Marketers That Suck At Selling Are Like Birds That Suck At Flying

Earlier today I posted an article about ad agencies needing to get better at positioning themselves and their client’s brands in the marketplace. Now, let’s turn to the other elephant in the room–selling.

Derek Walker of Brown and Browner in Columbia, SC thinks ad people suck at selling. Here’s the centerpiece from his latest piece on Ad Age’s Small Agency Diary:

If we are so good at selling:

* How come we can’t convince clients of the value of our services and what we bring to the table?

* How come our salaries are so low and turnover is so high?

* How come our trust level with the public is so bad?

* Why do so many great concepts/ideas never see the light of day?

* Why aren’t clients flocking to us for our services?

The cold hard fact is, we suck at selling.

Go ahead, defend yourself. That’s why these bloggy things have comments.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. DB, this is absolutely on the money.

    The reason for this, I believe, is that most people don’t gravitate towards the creative services industry because they have a passion for selling. if they did, they’d be drawn to more lucrative fields like real estate, insurance or cocaine.

    I think most people in the biz are outwardly curious. They have an interest in several creative type endeavors and view a “rudimentary” concept like selling as more the speed of the self-help crowd. This may be well and good for their creative shtick, but does little to help them ensure their job is secure or make their company more profitable — two pretty damn important components if you ask me.

    • It’s funny that you say “most people don’t gravitate towards the creative services industry because they have a passion for selling.” I got into this business to learn how to package and sell my ideas. I thought that might be an important thing to know how to do. So, even if I lack a certain passion for selling, I recognize that everything I put forward is dependent on “the sale.”

  2. Salesman says:

    Dunno. Feels like the author here is going through some personal crisis. To answer his questions:

    1. Um, we can. And do. Sorry you’ve been unable to cross the hurdle.

    2. Salaries in our industry are no different than most industries — that is, many have dropped to a degree. But depending upon your agency and your accomplishments, your salary might be fine. Turnover can be a function of chaotic client movement or other factors. In the end, there is far less loyalty in the industry, due in part to constant mergers and client defections.

    3. Because there is so much sleazy advertising out there. We can’t control the bullshit being produced by others any more than a prominent surgeon can control the work of someone performing plastic surgery out of a garage.

    4. Um, why do other agencies manage to sell great work? Again, this question sounds like a personal problem.

    5. Um, they are. If you have services worth buying. Again, sounds like a personal problem.

    The inherent flaw with this essay is its use of words like “we” and “our,” as if the author speaks for the industry. The majority or agencies do sell; otherwise, they — or we — would not be in business.

    • Nice reply. Pronoun use is important. And I agree that there are plenty of people in advertising who know how to sell. That’s why it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that brands small and large depend on.

  3. Being “good at selling” is an oxymoron. People hate to be sold. Instead, be good at creating ideas that help clients grow.

    • I don’t agree that everyone hates to be sold. In fact, I think many people love to be sold because it means someone’s paying attention to their needs.

  4. HighJive says:

    I think your post title insults penguins and ostriches. Although marketers who can’t sell often adopt an ostrich-like stance, so maybe you were accurate in that regard.