What Did You Bring Me?

What Did You Bring MeIt’s rare that I’m asked to re-post a specific Drift.  Who am I to argue?

The next time you’re preparing for a meeting with a prospective customer (polishing the slides, queuing up the sizzle reel, practicing the demo and making sure all the “partner logos” are up to date) force yourself to stop and switch customers.  Instead of the 36-year-old product manager or the 40-year-old group planning director, I want you to pretend you’re meeting with a five-year-old.

This is not to say that customers are childish or somehow incapable of digesting important, detailed information.  No, this is actually not about them at all.  It’s about you and how you’re over preparing and ultimately overshooting your target.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

For those who have not yet had an up-close and personal relationship with a five-year-old (or whose memory of that relationship may now be clouded by intervening years) let me describe:  this is the human being in its most essential, most honest incarnation.  There’s relatively little depth or contemplation, and even less empathy.  As she should, she cares about her own needs, her own self-preservation.  Before you arrive, she’s probably not thinking much about you at all, and a few minutes after you’re gone she’ll have mentally and emotionally moved on.  Now I want you to consider your next sales call as if you’ll be meeting with this five-year-old.  How would you prepare differently?  Which assumptions would you leave behind?  How much faster would you get to the point?

Inside every human – every one of your customers – there’s a five-year-old, complete with all the fidgeting, self-involvement and impatience.  Preparing to speak to that primal creature means getting to the important stuff really fast…connecting emotionally….being clear.  As an assist, here are three questions that most five-year-olds like to ask, reinterpreted to help you prepare for better customer calls:

“What did you bring me?”  They’re not thinking about helping you out or what kind of day you’re having.  “What’s in it for me?” is the order of the day.  So… bring them something.  No, not a sweatshirt or US Open tickets.  Right away, first thing, hand them an agenda or a set of insights that specifically about them.  Talk about anything else first – your company history, other successful customer relationships – and you’re just spouting “boring grown-up stuff I don’t care about.”

“Where are we going?” Five-year-olds – and customers – want to know what’s next so they can get excited about it.  So describe the future:  What’s it going to be like when you’re working together?  How will things be better?  Bring the “shared destination” to life.

“When are we going to get there?”  Customers and five-year-olds are both impatient beings. Imagining them asking you this question every 3-5 minutes (as children do) will keep you honest, brief and relevant every step of the way.  It’s easy to assume you have more time and attention than you really do.  Sticking with that assumption too long will be fatal to your sales efforts.

The End of Publishing?

The End of PublishingOn Monday, The New York Times made the call that the sky over publishing had officially started falling.  (“Media Websites Battle Faltering Ad Revenue and Traffic.”)  The article speaks in a somewhat surprised tone about the rapid consolidation of viewership and spending with Facebook and Google, and that niche publishers like Gawker, Mashable and the late Gigaom are financially starving as a result. Three reactions:

  1. Can anyone have been so cloistered that they didn’t anticipate consolidation? Really?
  2. Publishing isn’t being consolidated with Google and Facebook: distribution is being consolidated, and that’s a different thing.
  3. Publishers have for too long doubled down on a bad hand, relying on page views, ad calls, standard ad units and a cynical, increasingly-automated planning process to feed them.

A Morgan Stanley analyst is quoted saying “…85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook,” which sounds really awful. But then you realize that 80% of magazine budgets used to go to three companies and a similar – or higher — share of dollars went to network TV. It has always been thus.  Sergei and Larry and Mark are just better distributors and it’s up to the rest of us to adapt.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

But the theme I really want to pick up – and have written about many times before (here, here and here) – is publishers’ stubborn unwillingness to challenge the system and assumptions that diminish their control and relevance more with each passing day.  Yes, some diversification is happening, but the protein in most publishers’ meals is made up of standard ad units and pre-roll videos served in response to bigger and bigger numbers of (increasingly fraudulent) ad calls.  And financing this system is an agency-driven media planning process that (when not programmatically-automated) is getting thinner and more opaque.

This is not the end of publishing.  But it must be the end of advertising – or at least the end of publishers’ flawed assumptions about it.  “Advertising” will not save you.  I wrote about this in late 2014 in an essay for the University of Florida Journalism School’s “Captivate” series (“Don’t Call it Advertising Anymore”) and some of those ideas may be quite helpful at this juncture.

Oh, yes:  the “agency question.” The Times article addressed one potential peril of publisher diversification:  “Other companies are looking to focus more on branded content like videos, sponsored stories and full-fledged campaigns. But publishers have quickly learned that those efforts are labor-intensive and put them in direct competition with advertising agencies.”  So what?  This is now a wide open marketplace where the publisher has as much right as anyone to create the value that will sustain and feed his business.  Staying in your swim lane because of political consideration is a sucker’s bet.

A paradigm shift is a terrible thing to waste.  The world has changed radically.  So must publishing.

The Managers Test.

The Managers TestThousands of books have been written on managing employee performance, each volume offering theories and tactics more complicated than the one that preceded it.  But like most things in life, simpler is better.

Recently I was discussing a thorny employee issue with a client, and as we mapped things out a simple ‘test’ presented itself.   The three factors to be explored – in order – are clarity, capacity and will.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

When you’re questioning a performance problem, you shouldn’t simply call the employee in for a free form conversation or give him a list of complaints.  Both approaches will lead to a bunch of random reactions and you’ll get lost in the details very quickly.  Instead, take things in order.

Clarity. Is the employee really – really – clear about what is expected? This is on you.  Have you communicated effectively about the full expectations of the job or task?  Have you put it in writing?  You may have a clear picture of what needs to be done in your head, and right now it’s probably fighting for space with all those frustrations you’ve developed. But you must take the time to carefully externalize the picture with your employee.  Once that’s done, you can move on to question number two…

Capacity. Is the employee capable of doing what is expected?  You must ask hard questions about whether the employee’s experience, skills and training fully enable to do what is needed.  Many of us never ask this because it calls into question our own hiring practices.  If you suspect a lack of training or adequate supervision is the issue, you may choose to apply time and resources.  But don’t forget to ask the hard question:  can this employee do this job?  When you’ve checked the boxes on clarity and capacity, you move on to the third and final issue…

Will. Is the employee willing to do what is required?  This is the hardest but most important part of the test…and often we don’t even consider it.  Sometimes people don’t do things simply because they don’t want to.  They will likely call out a lot of other issues and rationalizations. But if you look closely, a lack of will is not that hard to spot.  And it’s the issue that probably matters more than any other.  This one is fully on the employee and you must act decisively when you see it.  Say goodbye.

Don’t just keep this test to yourself.  Share it with other managers.  Better yet, share it with the employee.  Walk through the three questions and make the test the framework for your next performance discussion.  It just might be the simple means of solving your toughest issues.

Green Selling.

Selling GreenA few years ago I was approached by a publishing agent who wanted to know if I’d consider pulling together a book based on some of what I’ve posted in The Drift over many years.  As it was something I’d thought about off and on, we ended meeting to talk it over.  All was going pretty well until she asked me for one word I’d use to describe the book’s appeal to those in sales.

I chose the word Green.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

“You mean Green like the color of all the money they’ll make in sales?”

Nope.  “I mean Green like sustainable.”  Well, that pretty much ended the meeting.  She explained to me that books about selling stuff have a certain way of doing and saying things.  And they don’t include words like “sustainable.”  Too abstract, a little weird.  Publishers won’t like it and salespeople won’t buy it.  She may be right – and that book’s not yet been written – but I still believe in Green Selling.

Much of what I’ve learned about the art and science of selling and persuasion has been through my work with the fast-paced, rule-breaking digital ad and technology companies that most of you work for.  It would be easy to assume that those who sell in an environment like this are over-the-top, take-it-all types.  While we’ve certainly got a few of these running around, I see far more successful sellers who do it green:  they create sustainable, mutually beneficial, long-term business environments with their customers.  But taking the long view doesn’t mean they don’t put short term numbers on the board.  And it doesn’t mean they’re ‘customer centric’ pushovers either.  Here’s what it does mean.

Leaving something on the table.  Those who think selling means the same thing as winning are relegating their customers to being losers.  Green focus on shared growth, not victory.

Staying human.  Many of those sales books my literary friend leans on are filled with artificial, salesy bullshit.  If you wouldn’t act that way with a group of close friends, don’t do it on a sales call either.

Slowing it down.  Trade in your fearful hysteria for thoughtful progress.  As I’ve written here before, the great ones are never in a hurry.

Focusing on excellence.  Success can be fleeting and fickle. When we obsess about it, we burn people out and often recognize those who might just have found themselves in a fortunate situation.  Green organizations and green sellers obsess about excellence.  Excellence nurtures and sustains.

Chances are my publishing pal was right. Maybe this book never gets written, and perhaps this post won’t get as many forwards and tweets as others.  But if you sit where I sit and see what I see, Green Selling is quietly taking over our world.

Peoplematic.

PeoplematicThe dawn of this decade pretty much marked the beginning of the programmatic era of digital advertising and marketing, and the promise of smaller staffs and easy money was all the rage.  At its apex, publishers and agencies were told that the placement of a few tags was all that prevented them from making money while they slept.  Call it the dawn of the machines.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

We all know now that the “easy RTB” chapter didn’t last long.  But like a weekend bender, it left the place a mess, with fraud piled up over in that corner, viewability issues spilled all over the carpet and marketers walking in and disapprovingly shaking their heads.  But this post is not about denying the onward march of programmatic automation; that would be silly.  No, I’m instead questioning one of its central principles: that the rise of programmatic means the exit of people.  I don’t believe it has and don’t think it ultimately will.  Let’s call this the Peoplematic age.

In today’s Peoplematic age, programmatic spending is most certainly on the rise.  Very large pluralities of total digital spend are being booked programmatically, and by all accounts there’s even more to come.  Yet at the same time, we are realizing that buy it programmatically isn’t the end of the sentence, it’s just the first phrase.  The easy RTB chapter came crashing down because marketers demanded sophisticated data plays and access to quality content environments.  This ushered in private exchanges, private marketplaces, programmatic direct and a host of other more sophisticated strategies.  And those strategies in turn demanded talented people to construct,oversee and execute them.

The idea of a centralized trading desk with a tiny handful of people and a fancy logo is now anachronistic.  Equally out of date is the publisher with one “programmatic guy” who jumps in as soon as somebody says the word.  In the Peoplematic age, programmatic trading is something that every agency and planning team must do, and programmatic sales is something every relevant seller must engage in.  Then there are the specialists — experts in data, programmatic process ninjas and more – who will continue to appear and propagate.

I think we’ll be in the Peoplematic age for a long time because of the inescapable fact that the system just runs better with talented people overseeing it. Managed service may sound awful to a venture capitalist or investment banker, but it’s how the lion’s share of successful programmatic campaigns and programs end up happening.

It’s as though HAL 9000, the sentient supercomputer from 2001: A Space Odyssey finally becomes self-aware.  And then realizes how much he really needs Dave.

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