(By Paul Weyland) For many of us in sales, getting the client to sign a legally binding document with your company can be a challenge, or even a nightmare. Signed long-term contracts are the key to becoming a super-biller in media. Verbal OKs are easy. Written agreements can be trickier. But if that’s what management wants, then that’s what you must deliver. Remember, written agreements are good for everybody. Here are some tips to make the process a little easier.
I never call it a “contract.” I always refer to the document as an “agreement.” For many, the word contract has a negative connotation. So, as an old sales mentor always said, “Why would you ever do anything that would give a customer any reason not to buy?”
Verbal OKs are usually easier to get than written ones. I’ve had clients give me verbal “yeses” and then balk at signing the written agreement. Why? Sometimes it’s simply because some people have trouble saying no to your face. If someone refuses to sign a binding document, it’s usually because they have an objection you have not answered. Your job is to uncover that objection to the satisfaction of the client, change the agreement, and get it signed. Written agreements spell out the rules in black and white. Once signed, there is no disputing those words. With verbal contracts, facts are loose and memories can change and work against you. Get the written agreement for transparency for both parties.
Make sure you’re talking to the right person. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing the person you’ve been working with is not the actual decision-maker. When this happens, use the person you know to get you to the person with the authority to sign your agreement. You may have to repeat your entire sales presentation.
Be prepared for changes. We always used an agreement based on what was known as the “standard broadcast contract.” It was obviously written by lawyers. One time, one of my clients submitted our contract to his lawyer, who marked the entire thing up in red ink and handed it back to me a week later. Back at the station we determined that the client’s lawyer was simply trying to earn his keep. No real harm was done to the document, so we changed it his way and got the revised agreement signed.
Everything is negotiable. I think of the agreement as a fluid document; it’s not so rigid that it can’t be amended to suit the client as well as your company. If the client insists on changes, see what you can do. Remember the simple rules of a successful negotiation (a successful negotiation means both parties feel as if they’ve won). If the client wants more, what do you do? Ask for more money or more flexibility in where spots run, etc. If the client takes something away (like money), you also take something back.
Use the “Pen Close.” I don’t like sleazy, high-pressure closing techniques, but once I tried this, it worked so well I finally adopted it. All you do is hand the client the document and a pen (if the contract was worth enough to me, I’d make it a nice pen and let the client keep it upon signing). Once you set the pen in front of the client, one of three things will happen.
If all is well and everything is agreed upon, the client will pick up the pen and sign.
The client will pick up the pen and not immediately sign, but toy with it. This tells me that the client has interest, but still has an objection I haven’t yet addressed to his satisfaction. So I use the “Summary Close,” going over all the key points again until I uncover the objection. If the objection is small, I can amend the agreement in ink and we can both initial. Or I can go back to the station and rewrite the contract. All depends on how your individual company deals with written contracts. Know the rules.
The client doesn’t pick up the pen. This means that your customer has a fundamental problem with your agreement and he or she will not sign until you discover and solve that objection.
I personally have never had to “enforce” a written agreement — that is, to “short-rate” a client. That means a client cancels for some reason and you or your company’s attorneys force the client to pay the contracted amount. In my case, when clients needed to cancel our contract, it was for a good reason (no money, new ownership, going out of business). If the agreement includes travel incentives and the client used that incentive and then cancelled shortly after, then you would certainly be entitled to short-rating, at least to the point that you recover your cost.
Some clients actually need to be told what to do. I have had situations where I said to a client who was staring at the agreement but not signing it, “You need to sign this.” And the client said, “Oh, OK.” And signed.
Keep in mind that signed long-term agreements are the secret to getting rich in this business. Starting a month at 80 percent of your goal is better than a slap across the belly with a wet squirrel.
Paul Weyland helps broadcast companies sell more longterm local business. To hire him or to purchase his books, visit paulweyland.com or call 512.236.1222.