There is a school of thought among promotional products professionals which advocates that distributors should position themselves as consultants instead of product sellers.  To achieve this, they should offer guidance to their clients, asking probing questions before making products recommendations, suggest taglines and make sure their contact info is printed on the items.

When I first heard this concept, back when I started my business, it made a lot of sense to me. After all, it had been my approach for the almost 20 years prior as a marketing consultant.

This method worked well when I was talking to a small business owner who welcomed all the advice. But their budgets were very tight and they needed so much more than just branded items. They couldn’t afford but minimum quantities of low priced products.  Given my expertise and resources, I did get the rest of their marketing business, so it worked for me. But if you’re like most distributors and you’re looking to build your business selling products, these type of clients are not ideal.

When approaching larger organizations with bigger budgets, the consultative approach flaps. In this case, in my experience, the discovery questioning was not well received. Neither where my creative product recommendations they hadn’t ask for. They just wanted options for specific items.


My Clients Don’t Get It

This was very frustrating for me. I heard other distributors complain about the same thing. “ My clients don’t get it”. I could totally relate. Here we are all pumped up to impress our prospect or client, to leave the meeting very frustrated after having our ideas dismissed. They just want to give us a list of specific – sometimes boring-  items to find options and pricing for. And some clients just want their logo on the item. No contact info. Because those are the instructions given by their marketing departments. 

I quickly realized that I had to ditch that approach if I wanted bigger clients. Business 101: know your audience.  It turned out, they don’t want a consultant, they want more of a personal shopper. So I had to position my company as the best one there is.

It is critical to know your audience. There is a reason why your clients are not listening to you.  Simply put, the decision about the products has already been made. The products are part of their overall marketing plan, all they want from you is to get them. When dealing with large organizations, you are dealing with an assistant or a coordinator, whose job is to get the products their boss has already decided.

Presenting brilliant product ideas at this point will only annoy them because you are wasting their time on something that’s outside their scope.

What your client wants from you is assistance in getting the products on time, printed correctly, meeting their quality standards. Your job is to listen and deliver. It’s about what they want, not about what you think or want. 


When To Present Your Creative Ideas

There is a time for creative ideas, just not when you are sitting in front of a busy person who has been tasked with sourcing specific products. At this point, they are looking to hand it off to you, as fast as possible, so they can get back to their many other tasks.

The right time is in the planning stages. But I think you have to earn the privilege of being invited. You have to demonstrate your abilities to come up with creative ideas for their campaigns. Once you earn that, you are in a consultative position.

To get there, you want to showcase your creativity in an effective way. For example, showing products you love on social media and newsletters.  Sharing case studies of those campaigns you have helped create. Showing your work.  Even if you don’t see an immediate order resulting from that effort, your clients will see them and consider them. They will appreciate your creativity and learn more about what you can do.

Even if they continue to order “boring” items, they’ll be happy to work with a creative provider. And in many cases, circumstances change, and a new product launch, a new event, or a rebranding call for a fresh perspective and they call you. This is how it worked for us.

But it’s not always the case.

The important thing is that you continue to learn not only about the products you sell but also about how they are being used as part of the mix at various kinds of events, and what else is being done at those events to make them successful, in order to educate yourself beyond the product.

The Question To Ask: Do YOU Get Your Clients?

Every time I hear “my clients don’t get it” I can’t help but think, it is YOU who don’t understand your clients. YOU don’t know what they want. YOU want to judge their choices. If this is your approach, what kind of a buying experience are you proving? A very unpleasant one.

The more you understand what your client wants from you, and the more you make an effort to deliver it, the more successful you will be in your business.

Next time you feel frustrated because your client wants to order a “boring” item, change the narrative. First of all, don’t say boring.  Judging your client’s choices only shows that you don’t understand what they want to do.  Instead, ask yourself what part of your client’s job – and business- don’t you understand, and bridge that gap.

Make sure YOU get your clients.

That’s your job.