“We’ve lost the visceral love of the sale” – Why we should all rewatch THAT scene from Mad Men

Richard Huntington

This week we spoke with Richard Huntington, Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi and Saatchi on the lost art of selling.


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Dan: Welcome to this week’s boss to boss podcast. In our interviews we feature remarkable people doing imaginative things in often unimaginative markets, usually from the world of b2b. This week, we’re joined by marketing heavyweight and industry legend, Richard Huntington, who is the Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi and Saatchi. So Richard, thank you so much for joining us.



Dan: Fantastic. So just to kick off then Richard, one of the things that you talked about was you described Sipsmith as an example of a brand and I really like this, this expression that refused to accept the settled will of the market, and instead took the category in quite a different direction, but principally through the kind of stories that it told around the product. And it just got me thinking in most b2b spaces where I see genuine disruption taking place, it tends to seem to come from like real product innovation, as opposed to stories around the product, if that makes sense. And I just wonder if that, in some respects, makes b2b a less attractive market to creative minds, because it is more ultimately about the product and the features and the benefits, as opposed to the stories told around the product. But maybe that simply it only seems that way because of a lack of good, good marketing. I’m not sure if you have any thoughts on that?

Richard: I fundamentally believe that any conversation about any brand, or business, organisation, service or product can be facilitated through storytelling, and yes, in business to business, the product matters fantastically, but honestly, the product matters everywhere. I mean, I believe we have moved from a from a world in which marketing broadly thought, all products, are commoditised, all brands are commoditised and therefore the only thing that we’ve got is the distinctiveness of a story or storytelling. And I think we’re now in a world where business leaders, business owners, business buyers, consumers, we all want to know what the what the truth is why? Why your product? And if you’re buying broadband, you should be told why your broadband is better than than anybody else’s. And I can’t see any distinction between a consumer market there and a b2b market. I don’t mean there’s no distinction in what you say. But I don’t believe there’s a distinction in the importance of the product story. Does that make sense?

I fundamentally believe that any conversation about any brand, or business, organisation, service or product can be facilitated through storytelling

Dan: Yeah, no, it absolutely does. It absolutely does. In just a related point, and something else that I heard you talk about previously, was I think part of the problem in b2b is very often marketing has quite a narrow remit, sometimes literally almost like a support function to sales. Whereas in a lot of consumer brands, it feels to me like there’s a broader remit, which again, maybe makes it a more attractive proposition to the best creative minds. I just wonder, from your perspective, where should the boundary of marketing be drawn? If indeed, there should be a boundary?

Richard: Well it depends, I mean, what’s who benefits from a boundary being drawn? Or we assume we’re talking about a boundary between b2c and b2b? But in whose benefit is it to draw that boundary?

Dan: So I guess what I mean is the boundary of a marketer within an organisation like where does their remit finish because it feels like in a b2b organisation, it’s often quite narrow, whereas in a consumer organisation, as I say, often in many b2b organisations, it feels like they’re really there just to kind of do the things that sales don’t want to do. Whereas in a consumer brand, often it feels like they’ve got a much, much broader remit. And and I wonder if that maybe also is part of the reason why it’s a more attractive proposition to the most creative minds. So I wonder where in your feeling like where does the job end of a marketer?

Richard: Great marketers are fundamentally changing their remit in terms of the relationship with the rest of the organisation from the packaging up of the product and proposition to take to market whether that’s consumer or business, to the architects of what that organisation should be, the way in which that organisation should be fundamentally serving its customers. And I think maybe we’re making a distinction here between maybe brands and companies as opposed to consumer and b2b, and what I mean by that is, do you believe as a business owner you you have a you have a brand and you are taking a brand to market in which the products and services are concrete manifestations have what you the way you want to serve people? Or do you make something, as a company, you make something you’re not that important. What’s important is the functionality of the something that you make. And really, that’s not marketing. I mean, that’s the preparation of collateral to take a sales message to consumers. And, you know, that’s just not marketing. I don’t believe marketing is not doing the colouring in the pretty pictures. It’s a fundamental discipline about how you serve your audience, how you serve your customers.

I don't believe marketing is doing the colouring in the pretty pictures. It's a fundamental discipline about how you serve your audience, how you serve your customers.

Dan: And is there something in the leadership that you think tends to dictate? Because in my experience, there’s a huge variety there like like whether or not we define it by b2b or b2c? Of course, that’s a massive oversimplification, but there is a huge spectrum of those organisations where marketing seems to play a role in everything and those organisations where it does it seemed to have a very, very narrow remit. Is it? Is it simply a question of leadership?

Richard: It can be, it can be a question of leadership, it can be a question of both, I think the  origins of the CEO, we could argue that  CEOs with a marketing tradition may well be stronger in thinking or believing marketing has a significant role. You also find the opposite that somebody has been brought up in a marketing tradition, when they get to that position is very keen to prove their prowess in other parts of the operation. So that’s not always the case. You we could have said, I think in the past that there were some organisations that were more marketing and brand led and classically, the FMCG giants like Unilever and P&G, you would have said that, that the soul of those organisations is marketing as much as it’s anything. And in many organisations, that’s simply not the case. So I think it’s more like, who’s the leader? Where did they come from? Is this a marketing oriented or where’s the soul of this organisation of the soul of this organisation is buying or the soul of the organisation is engineering, you know, you find marketing placed in a different way. And then, of course, there’s the quality of the individual marketer, because it’s their ability to win over the confidence of the rest of their board and the CEO. That is, the magical difference,  I think often. And where I’ve got to my life is, is very uninterested in a lot of these divisions, I mean, to b2b b2c, I mean, we’ve also got b2c2b. So I’m more interested in there, there are clients that are confident and clients that are unconfident organisations that are confident and unconfident. And I think marketing has this incredible role to create a climb of confidence within an organisation. And when it does that, my observation is that marketing takes a much stronger role and position of trust of that in that company. 

Dan: How close does the marketer need to be to the product? Because I guess that’s maybe a more complex organisations, maybe that can be a barrier if a marketer feels like they just don’t get it at a product level? How important is that? How well can a marketer do their job if they don’t fundamentally get the kind of inner workings of the product?

Richard: Fundamentally, we’re all just salespeople? I mean, we call ourselves marketers, of course, and it’s slightly different to the direct sales tradition. But really, we’re just here to sell things. And it’s a damn sight easier to sell something that you believe in that you understand and that you believe in than you don’t. I’ve worked a lot in financial services, I think a lot of marketers don’t really understand many of the of the sort of more tricky parts of the financial services world. I think that’s, that’s almost disingenuous. It’s like, how can you do that job unless you understand and believe in the product that you’re selling? And I think that’s true of marketing inside organisations, and it’s true of agencies as well. So while we may say that, you know, we’re here to bring something additive, we’re here to bring the outside world, a customer or client perspective, all of those good things. If you don’t understand the product, I think and possibly some of the technicalities about why? I mean I’m thinking, I work a lot in broadband, why the spectrum that EE might have is better than the spectrum that 02 might have it’s helpful that stuff. 

it's a damn sight easier to sell something that you believe in, that you understand, than that you don't.

Dan: Absolutely, I completely agree and I don’t against coincidence that the best salespeople tend to, in my experience tend to be pretty good marketers, and vice versa. I think they are two sides of the same coin. I mean, you spoke in one of the things I listened to previously, I heard you speak about the lost art of selling or words to that effect. I just wonder, are there any particular traits when you look at the best? And I guess I’m particularly interested in within a kind of creative agency context, when you look at the most effective salespeople, are there any qualities that you see them sharing?

Richard: Is it selling? I think that the phrase I wanted to use was salesmanship. And I regret that that’s, that’s quite gendered. But I think we’re more interested in, there’s put it to one side for the moment, there’s an old fashioned phrase quality of salesmanship as opposed to selling, I think we’ve got to the point where we believe selling is a bottom of the funnel kind of activity. And of course, selling is the entirety of the of the funnel, however, gentle or light touch that salesmanship appears to be. And I think, you know, it’s no surprise that someone like David Ogilvy was a door to door AGA salesman when he started out. I mean, when I talk about the lost art of salesmanship, or selling, I think it’s, it’s people in our industry, and there’s been a lot of debate about this recently, but people in our industry, particularly on the agency side, but also think in marketing, who don’t have that, that sort of visceral love of the sale. And the sale isn’t the cost per acquisition. And it’s not simply the call to action, or the zero moment of truth or whatever, it’s, it’s everything that draws you inexorably towards a client or a customer making that decision. So I think one of the reasons that people in advertising in particular loved madmen wasn’t simply the quality of mid century design in the furniture and surroundings, or the fact that you seem to be able to drink throughout the day. And I think it was because it was a, it was a rawness about that was advertising when it when it thought it was about the art of salesmanship. And it is I know it sounds silly, but it’s worth looking at some of those sort of Don Draper classic pitches, like the Kodak example being the most famous, because that’s just pure salesmanship the way that an audience is being drawn. It’s like, it’s almost like he’s on the doorstep, you know, from the moment he’s rang the doorbell drawing you into that sale. I think that’s what I regret that we’ve lost. And I think that, you know, in lots of organisations, intermediate metrics can get in the way. So an organisation that’s more obsessed with the cost per acquisition than the profit that they’re making, and agencies where they don’t always understand. I mean, the big thing that we always say is, do you understand how this client makes money? Like, deep down? It’s, you know, it’s not the sale of the original product, it’s a sale of it’s the after sale service where they make the money or, you know, it’s they make a loss on the acquisition, but it’s the renewal where the profit lies, you know, it, like I said, I suppose, I’m trying to get an answer to your question. But I think there’s deep curiosity about how the organisation you work for agency or client side actually makes money, and then an ability to tell a story about that product, brand or service that can take somebody from ‘I have no interest in you, your brand, product or service whatsoever’ to ‘where do I sign?’


an ability to tell a story about that product, brand or service can take somebody from 'I have no interest in you, your brand, product or service whatsoever' to 'where do I sign?'

Dan: Is there almost an argument to say that it’s a slightly unhelpful? And again, I’m going to paint a massively oversimplified picture here, but it’s a slightly unhelpful distinction between sales and marketing, because it seems to me that it it is they do exist to achieve the same end, and the creation of this sort of false separation can lead to them chasing quite different performance metrics. And then that creates maybe a slight lack of alignment, I just want to and again, in the consumer world, particularly if you’re an E commerce brand, you probably don’t even have a sales team, right? So you do have a sales team, but you call them your marketing, like it’s all one thing. And I think sometimes it’s separation is quite artificial and not terribly helpful.

Richard: I think that it’s interesting what you say about misaligned KPIs or misaligned objectives, you know, maybe marketing teams that have no sight of the p&l, which I think is you know, purely that are purely working on intermediate or brand metrics, and don’t get me wrong, intermediate metrics are desperately important to chart our progress, or the progress of a consumer through the funnel, but we’re all here to do one thing and that essentially boil down to volume and value of sales. And I think the only distinction it might be worth making is that good marketers, and there’s a huge debate here about the reduction of marketing to marketing communications, good marketers, are there to help the organisation understand what product to sell, what price to sell it at, where to sell it at where to sell it, not just in what communications channels, but literally distribution. Good marketing has always been about those things. Now, maybe we would say if I sat down with somebody who’s a passionate person from from sales, they’d say, ‘we’ll we’re about the kind of feedback loop from the end user that that dictates what product we make next, or what iterative, what step forward, we make’, because but so maybe even that distinction is artificial, but I do want to make there is just a plea for marketers who understand that, and for the rest of the organisation, frankly, to understand that marketers are more than marketing communications, that is about getting the right product in front of the right customer at the right price, and all those good old school four Ps kind of things.

Dan: Are there any red flags when you’re having those early interactions, where you’re where you’re looking for, like reasons why maybe it just isn’t going to fit, because they perhaps do operate a certain way, they’re structured a certain way they do view the role of marketing in a certain way, are there certain red flags you look for and you think do you know what, you know, all the very best, but this just isn’t gonna be for me?

Richard: Whenever an agency, a good agency is engaging, and thinking about a new client assignment, there are things that are running through your head, particularly for people like us is, is there a clear commercial problem? Do they understand what their commercial problem is? They may need some help identifying or diagnosing how to solve it. But, you know, the worst thing in the world for a creative agency as a client that comes in and says either, you know, essentially, ‘I need to fill some media space. Can I have some content please?’ Yeah, on the other hand, sort of which superficially looks nicer, I want to create some, wherever the classic one is, ‘I want to go to Canne’ you know, create me a Canne campaign, you know, we’re a Super Bowl campaign, you’re gonna go, you don’t really understand how we work we get there. But we have to start with what is it that is wrong in your world? What is it that you need to be liberated from as a business? You know, what, what problem was I am I supposed to be solving? because even the most creative of creative people is fundamentally a problem solver. So I think those are the red flags, clearly an on the ability to have a conversation with the business and say, to achieve those commercial ambitions, I need to have this these resources. And I will deliver back to you more than the resources that you’ve given me. And I will deliver a positive ROI, but I need more resources to achieve that. The other thing is a sort of is eyes bigger than stomach. You know, if there’s no alignment between ambition and obligation, I think that’s a problem. And then I also try and sniff out people who, this is going to sound very odd, but don’t have the.. don’t really have the will to achieve the thing they want to achieve. You say that, but I don’t believe when push comes to shove, you’re going to have to, you’re going to do the thing it’s going to take and my best example, there is working with Direct Line group back in the middle of last decade 2012 2014 2015, you know, the ongoing issue of their business, direct insurance business being taken by price comparison websites, and you know, this is now so serious, that I think I can solve this problem for you, but only if you’re prepared to take every step that is required to do that. So we ended up with quite an extreme solution, doesn’t seem like that in the end, but we used Harvey Keitel in his role as Winston Wolf, you know, a gang land fixer as the face of an insurance company, because that’s what it took to restart the commercial engines of that brand, and so many marketers when it push comes to shove, really haven’t got that will. I know I’m rambling now. My best example of that, I had the misfortune to work on it, amongst other agencies on the remain campaign in 2016. For coalition of politicians, across parties, and I don’t believe they had… I’m trying to find the right language… they were prepared to do what it would take to actually win. Does that make sense? So sniffing out, where their clients have got what are prepared, businesses are prepared to do what it would take to win. That’s the real deal, or whether it’s just a marketing team that like to see a 1% added to the, you know, revenue next year.

You know, if there's no alignment between ambition and obligation, I think that's a problem

Dan: I completely get it and but does that in a sense, make it easier to work with maybe kind of like smaller startups, in some cases, because they come with less baggage, and they have less to lose, whereas I guess, if you’re working, irrespective whether it’s b2b, or consumer, if you’re working with an organisation that’s been around 50 years, they have a lot to lose by making mistakes by in a sense, kind of, they may feel that over-stretching themselves or they’re taking too much risk creatively?

Richard: I’m not gonna love that distinction, yes, startups have a clean sheet, and they often come in with a challenger mentality. And, often, you know, without a legacy book without a legacy technology, they can more easily, you know, like a neobank can much more easily sort of offer the right user experience or customer experience than a legacy bank for all sorts of structural reasons. But actually, I think great marketers who take their responsibility to their brand seriously and are prepared to do what it will take can achieve extraordinary things in legacy businesses. And I’m thinking, definitely what we did with Direct Line, we worked with British Heart Foundation, extraordinary marketing leader, there, Claire Sadler, who I think, has got her sights set on how do I transform the in donation income of this charity? and what will it take to do that? And I think you meet you meet founders, and you meet people who are marketers working in enormous publicly quoted companies. And it makes no difference in some ways. In fact, sometimes founder led organisations can be horrific to work with, because the entire brand or business is in the head of the founder, you spend your entire time either trying to double guess or literally writing down their vision, which is great for them but it’s less obvious where an agency can add value, if that makes any sense. 

But actually, I think great marketers who take their responsibility to their brand seriously and are prepared to do what it will take can achieve extraordinary things in legacy businesses.

Dan: Yeah, it completely does. So I guess ultimately, it’s about the individual. It’s not about the category or the size of the organisation.

Richard: Some brands and businesses innately attract, because of the quality of their product, perhaps, or their legacy of marketing attract a body of good marketers. But I do think marketing leadership is, the quality of the CMO is critical.

Dan: A really interesting example of that was one of the first ever interviews I did about eight, nine years ago now was with a chap called Elliot Moss, who comes from a marketing agency background and became the head of marketing for Mishcon de Reya, and obviously, no legal background, but he in a sense, he made the entire brand about marketing. And he was, you know, he poked his nose into every, every last, you know, corner of that law firm, and made them absolutely obsess over questions that conventionally I guess, law firms wouldn’t have obsessed over, and probably wasn’t a coincidence that they were then the fastest growing law firm on the planet for the five or six years that followed. So yeah, I guess ultimately, it’s about the people.

Richard: Whatever we were doing is as a, you know, as a community of marketers agency and client side, I think the only thing that matters right now is growth, you know, like, perhaps not in the way that the previous income, but at number 10 thought growth should be delivered, but there’s no disagreement that we need growth, we need growth in our economy, we need growth for our businesses, and we need to find those sources of growth. And I think what’s so fun, fascinating about that case study is if you if you go into a law firm and say, I know marketing seems at odds with what you do, but this business needs growth, and my job is to find out how to do that whether that’s pursuing different I know nothing about this, but different sorts of clients, different sorts of cases, you know, expanding into new areas where the law is making a difference. Like, that’s a, that’s a classic marketers role I think.

Dan: I think one of the the issue of growth, it was an interesting one, because something else I’ve noticed with those companies really disrupting very established markets, like the legal sector, those you know, that we call them startups or otherwise, but it is they have a different attitude around growth versus profit extraction, and the very fact that the really big firms, because they might have had partners in the organisations that have done their 20-30 years, and they are now in a position where they want to, you know, make hay while the sun shines, that is their personal priority, whereas the startup organisation is, in a sense, kind of like, they’re not high bound by that. And actually, they may well have like a five year plan where like, there is no profit, it is purely about growth. And that is a, that is such a different attitude, that just makes it very, very difficult for the established organisations to really compete. And as a consequence, there are certain, you know, verticals within those markets that have just been, you know, totally turned on their heads within a two or three year period. But again, that’s a question of, I guess, attitude and leadership rather than necessarily, you know, organisational size or anything else.

Dan: Something else you spoke about, which I personally found extremely interesting, it struck quite a chord was you spoke about tools and coping mechanisms that you developed, as I think you put it in an introvert in an extroverts world or words to that effect. As a fellow introvert, you know, in the same world, I’d be fascinated to hear of any of those tools, if you are happy to share them?

Richard: Yeah, I mean, this is a huge subject. And I was actually having a chat with somebody, the last couple of days ago saying she was she was starting to feel like introversion was becoming a sort of piece of social capital, that in it says, I’ve always grown up in an environment where to be extrovert was amazing. And I tried to convince myself for years that my Myers Briggs was not quite what it what it suggested I was that I was a true extrovert.

Introversion was becoming a sort of piece of social capital

And I thought it was interesting the way the pendulum was perhaps, has swung. But true introverts, and I think what we’re talking about are people who take their energy from time alone or in small groups of people who find it difficult to do, you know, to do small talk, who find large groups of people exhausting. My wife has a phrase, which is she gets ‘introvert hangovers’, like the next day, having been really sort of out there having to sort of kind of deal with some of the way that extracts energy from you. Whereas extroverts because that’s the sort of channelling other people as a source of energy, I think, talk about coping mechanisms. I think understanding all of that is really important, understanding that there are lots of ways as an introvert, you might prefer to do a presentation to 200 people that sounds  counter intuitive, but a presentation to 200 people means you don’t have to sort of spend your time trying to win over everybody, like an extrovert would want to you can sort of see this as an impersonal audience. So actually, some in some ways it you should be allowing yourselves a sort of canvas that’s, perhaps bigger than you imagine it is. It isn’t all about, you know, high quality one to one conversations. I think, when you do need to be like that, putting on a mask, it sounds like you’re putting on something that isn’t you, but what I found is increasingly its really super important, is just the ability in any situation, however I’m feeling to Don some sort of kind of clothing that allows me to, to show up in a slightly different way. And I think it’s one of the reasons why often people say to high performing introverts, you know, don’t be ridiculous, you can’t possibly be like that, you know, you’re so you’re incredibly gregarious, or, you know, you seem really confident and I don’t think that’s, they’re not aligned, if you see what I mean. I think the other thing is, just introverts take a lot of solace from self esteem rather than self confidence. You know, it may well be that, you suffer from doubt and periodic lack of self confidence. I think if you believe in yourself, then you get through and there’s a phrase I love from an ad man called Peter Mead years ago, which is people say you need the courage of your conviction, but if you’ve got conviction, you don’t need courage. So I think that’s sort of the really unhelpful tore through some thoughts that really will be better expressed as a book, but I think it’s an interesting time to be an introvert because I think understanding how to channel it and use it well is kind of new.

you need the courage of your conviction, but if you've got conviction, you don't need courage.

Dan: And do you think it’s maybe easier now, either because it’s easier to talk about it or and also, because maybe there are certain channels available that maybe do align themselves more to that kind of personality. I don’t know, like, do you think that? Like, in the course of your career? Have you noticed any change?

Richard: 100%? Like, I’ve run a blog. I mean, that’s a, that’s a throwback piece of technology. I’ve run a blog for nearly 20 years. So I started in 2005. And the internet at that stage, and then I think what essentially became micro blogging, if you used Twitter, I think from from a marketing point of view became essentially micro blogging, you know, stuff that really didn’t warrant a post, but was nonetheless interesting. And I think those were amazing ways for people who were useless. No, that’s not fair, who really hate networking, really hate showing up in a room where they don’t know anybody, and to start to have a place in the world. And it’s no surprise, I mean, I essentially gave myself a different name online for a while, which is the handle ad literate, because I was creating almost an alter ego. Now, that’s been aligned subsequently. But I think some of those web 2.0 technologies are incredibly important for people to express themselves. And I think we’re talking here about introversion and extraversion sort of binary sense, but I think it is simply that we are becoming more aware of neurodiversity diversity, full stop, and neurodiversity, and the need for organisations and industries, to to harness the, the qualities of everybody, because everybody’s got a contribution to make. And I think it was a mistake when we believe that organisations or industries like advertising, you know, had to have a sort of mono culture in order, you had to, I suppose you had  to occupy the monoculture in order to succeed. And I think it’s a huge journey that we’ve been on. And it’s almost now, apart from growth, the primary objective of any industry right now is figuring out how we harness diversity in every single dimension, because that’s what makes us better at our jobs.

And it's almost now, apart from growth, the primary objective of any industry right now is figuring out how we harness diversity in every single dimension, because that's what makes us better at our jobs.

Dan: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more. I also always wonder how on earth do people at networking events use to avoid making eye contact if they couldn’t pretend to stare at their phone and check their emails for the 17th time in as many minutes? Or maybe that’s just me.

Richard: I’m a big phone user. And I didn’t, I think I just didn’t go to them. I think I just sat at home and watch telly. And I think for a lot of people, when business is done in those forums alone, I think that’s part of the problem. We ended up with a monoculture that we see across the business world, because there was a soft, there was a soft culture that was policed. I mean, this is totally different issue. But after hours drinking in the pub is a soft culture that was policed in advertising for years and years and years. It’s not that helpful. 

Dan: Interesting, interesting. And you’ve seen a big, I mean, certainly, I’ve, I feel like I’ve seen a change. I mean, it’s very rare now that if we, if we do go to a pub, you know, late afternoon, early evening, I mean, it’s, it’s 80% of the drinks are soft drinks, and people are generally sort of going off to do their own thing at six o’clock. And I don’t know, like, I feel sometimes I feel like it’s something’s lost a little bit. Like if I’m honest, some, like a little bit of me feels that way. But then I also think a lot is gained as well. Like, I don’t know I guess there’s two sides.

Richard: I mean, that’s just cultural progression in lots of ways. I mean, I would, you know, I would hate to lose some of that conviviality and particularly, given we’ve been through a period of time where we weren’t able to do that, you know, and I love! being back live with with agency colleagues with clients, you know, feeling the visceral rub of agency life and doing business I think the issue is, that socialisation, that socialising cannot be the defining reason why a deal is done, why somebody gets promoted, why somebody gets a pay rise, nobody’s saying they go down to the pub we own a pub at Saachi’s have done for years called the pregnant man. Go and knock yourselves out after work and have a brilliant time it serves a third best Espresso Martini in London. But be under no illusion that it’s a means by which business is done. That’s what I mean.

Dan: Absolutely. That’s awesome. Look, thank you so much Richard. I knew this was gonna be brilliant and it’s exceeded those expectations. So thank you so much. Really, really enjoyed it. Really appreciate your time.