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Preparing to take a B2B customer brief...

A while ago (er…3 years ago…) I wrote a piece aimed, I guess, at customers. I was trying to  stress the importance of a good brief to ensure the successful outcome of a marketing campaign. >>>

Whilst any brief is better than none, there are questions that Agency Execs and Account Handlers should ask that will help to maximise the success of the resultant campaign. These questions may not have been addressed in the brief.

Because customers are unlikely to see their products and services as objectively, or through the same lens, as someone who will be building a creative campaign.*  And, for that reason, egos aside, don’t be afraid to challenge the brief if it doesn’t seem to hang together. it should go in your favour as a demonstration of your confidence and knowledge.

Remember agency execs and account handlers are the bridge between a client’s aspirations and the successful realisation of their goals through the creative services of your agency. There should be no grey areas when you put the brief to your creative team.

I will cover the 10 essential questions to ask when taking a brief in our next blog.  But even before account execs think about asking any questions, they need to prepare…

Do some homework on the company, its products and its market.
Obvious really. But you need to phrase the right questions correctly and show the customer that you know and that you care. It may also help you identify later where the company’s public face; its site and its marketing collateral, varies with what they want to achieve with the new product/service, as you may need to find a way round that particular problem (or upsell your proposal to rebuild the brand!).

As a counter-intuitive rider to this point, above; Don’t know too much! Remember you need some objectivity. Get too involved in product technicalities and you will not see the bigger picture, the features and benefits that will help you sell your customer’s product. You need to put yourself in the position of your client's potential customer. I have found that getting bogged down in a deep understanding of a product can reduce my ability to ‘come in from another angle’, to recognise a hidden benefit, or position my customer’s product away from the competition’s product.

Define the budget as early as you can. Don’t take no for an answer. An experienced account exec should be building a picture of the campaign and deliverables as they take the brief, there is a big difference between a social media panel and a landing page holding a 3D animation, driven by a direct mail campaign, in terms of cost and effectiveness.

Make sure the right marketing people are in the meeting.
You really want a marketing person with experience and clout to interpret, sanction and pass down the reasons for the activity, explain the goals for the campaign and rubber stamp your contribution. Being saddled with an intern means the client is not taking you seriously, and they are unlikely to take your proposal seriously when the intern pushes it ‘upstairs.’

You ideally want an experienced sales person in there, from your customer's team, one who has sat in front of prospects and explained the product or service. Not to decry the knowledge of the internal marketeer, but sales people often see how a passionately held marketing view withers in the face of a discerning customer. Sales personnel will know the common objections, how their product stands up against the competition, its strengths and weaknesses and the expectations of the audience they are selling to. They will also know, from experience, when their audience begins to lose interest and what perks them up.

Importantly, if you win over key sales personnel they are more likely to support your proposal (assuming they are included in the decision). They are also be the ones that will benefit from successful product positioning and take any lead through to a sale.

Next week; the right questions that will help your creative team come up with a winning campaign.

David Hartley is Creative Director at Hartley-Stone.

*There is enough for a whole conference on this topic. A good, trusted agency should be able to push through a concept that may be at odds with the opinions of the client’s marketing team. Takes guts and conviction though...