Six Questions for Louis Rossetto, Father of Web Advertising

by Doug Weaver on October 28, 2014 at 4:21PM

Louis Rossetto FinalYesterday, 10/27/14, marked exactly 20 years since Louis Rossetto and Wired Ventures launched the HotWired site, and with it created the first ads on the World Wide Web. I was honored to have been part of that organization and just last week caught up with Louis to hear his thoughts on that time and on what’s happened in the 20 intervening years.

1. Hot Wired launched exactly 20 years ago, giving birth to online advertising.  Did you ever think its offspring would be so numerous and prosperous?

When we were all standing around Brian Behlendorf’s screen and he threw the switch, I was just hoping the server wouldn’t crash when it got its first hit. No, actually, we believed that this was the future of media, and it would eclipse and subsume everything else we were doing. And all is proceeding according to plan.

2. You are first and foremost an editor and journalist.  What do you think of the writing and curation on the web today?

Actually, I’m first and foremost a troublemaker, which anyone who ever worked with me would attest to. But the web today — it’s like asking what do I think about the writing and curation of evolution. Because it’s the ecology itself that’s amazing. No one is writing or curating it, it is writing and curating itself. More and more, it’s becoming a quicksilver representation of the workings of the human brain — which is itself a manifestation of billions of years of evolution.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by comScore. For media sellers, comScore helps demonstrate the quality of their inventory in traditional and programmatic environments as well as provides tools for internal pricing and packaging.  VIDEO and display environments benefits from detailed information about demographics, viewability and non-human traffic.

3. What companies do you feel are really pushing the consumers web experience forward?

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Airbnb, Kickstarter, WordPress, Pinterest, Flckr, Youtube, Spotify, Amazon, Nest, Gilt, Tripit, Wikipedia, Drudge, and Stumble Upon — sorry the list is pretty dull, but the biggest sites are driving experience, maybe because they are delivering most of it.

4. Wired was very much about privacy and the individual.  Big data is very much a part of all of this right now.  Thoughts?

I hate the fact that all of our life is ending up in databases we have no control over. Especially government databases. Non-government databases I am frankly less scared of. Government databases and intrusion, I guess you could try to curtail, either actively by making your life more opaque to them using technology, or trying to get laws passed — but we already have laws and fat lot of good it does. Profusion of private databases and big data analysis, on the other hand, is pretty much uncontrollable, I figure. In a village, there are no secrets, everyone knows everyone’s business. Well, today we live in the Global Village.

5. Wired used to list Marshall McLuhan on its masthead as “Patron Saint.”  Any new Patron Saints emerging today?

There are a lot of false prophets out there, so I’m not taking that bait. Who said “It would appear that instead of the advertising promoting the product, the product promotes the advertising. But that is not exactly right. Actually, the product promotes the consumer?”  Marshall McLuhan said it in 1995. But wait, Marshall died in 1980. This was Gary Wolf channeling Marshall in an email “interview” we published when I was editing Wired. Who needs another patron saint when you can just channel the original?

6. Give us one word or phrase to describe web advertising these last 20 years and another to describe what it might be in the next 20?

The web marked the “future” — you know, the one model we have in our head, that clean break from the past that will arrive someday, but we can’t say how, we can’t say when, and we can’t say what it will be. We just know it will be so “different” it won’t in any way be like the present.  The past 20 years after HotWired have been “prelude.” And the next 20 will be “prelude.” And then we will again be in the “future” that marks a clean break with life as we know it. (Although we may be there already).

To learn the full story of the birth of our medium, here are links to an article from Fast Company and an incredible podcast from the Internet History Project.

Into the Blue.

by Doug Weaver on October 21, 2014 at 9:24PM

Into the BlueLast week’s post on design thinking and asking beautiful questions has me thinking a lot about sales strategy and how to unlock it. In 2010, I wrote this post on Blue Ocean Strategy, and it seemed worth another look, especially as so many companies and individual sellers are once again navigating so much change.

The master premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is that in formulating strategies, companies spend far too much time benchmarking the moves of their competitors; defining exactly who is in the competitive set, what they do, how well, and how to do it better or cheaper.  Because of this, most companies end up competing in “Red Oceans” for tiny margins through incremental improvements in performance or reductions in price.  These are called “Red Oceans” because they’re crowded with other fish and the water is quite bloody.  In our business it’s almost impossible to miss this phenomenon playing itself out across ad networks, digital agencies, technology players, data providers and sales organizations.  Massive human capital, creativity and energy is burned away in a dispiriting ‘race to the bottom’ that’s inherent in a Red Ocean World.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by comScore. For media sellers, comScore helps demonstrate the quality of their inventory in traditional and programmatic environments as well as provides tools for internal pricing and packaging.  VIDEO and display environments benefits from detailed information about demographics, viewability and non-human traffic.

Many breakaway successes, on the other hand, employ “Blue Ocean” strategies in which they create whole new market spaces for themselves, spaces where “…competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.”  There are a handful of core principles and strategic moves explored in the book — “Value Innovation,” looking across market boundaries, and creating a ‘New Value Curve’ — and it’s far more detailed in its tactics and examples than just about anything else out there.

And it’s hard to argue with the examples of successful strategies here:  Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, [yellow tail] Australian wine, Bloomberg, NetJets and even the NYPD all employed Blue Ocean strategies and achieved magnificent results.  The best part?  A Blue Ocean Strategy doesn’t rely on a massive influx of funding or new resources:  one of its strengths is that it helps you manage resource tradeoffs to maximize your customer value and zag while all of your former competitors are still zigging.

Think quickly of the three most dominant names in the digital media and entertainment world today and arguably you’ll come up with the same list I do:  Apple, Google, Facebook.  None of them achieved market dominance through benchmarking and iteration, and all created — and dominated — their own Blue Oceans. I’ve got more work to do but I’m convinced these principles can help many other talented companies break out of the Red Oceans that are sapping their value and burning out their best people.

Beautiful Digital Questions.

by Doug Weaver on October 15, 2014 at 9:49AM

Beautiful Digital QuestionsThe book that has me completely captivated right now is Warren Berger’s “A More Beautiful Question,” which has rapidly become a sacred text to design thinkers and others desperately seeking context in today’s world.  For those of us who live in this hall-of-mirrors digital marketing world, I’d call it required reading.

The book’s central premise is that in the age of Google and instant information, we are virtually drowning in answers and facts.  Rather than clarify our lives, answers ultimately confuse, misdirect, distract and muddle.  Breakthroughs of insight and creativity (of which we are woefully short) only come through better questions – ‘more beautiful questions.’

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by comScore. For media sellers, comScore helps demonstrate the quality of their inventory in traditional and programmatic environments as well as provides tools for internal pricing and packaging.  VIDEO and display environments benefits from detailed information about demographics, viewability and non-human traffic.

Facing a huge pile of late fees at Blockbuster, a frustrated Reed Hastings asked “What if there was no such thing as late fees?”  The last Blockbuster closed down earlier this year, and Reed’s resulting company – Netflix – seems to be doing OK.  Amateur painter and professional typist Bette Nesmith Graham asked “What if I could paint over my mistakes while typing, the way I do when painting?”  Her paint and water formula, initially popular with the other secretaries, became Liquid Paper and ultimately sold for $50 million.  There are a raft of other great stories and insights into how beautiful questions come into being and turn into real innovations.  And it all made me wonder:  what are the questions that could create breakthroughs in our business?  Here are a few that I came up with over coffee.   If you’re so moved, add yours to the list via the comments box.

  • What if we eliminated the word advertising from business and revenue models?  How would that change the way we think about creating value and connection between businesses and consumers?
  • What if we each person in your company was forced (and paid) to spend a day each week studying something completely unrelated to digital marketing and technology?  What kinds of new connections and thinking might become real?
  • What might happen if sales teams shifted their focus to value creation and experience engineering?  What if every sales meeting focused on what we did for marketer instead of what we got from the marketer?
  • What if we abandoned architectural and industrial language – exchanges, marketplaces, servers, platforms – and rooted all our metaphors in the language of nature — gardens, forests, ecosystems?  How might that change the way we act and the values we bring to the business?
  • What if there were no such things as initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions?  What if everyone who launched a business knew they would have to live with and tend it until it either succeeded or died?  How might that change the way we lead and create?

These are just what I came up with this morning.  I’ll warn you now:  this questioning thing gets pretty addictive.  I’d love to hear some of yours.

Six Questions for Colin Kinsella

by Doug Weaver on October 7, 2014 at 5:58AM

Colin KinsellaIf you think media is the back office of the advertising business, you’ve been asleep since the late 80s.  As CEO of Mindshare North America, Colin Kinsella knows it’s now the center of gravity.  He’ll share his thoughts in an intimate discussion at the Seller Forum on Tuesday October 28th in New York.

1.    Disruption is a key theme of the Seller Forum.  How are you proactively disrupting the business of Mindshare?

By creating products that change the culture. We’ve created THE LOOP, which helps make us collaborative (with more constituents), and helps us make faster and smarter decisions for our clients.  Through this data-infused system, we develop insights that are put into action every day. This system is changing our culture. It’s a new way of working, thinking and delivering for clients.

2.    Agencies like yours are evolving rapidly.  What’s one thing you value less in publisher relationships than you would have two years ago?

Off the shelf content solutions.  We want to partner to build more specific, real time, programs for our clients that enhance their marketing efforts. So often we’re served standard added value products that we don’t necessarily want to shoehorn into an idea or program.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by REDBOOKS. For ad sales and business development, REDBOOKS is the most effective prospecting and competitive intelligence tool – used by your peer teams at Google, ABC, CBS, Comcast, ESPN, Time, Apple, Adobe and ad-tech companies of all sizes. Real-time, actionable news/alerts, direct contact info + all the context to close sales faster.

3.    Describing programmatic trading in 2010, we used phrases like “real time bidding,” “land rush” and “open exchange.” How would you describe it in 2014?

Real time, strategic media investment.

4.    A media sales leader asks you for advice in building a strategy for growing business with Mindshare.  What do you offer?

For the right partners, they are active members of the team.  

5.    What are the non-traditional places where we should seek the next generation of talent for our business?

This year we just launched an intern program called Data Bytes.  All our interns came from engineering, math, and science disciplines to work in our Marketing Sciences group discovering data correlations and insights. I would encourage all our partners to find those excited by math and art.

6.    Complete this sentence:  “The media agency business is approaching a renaissance because….”

Marketing begins and ends in media.  With change accelerating, point solutions will lose out to connected solutions.  Only a media agency can connect the dots to drive smarter decision and better results.   Our time has never been brighter.

There are just 9 seats left for the Seller Forum. If you are a qualified attendee — top sales leadership in a company that sells advertising and media services to companies like Mindshare and its clients – contact us today for your invitationDon’t miss the kinds of insights and conversations that can happen only at Seller Forum.

And Why Would I Do That?

by Doug Weaver on October 1, 2014 at 3:14AM

And Why Would I Do ThatAs I’ve walked sales teams through the marketing food chain in recent workshops – from CMO and brand managers to client side advertising and media execs to agency leaders to planning teams – one thing has become apparent:  We have a lot to learn about motivations.  While we are awash in statistics and data and all claim to be the agents delivering the best ROI in the world, we’re flummoxed when people simply don’t end up making the decisions we want them to make…and we have no idea why.

Back in June I wrote about the Aristotelean model of persuasion — the sequential dynamics by which persuasion can be allowed to take place – so I won’t cover that here.  Instead, I want to focus today on why the very specific people we try to sell to either will or won’t end up doing something (making a buy, making a recommendation, creating an exception for us, considering new information and more.)

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by REDBOOKS. For ad sales and business development, REDBOOKS is the most effective prospecting and competitive intelligence tool – used by your peer teams at Google, ABC, CBS, Comcast, ESPN, Time, Apple, Adobe and ad-tech companies of all sizes. Real-time, actionable news/alerts, direct contact info + all the context to close sales faster.

First – an aside:  The vast majority of sellers go into the vast majority of calls with no clear idea what they actually want to the other person to do.  When I ask, I hear things like “I want them to understand” or “I want to educate them” or “make them aware” of something.  There must be some gossamer thread that ties these vague, mushy concepts to the ultimate sale, but I can’t see it.  If you don’t know what you want – a decision or action – you almost certainly won’t get it.

The Chief Marketing Officer.  There’s almost always a new CMO. If there isn’t there soon will be.  Average tenure is just a couple of years and they are often tumultuous.  The CMO will make decisions in your favor if they are significant (big deals, big dollars) and if they will help him leave his mark on the business.  He’s like the Hollywood director who thinks of his body of work across many studios and projects.  Keep it interesting, innovative and big. He’s got no time for incremental improvement the slow build.

The Client Advertising or Media Executive.  We see her as the ultimate client, but she in fact has internal clients of her own.  She serves the CMO and her ad or media money rolls up from many individual brands and brand managers. She will make a decision in your favor because it makes her look good to the CMO and brand managers and can be quickly defended based on the numbers.  She has to ultimately worry about whether your plan will work or not.

The Agency Leader or Account Lead.  These folks worry about three things:  Increasing spending by existing clients, preventing those existing clients from straying – either getting a new agency or cutting budgets – and giving their clients innovation and great work while not having to commit much of their own people’s time and energy to it.  Tie your appeal to these points and you’ll have a better chance.

The Media Planner.  Yes, I know many of you want to say “because I got him drunk” or “because he loved the designer Nikes” but there’s a bit more here.  First, understand that there is a limit to the decisions he can even make.  He doesn’t decide strategy, he can’t value the soft qualities of content excellence or brand strength.  He works on an assembly line.  He’ll give you the nod if you keep your request very simple, very clear and costs him no wasted motion or energy.

Make sure you’re assigning the appropriate motivations to the decision maker you’re seeing.  Your life will get a whole lot simpler.

Six Questions for Dave Morgan.

by Doug Weaver on September 23, 2014 at 2:00PM

Morgan - jacket-blue CU - MG_0361 medium close cropOur theme for The Seller Forum on October 28th will be leadership, and a big part of leadership today is disruption: causing it, managing it, preparing for it.  Across his career, keynote interview Dave Morgan has been the disruptor-in-chief for companies focused on ad technology (RealMedia), audience targeting (Tacoda) and now the economics of TV buying (Simulmedia).  Here, some of his abridged thoughts on disruption in our world.

1.      How can you tell that an industry or a sector is ripe for disruption?

The easiest path is to find industries or sectors where emerging technologies are virtually certain to solve big problems or create new value for consumers and major industry or sector participants. By the early 90s, it was pretty obvious that the news, information, advertising and entertainment world would be disrupted by networked digital computing. We didn’t know it would be driven by the Internet. We didn’t know how long it would take to hit each sector of the industry and what the results would be. But, it was obvious that disruption was coming.

2.      Many companies who claim to be disruptive and revolutionary turn out to be just iterative and incremental.  Any way to tell the difference up front?

I think that to be truly disruptive or revolutionary, you need to either create something that didn’t exist before to upend a market structure or major market leaders by doing something in an entirely new way.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by REDBOOKS. For ad sales and business development, REDBOOKS is the most effective prospecting and competitive intelligence tool – used by your peer teams at Google, ABC, CBS, Comcast, ESPN, Time, Apple, Adobe and ad-tech companies of all sizes. Real-time, actionable news/alerts, direct contact info + all the context to close sales faster.

3.      Sales and company leaders in the digital and media worlds are having to deal with and plan for disruption all the time.  What have you learned over the years that could help them?

Study your market intensely, from all sides. Put yourself in the shoes of all of the different market participants. Generate a personal point of view on the market, and how it is likely to evolve – or devolve – and make sure that the point of view guides your actions every day.

4.      Is there a personality type or background you try to hire for a disruptive company like Simulmedia?

Yes. We want people who are curious, mission driven and have shown themselves as real risk-takers. We want people who are impatient. If they have been at a large company for more than five years, we tend to avoid them unless they have also demonstrated real success at a true start-up.

5.      How do you sustain a disruptor culture as a company grows?

It is much harder to be disruptive as your company grows its team. You start institutionalizing practices. You have to work really hard to make sure that you are still promoting and rewarding disruptive behavior, though not just for the sake of it. You have to attack you own products, your own processes and push your folks to raise the bar every day.

6.      You’ve said it’s important to have a personal point-of-view on the market.  Explain.

Too many folks in our industry pick jobs based on compensation and titles, not the problems they are solving or the changes that they will make in the market. Developing a personal point of view on the market you work in is a good way to be sure that you’re in the right job, working for the right company, and playing the right part in the market’s development. If you don’t have a personal point of view, you’re no surer of anything in your future than your last paycheck.

If you lead national sales for a team that sells media or marketing services to advertisers and agencies and would like to request an invitation to The Seller Forum (10/27-28, Manhattan) send us a note.   Seating is very limited.

The Half-Baked Pizza.

by Doug Weaver on September 17, 2014 at 2:15PM

Half Baked PizzaLast week I said that sales was not performance art, and that we should instead focus on creating great shared sales experiences with our customers.  Stop focusing on your presentation and instead on how our meeting is going.  And as you engineer your next great shared sales experience, may I suggest what you’ll want to serve?

Skip the elegant meal laid out with care and garnish.  Instead, bring a half-baked pizza.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by REDBOOKS. For ad sales and business development, REDBOOKS is the most effective prospecting and competitive intelligence tool – used by your peer teams at Google, ABC, CBS, Comcast, ESPN, Time, Apple, Adobe and ad-tech companies of all sizes. Real-time, actionable news/alerts, direct contact info + all the context to close sales faster.

In the name of service and professional appearance, marketing and sales people all over our industry spend thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing beautifully-detailed Keynote and PowerPoint presentations and binding together gorgeous handout booklets as “leave-behinds.”  The fonts are all consistent, the graphics crisp, and the ideas and executions and numbers are all exquisitely explained.  This sumptuous spread is laid on the customer’s table with great anticipation and optimism.  Then something curious happens:

Nothing.  The fully-finished, fully illustrated idea not only doesn’t sell; the customer doesn’t even get particularly engaged in the meeting. So what the hell happened here?  And how could it have gone better?

This seller has suffered the unintended consequence of over-presentation.  By crafting it all into a finished presentation, she’s sent the customer a subtle but unmistakable message:  Look what we built… it’s all done and we think it’s perfect…you can either buy it or not buy it, but it will never truly be yours.   Customers don’t want shrink wrapped packages: they want participation.  Don’t feed them a meal; take them to a cooking class.

For years I’ve used the metaphor of the half-baked pizza.  Show up with a pie that’s not fully cooked and a bag of ingredients.  Let the customer add a little pepperoni here, a few peppers there, maybe a little extra cheese.  When you let your customer into the creation process just a little, they feel a sense of ownership that can turn an ambivalent buyer into an intensively loyal advocate.

So stop beating up your marketing team because you don’t think you have enough slides.  Bring in a blueprint, some wire frames.  Show your customer a rough sketch of the house you’d like to build with them and let them move a couple of walls.  You just might be amazed at how much more house they’re willing to buy.

Who Said It Was About You?

by Doug Weaver on September 9, 2014 at 8:25PM

Who Said It Was About YouIf I asked most Drift readers what they do for a living, they’d offer up a job title like chief revenue officer, account executive or regional director.  If pushed for a more concrete job description, eventually most would say they sell advertising, technology or services to marketers and agencies.

But I don’t think that’s what you do at all.  At best, selling describes an outcome, a result of other actions you take every day…at least, if you’re doing it well.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of observation and introspection to get there, but I think I’ve nailed what great sellers do:  they engineer experiences.  The mediocre ones?  They’re the ones who get all caught up in the performance they’re giving, the lines they recite, and the slides they flip through.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Adroit Digital.  Adroit Digital unlocks the combined power of unique data, media and technology to deliver intelligent performance.  Our programmatic experts leverage our proprietary dataset and media-buying savvy to create results driven programs for modern marketers. Adroit Digital’s experts help agencies and brands craft solutions to the challenges facing today’s multi-channel advertisers.

A sales call isn’t a golf shot or a piano sonata.  But so many of us prepare and act as if it is.  We drill ourselves on our lines, memorize key points, practice the voice-over for the 37 slides we’ll show, test the demo to make sure it purrs like a kitten.  We believe that if we only perform well enough and hit all of our high notes, the power of our words will impress and persuade.

Only it doesn’t work that way.

Now, reframe the sales call as a shared experience.  You and the customer are both living in that moment together, and now it’s your job to engineer that experience… you’re no longer the funniest guy at the party, but rather the host who’s creating an awesome environment for his guests.  What will you do differently?

You’ll attend.   As in, the root verb in attention.  Ironically, attending is also the same as being present.  Get it?

You’ll know something about your guests.  There are no strangers.  You can always know enough to make the other person feel interesting.

You’ll draw people out and make connections.  Use what you know to bring the other person into the experience.  This is the opposite of bludgeoning them with your own story.

You’ll have a plan and watch the clock.  Great hosts pay attention to time and pace.  They know when things are starting to drag, when people start to disconnect.

You’ll rewrite the plan when you need to.  If things are petering out and nobody’s connecting, change the plan.  It’s your plan; you get to do that.

Sales is not performance art.  It’s about creating a fertile space where trust, emotion and opportunity can grow.  Too many of us become tone deaf from listening to the sound of our own performances.  Let it go.  Be interested.  Engineer a great shared experience and watch how everything changes.

Including you.

We’re engineering a great shared experience late next month at The Upstream Seller Forum in New York.  If you run national media sales and want to attend or designate someone who can represent you, just let us know.  Dinner on Monday night October 27th at Del Posto followed by the Forum on Tuesday October 28th at the Hearst Tower. Call Tamara Clarke at 802.985.2500 or Tamara@upstreamgroup.com.

On Training…

by Doug Weaver on September 2, 2014 at 12:16PM

On TrainingMy friend and client John Ruvolo of Martini Media recently posted a manifesto (of sorts) on the status and attitude toward training sales people in our industry.  He invited me to comment and I thought The Drift was the best place to do that.  In his post, John wonders “…why training and development is so universally desired by our sales teams and why it is equally so universally absent from most companies, particularly in our space.”  As someone who’s built a substantial company — Upstream Group — training and equipping digital sellers over the past 18 years, I would say that training is not absent in most companies — but that the approach to it is often flawed.

For starters, there’s the “Training as Content” scenario, in which a company with a weak or non-existent learning and development culture brings in a sales trainer as part of the content for a sales meeting or offsite.  Even if given only a few hours, he or she may do great work but the results are often ephemeral.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Adroit Digital.  Adroit Digital unlocks the combined power of unique data, media and technology to deliver intelligent performance.  Our programmatic experts leverage our proprietary dataset and media-buying savvy to create results driven programs for modern marketers. Adroit Digital’s experts help agencies and brands craft solutions to the challenges facing today’s multi-channel advertisers.

When approached about working with a sales team, I always work to get inside the relationship between management and sales and really understand the deep behavioral change that needs to happen.  Frequently,  discussions about training and development have only centered on fixing some broken quality in the seller —  presentation skills, overcoming objections — and are not  part of a larger plan to invest and grow the individual.  That’s not to say training should just be a warm, fuzzy “Kumbaya” experience either.  That’s why I isolate 5-6 specific actions that sellers can commit to and that managers can manage.  In the end, doing is believing.

To John’s larger point about our industry lacking the stomach for real training budgets, two thoughts:  First, investment flows to the unsolved problem.  If the problem is “we should do some sales training” then very little money is going there.  Reframe this as “we need to shorten our sales cycle” or “we need to change our median order size from X to 3X” and watch the budget tilt in your direction.

Second,  large enterprise training organizations have conditioned us to believe that “training” has to carry a hefty price tag — not to mention internal staffing, expensive compliance software, lots of complexity and days out of the field for your team.  I don’t believe this to be true.  If you believe in training then make it a habit; do a little bit of it yourself on a constant basis.   Even if you don’t think you’re fully qualified or have performance anxiety about it, your effort and commitment will be recognized by your team members.   You develop a closer bond, better communication.  Pretty soon, you’ve quietly developed a learning culture.  Then when you bring in somebody like me, we end up doing incredible, transformative work together.

So, When’d You Get In?

by Doug Weaver on August 26, 2014 at 2:23PM

Cocktail party 2Labor Day marks not only the unofficial end of summer, but the unofficial kickoff of the fall conference season.  So I’m reposting this Drift from February 2012, hoping it will make our time in the ballrooms and corridors just a little more meaningful.

I’ve lost count of the industry conferences, trade shows and networking events I’ve attended over the last 25 years.  But I’m certain I’ve been to more in the last five years than in the first 20.  There are probably not more than 20 days a year when the industry event machine goes dark.  And collectively we spend hundreds of millions to mingle, drink and panel with one another…But  we can all get more for our money with a little advance planning and strategy.  So here’s my list of simple rules and practices to consider as you pack team members off to their next event.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Adroit Digital.  Adroit Digital unlocks the combined power of unique data, media and technology to deliver intelligent performance.  Our programmatic experts leverage our proprietary dataset and media-buying savvy to create results driven programs for modern marketers. Adroit Digital’s experts help agencies and brands craft solutions to the challenges facing today’s multi-channel advertisers.

1. Marketing, Meet Sales. In far too many cases, trade marketing (the folks who buy the sponsorships and tickets) are not well-aligned with sales (the folks who end up attending).  The result is a lot of confusion about who will “represent” the company at this event or that one.   Personalize it:  As you plan your sponsorship and conference schedule, be specific about who will attend and why.

2. Level Set. If your CRO is attending every single event on the calendar, that’s not a good thing.  They’re not all worth the CRO’s time.  Events, like nightclubs, have their own natural crowds. Some are very high level and strategic; others are more tactical and transactional.  Push the event producer for a sense of who’s really attending and what they’re likely to talk about.  Create an internal hierarchy about which events are relevant at which levels.

3. Have a plan. I’ll put it right out there.  The vast majority of sellers show up at resorts and conference centers with no real plan in place.  Get the attendee list in advance.  Figure out the ten people you have to meet and find their photos on line so you have a visual cue.  Reach out in advance to attending buyers and set appointments.  Most of all, know what it is you want out of this particular conference and measure it.  “Was this event a success for us?” is not a rhetorical question.

4. Spread Out. Yes, trade events can be a good time for sellers from different offices to bond with each other and with management.  But when I see sellers from the same teams never leaving each other’s sides for an entire evening — or an entire event — I smell trouble.  Divide, conquer.  If you’re part of all the same conversations, half of you aren’t necessary.

5. Ask Questions that Mean Something. When meeting someone at a trade event, be prepared with a question that will spark a real conversation. “What’s on the agenda you don’t want to miss?”  or “What’s Your Highlight so far?”  Do NOT ask the following:  “So….when’d you get in?”  That’s a non-question:  you don’t really care about the answer, it will produce meaningless data, and they know you didn’t really care to think up anything better.

6. Don’t Close the Bar. Enough said.

7. If you Present, Personalize. Nobody wants to hear the general presentation.  Pick a couple of customers who will be in the room and tell them how you can help them.  The others wont’ be offended: they’ll be intrigued and curious about what you could do for them.

Take a few of these to heart and you’ll be able to answer “What did you learn?” and “Who did you meet?” instead of “When’d you get in?”