.e. already had tools to do the job.
Currently managing in-house is not always a red flag. Use the questions above to gauge this. However, if they are currently with an agency and have a limited digital marketing team, they are not likely samplers.
When will the decision be made and by whom?
Again, the devil is in the details, or in the case of samplers, the lack thereof.
Of course, you’ll also have to trust your gut. I’ve been making qualifying calls for seven years. It has made me slightly sharper than my southern name and accent project. And we still regularly cut beautiful samples for true prospects, we just have a few questions for them first.
Have you run into samplers in your time? What tips do you have for sussing those folks out? Share with us in the comments!