A few years back, while speaking at Fruit of the Loom’s national sales meeting, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with another speaker whose message during our offstage conversations still resonates with me today. I recall sharing with him my frustration of how difficult clients and prospects could be because they are always looking for the best price and shopping me all the time.

He paused and said, “Cliff, what are you doing to change that process?” I asked, “What do you mean?” He responded, “Isn’t it the buyer’s job (our client) to level the playing field? If I can buy what you have from 20 people, and everyone can get it to me in the same time frame with the same quality, color, size and decoration—what else is left other than price? What have you done to raise the bar so they can’t put you on that same playing field?”

If you stop and think about it and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes, what would you do? Imagine shopping for tires for your car. Your car uses the Michelin LTX A/T2 22-inch tires. You go online and you see 10 different companies within a 10-mile radius from your home. Every company does free mounting and balancing. All have stock, all can do it on Saturday when you’re available, all have the whitewall version and all have a five-year warranty. The top price is $297.95 per tire; the lowest price is $226.99 per tire. Where do you buy?

I once read an article in B2B magazine that listed the top things clients are looking for in a strategic marketing partner; amazingly, price didn’t even make the list. My friends, in many cases, your clients are having their compensation packages dictated by their ability—or inability—to show measurement in their marketing efforts. The opportunity is starring you in the eye. So, here’s my take, in no particular order, on the 10 things your clients want from you:

1. Strategic Thinking. Excellent strategic thinkers first gain an understanding of the objectives, desires, needs and results—and that level of understanding can only come from research and asking in-depth questions. For the most part, distributors and suppliers alike ask far too few questions. We are so bent on getting the sale that we miss the bigger picture.

By squabbling over the scraps that fall from the table, we miss the feast. Being proactive and determining what your client has on the horizon for the year can be far more successful: trade shows, new product launches, staff incentives, employee and client recognition, and more.

How can you do this? One excellent way is to create a media plan with your client. Place all the events the client is having that year in your database, and have it alert you three months before each event. At that time, proactively call the client and set a meeting to discuss the goals and opportunities for that activity. Remember, your clients are extremely busy, and your proactive approach helps them in their planning; which will ultimately lead to maximum success for their projects.

2. A Clear Understanding Of The Client’s Business. Several years ago, there was a TV commercial where two men were discussing business over lunch and one said to the other, “You know, a guy came to my office today and tried to sell me a phone system.”  “Yeah, so?” the friend asked. “He tried to sell me a solution, before he knew my problem.” Do you have a clear understanding of what your clients really do—and their problems and challenges? Do you ask in-depth questions? Do you do research? It’s imperative that to be different and raise the bar to know not only what your client does, but what their objectives and goals are before moving forward. This knowledge enables you to think strategically and proactively.

My dad was a senior buyer for McGraw-Hill. I recall him telling me a story where a salesman came to his office unprepared. When I asked my father his feelings on this, he stated, “It’s not my job to educate the seller; they must come to me prepared with a basic understanding of what we do. I am willing to fill in the blanks and augment their knowledge of our company and our challenges, but I don’t have time to be the Sales 101 teacher.” I will never forget that. You need to be prepared. In an age of mediocrity, that’s a differentiator.

3. Inside Experience Of The Client’s Industry. Having a knowledge base in the client’s industry sets you apart. Think how much more marketable you could be to a current or prospective client if you had worked in their industry or had a significant background of knowledge in that industry? Having a deep knowledge base in a vertical market, such as manufacturing, hospitality, aerospace or banking, or better yet, drilling down to the level of human resources in the hospitality market, makes you more valuable to your client.

When I owned my marketing company, one of the vertical markets I served was the hospitality industry. I had an extensive background in this space because I had worked for a wide variety of companies. My key value to that client was not only could I speak the industry language to a food and beverage director, business owner, marketing or sales professional, but I understood their challenges because I had experienced them firsthand. Where is your expertise beyond the promotional products arena? That’s a great place to start cultivating new clients.

4. Excellent Creative Work. The reality is pens, note pads, balloons, pencils, letter openers, water bottles, golf towels or plush toys, by themselves, are not creative or the new ideas our clients are always asking us for. However, demonstrating your ability to design, create and build high-end, engaging marketing campaigns using all aspects of our medium—promotional products, print collateral, packaging, theme development and unique distribution all with measurement metrics—is creativity and what makes you unique.

I highly recommend you begin using all aspects of our medium for your own company’s self-promotions first. This way you’ll be able to measure the success and effectiveness, and you’ll have great case histories to share. For example, I developed a campaign using creative packaging and a unique theme that included variable data printing, a pencil and a sticky note pad that had an astounding 70-percent appointment rate. It’s all in the results. It’s important to note: when you’ve created something of merit, trumpet your successes. No one else will. I promise.

5. Ability To Think Outside The Box. Better yet, melt the box! Approaching clients with the same old mundane stuff is not thinking outside the box. Instead, you must take risks. While it’s true that risk begets failure, it also produces huge potential profits. Sir Ken Robinson, the British author and speaker, presented a TED Talk on creativity and noted that when you are being creative or thinking creatively you will sometimes make the wrong call. “I’m not saying that being wrong is the same thing as being creative,” he said, “but if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Marketing is about taking risks. Think through the process to minimize the risk, but in the end, take the risk.

6. Proven Success With Clients. As previously mentioned, you must trumpet your own successes. As your business grows and you experience success, it is important to compile those achievements. Ask clients for referrals and letters of recommendation, and archive those in a presentation format for future clients. Ask clients for testimonials and post those along with any awards on your social media pages, websites and include in your collateral materials. I also suggest getting permission from the client before posting any client-related campaigns.

7. Ability To Measure ROO And ROI. Promotional marketing campaigns with built-in measurement metrics have a far greater appeal to end buyers. As noted previously, the compensation packages for today’s marketing directors are affected by their ability or inability to drive measurement. Return on Investment (ROI) is a valuable measurement.

But if you drill down deeper, beyond ROI, you will get to the core as it relates to marketing, and that’s Return on Objectives (ROO). When your measurement can determine the total return on objectives met, then your programs are perceived as much more valuable. Here’s an example: Your client is trying to attract a particular audience to a trade show to see their demonstration of  a new piece of equipment. The client spends $5,000 on trade-show marketing and their goal is to attract 100 of the 500 prequalified buyers, or a 20-percent return. Here’s the math:

$5,000 divided by 100 = $50. If the client achieved this goal, the ROO would be $50 per person. If the product they are selling is $25,000, paying $50 to make the sale is an easy decision. However, if only two people show up at the booth, then the ROO is $2,500 per person. At that point, you need to think a bit harder, especially if your client’s average close ratio is only 10 percent. Remember, your job is to engage the maximum number of qualified buyers to the booth; it’s the client’s job to close the deals. If you look a bit deeper into the above example, you will see that if your marketing campaign draws only 300 of those prequalified buyers, then the results change dramatically.

$5,000 divided by 300 = $16.66 per person, and at a 10-percent close ratio, the client will potentially achieve 30 new sales.

8. Clear Articulation Of Your Vision. What is your company’s vision? Is it clear?  What exactly do you do? More importantly, why do you do it? In one of his TED Talks, marketing consultant and author Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Clients want to know your vision so they can determine if you fit their culture, the way they think and if  you are of a like mindset. Make your vison about the client and not so much about you. Know your vision, be sure that your staff knows it and can articulate that vision on their own consistently. If you have employees, ask the question, “Why do you think we do what we do?” You’ll be surprised at how inconsistent the answers will be.

9. Resources To Grow With The Company. Do you have substantial capital to grow your business effectively? Are you partnering with the very best suppliers—those that are fiscally and socially responsible, and have the resources to grow? A friend of mine told me she once lost a million-dollar client. Here’s what happened: The client wanted her to create a corporate store. She said she hadn’t done that before but would research it and get the information.

The client responded, “We are not interested in someone who is going to walk through the door with us, we need a partner that has the resources and know-how to take us by the hand and lead us down the road.” Do you have the resources? Resources go beyond just cash in the bank. Are you investing in education, staffing, technology and equipment? You’d better be.

10. Ability To Execute An Integrated Strategy. Developing great ideas is not enough; you must be able to execute. Your promotional marketing campaigns should have all the elements that make it complete, creative, innovation and measurable but without execution it’s useless. It’s like building a beautiful Porsche without an engine—the car looks great but is not very functional.

To the gain the attention of your clients and prospects, your sales efforts must be relevant, relatable and engaging. Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials each have a unique way of engaging and communicating. Your job is to identify, create, engage and execute in a meaningful and relatable manner.

Now that you’ve read this article, isn’t it noteworthy that clients and prospects are not concerned about price? Price never made the list! Mastering these 10 characteristics will solidly position you as a strategic partner with prospects and clients. The promotional products industry is changing; we have the capacity to offer much more than products. Promotional products have made their mark in the advertising and marketing community; now it’s time to raise the bar—again. Now go out and get your share of it.

Cliff Quicksell, Jr., MAS+, serves both as a consultant and acting director of marketing for distributor iPROMOTEu. He has been in the promotional industry for more than 30 years in various capacities. Additionally, Quicksell is president of his own international speaking and consulting company, speaking, coaching and consulting on ways and methods that companies can grow, expand and prosper. He has helped and spoken to audiences in more than eight countries and has published two books and more than 900 articles on sales, marketing and creativity. He publishes a weekly blog “30 Seconds To Greatness.” Contact him to subscribe: cliff@quicksellspeaks.com, 301-717-0615 or via his LinkedIn profile.