Building trust to save a key account


I was leading the strategic sales team at The Indianapolis Star charged with growing the total overall spending of our largest and most important accounts. I had a design and database marketing team who reported directly to me and I led the needs analysis, strategy, and pitch presentation of the marketing strategy to the owner, CMO, and/or VP of marketing. We were, in effect, a strategic marketing agency inside the media company.


A regional retailer specializing in photography and video equipment sales to the professional and amateur market had begun looking at how television advertising might provide him more targeted reach to his current focus on newspaper and online display advertising. I was tasked to meet with the client and understand his business objectives and present to him a data-driven marketing strategy that would secure his spending and increase it by adding new and innovative products our media company could deliver. It was projected that he would switch 20-25% of his spending with us if he switched to test television.


I first met with the long-term account executive who had a close, personal relationship with the owner. I got as complete of a history of the client’s preferences, spending behaviors, and personality quarks to ensure I walked into the needs assessment well informed. We met personally with the business owner on his turf and tackled the meeting as a discovery session – with absolutely no sales discussion. I focused on asking questions and avoided talking about solutions. We explored all forms of media (including the competition, just as any outside independent agency would without any agenda to promote or highlight my company’s products and services.

Because I had taken the time to understand the client before the meeting and tactically avoided being seen as a salesperson, I was able to quickly gain his confidence. He saw me as I was a strategic consultant and not a sales guy (leaving that to the account exec) and enabled me to dive deep into his business goals and the metrics he used to judge success.

Most surprisingly to sales leadership at my company, I earned enough trust to get a complete copy of his customer database out of his Point of Sales system. This raw data would prove critical in our strategic planning and presentation.


The presentation was highly engaging and data-driven. We leveraged his own data to drive the analysis and recommendations of strategies and tactics on his advertising and marketing spending. He was ecstatic to receive a consultation that was focused on his goals and metrics, not the media company’s products and services.

Our presentation netted a tremendous result for the company. The owner began utilizing our direct mail business unit for mailers to existing customers, expanded advertising to reach regional media channels at our subsidiary properties in surrounding markets, and significantly increased his presence on our digital media channels. He increased his overall spend by 40% YOY, avoiding the 20-25% drop we had projected.