Never present anything generic to any client. Ever.

When my wife, Sandy, and I went to Sears to purchase a dishwasher, the sales person could not have been nicer. As soon as we told him what we wanted, he launched into a sequential, well-rehearsed description of the features and benefits of all the dishwashers he had on the floor.

We learned how many plates, glasses, cups, and saucers we could clean with the first machine, which sells for about $389. We watched quietly as he showed us the next machine, which sells for about $429, but has a bit more capacity, a slightly larger silverware basket, and a top rack that will last longer because it is covered with some form of Teflon. The third machine is more expensive, but definitely quieter than the first two. On and on he went, hoping that at the right moment, one of us would say, “We’ll take that one!”

In the end, we decided to think about it some more before making the purchase. As we were leaving, I turned to Sandy and said, “Isn’t it amazing that he doesn’t know any more about us right now than he did when we walked in the store?”

Sears is a vivid example of generic features and benefits selling.

That’s the selling philosophy that assumes the sales person’s job is to make his products available to the customer with enough information so that the customer can make a smart decision.

The couple who are about to become empty-nesters and are buying a dishwasher for their daughter’s apartment are no different to that sales person than the couple who arrive with three kids in tow, excited because they are about to purchase their first home.

That sales person is going to make the same presentation to both.

It really should make us wonder how much generic selling is happening in our own companies. How often are our tools being presented generically in the same way to entirely different clients?

The problem with generic features and benefits selling – especially in the media business – is that every medium is facing the galloping growth of programmatic buying.

Maybe the best way to understand programmatic buying is to replace the word “programmatic” with the term “self-serve.” Marketers and advertising agencies are increasingly going to help themselves to the media inventory they think is best to carry their message to their target consumers. Buying media inventory will be as simple and free of human contact as booking a hotel room through Priceline.com or making a dinner reservation through OpenTable.com.

In the next couple of years, programmatic will ferret out all the sales people in the media business who are selling their tools generically and will put them out of a job.

Here’s our best advice: Never be caught presenting any of your tools generically to any client at any level. Ever.

Your tools – your ad units, your commercials, your events, your mobile programs – are only valuable in the context of how a client might use those tools to accomplish his unique marketing objective. They have no other value. So, using your proposals to list the features and benefits of your tools wastes your clients’ time. Instead, your proposals should outline exactly how you have organized your tools to create a result for the client. Now the proposal is about a result and not about a bunch of tools.

Take another look at that proposal you are about to send to a client. Ask yourself, “Is it clear how the tools we are presenting in this proposal will help this specific client accomplish his specific marketing objective?”

If it is clear, present it.

If your proposal is so generic that it could be presented to pretty much any client, then you’re not done. You have more work to do.

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