When I first started in sales, my skills were underdeveloped. Like many new sales people, I did a lot of talking—talking about our products, talking about my clients, talking about my “business experience” and just talking in general. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accomplished at listening. It was an elementary mistake. One I didn’t realize I was making until someone said to me, “you have one mouth and two ears, use them proportionately.” That one statement created a fundamental shift in my relationship to potential clients.
Fast forward to today, when so often my clients are surprised to be asked so many in-depth questions right off the bat. Asking a potential client detailed questions about their company, industry and goals, helps me cut right to offering viable solutions. A commonly mistaken perception of sales is that it’s all wining and dining. While I want our clients to feel special from the moment I reply to their initial inquiry, I do believe that tough conversations—and tough questions—pave the way to a solid, trusting relationship. Understanding a potential client’s challenges, obligations, needs and goals is essential to moving forward to a mutually beneficial relationship.
Similarly, a potential client needs to ask a series of questions to help define where they are and what they are looking for in a PR agency. Here are five simple (or perhaps not so simple) questions you should ask yourself before even beginning the search for a new agency partnership.
1. If you worked with a PR firm previously, what went well, what didn’t go well?
Maybe this question requires a lot of thought and maybe it doesn’t. You probably know exactly why you signed with your previous agency. What did they promise that excited you? On the flip side, be prepared to answer what ended the honeymoon phase. Did you and your agency not speak the same language? Did you feel unheard? Or perhaps grow tired of turnover affecting your relationship? Whatever the reason was, your potential agency will want to know, in plain terms, what brought you to their meeting room.
2. What three core messages are you trying to communicate and to whom?
If you have more than three, that’s fine, but in order to focus strategy, and your proposal, it helps for your potential agency to know what your priorities are for building your brand. Maybe it’s your differentiators, company culture, or perhaps you want to focus on your origin story. The possibilities are endless, and there probably isn’t anything we haven’t heard. We want to know what’s important to you so we can find the right angle to reach your business goals.
3. What are your differentiators?
Feel free to let your sales team loose on answering this one for you. We want to know what sets you apart so that we can devise a plan that supports what makes you special. How do you see yourself fitting into (maybe sticking out of?) the industry landscape? Feel free to use analogies on this one, it helps get our creative juices flowing.
4. Do you have any major upcoming news/announcements?
How far out should you look? Be prepared to answer this question in as much detail as the next calendar year. This gives your potential agency a clear sense of what to expect and how to build and propose a strategy to keep you in the news, even during your downtime. Trust me, there’s a lot to talk about, even if it doesn’t seem plain to you—that’s why you’re pursuing an agency relationship in the first place. Leave it to us to fill in those blanks.
5. Why PR?
Wow. This is last on my short list, but is the most important question you need to answer for any potential agency. We want to know how you draw your picture of success. And we want to examine that picture from every angle. If we don’t do a good job of reviewing that picture together and setting appropriate expectations at the beginning of the process, we won’t be able to build it for you according to your specifications. It’s critical that you define success for yourself and be sure to be upfront about it at the beginning of the relationship.
If you come to the table with answers to the above questions prepared, I guarantee you’ll have a more productive conversation with your potential agency, and hopefully you’ll more easily be able to answer the most important question of all: “Is this the right fit?”