Asking Better Questions.

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Asking Better QuestionsYou may have started reading this post expecting tips on asking your client better questions at the beginning of your next sales call.  On the contrary, this is about you and your organization asking yourselves better questions before you even think about approaching your next customer.

Back in 2014 I suggested some of the questions the industry should be asking; questions that would help shape a better, richer future for us all. Now I’d like to get more focused on how individual sellers, sales teams and companies should start setting better agendas by framing better questions. First, let’s look at the core issue we have as sellers:  we rush the problem so we can start talking about the solution.  We’re either responding to a simplistic goal — better response rate, higher levels of visibility, improved reach or — God forbid — “branding”  — or we suggest it ourselves.  Like so many of Pavlovian pooches, we just want to recognize the stimulus and then launch into our conditioned response…usually a torrent of facts, figures, statistics, claims and credentials.  It’s time to stop the madness.

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.

I’m suggesting that we’d all be better off if we calmed down some and asked ourselves a few purposeful — almost existential — questions about how we create value for marketers and what they might really pay us for.  Here are a handful.

What unique or non-obvious problem is our company uniquely qualified to solve for this client?  You’re not going to read about this kind of an issue in the RFP.  This question forces you to be proactive and think about how your strengths align with the client’s needs.

How might we move beyond media and advertising problems and start solving business problems for this client?  Most sellers never get beyond the rudimentary concerns of the media planner, and that’s a shame.  Framing your solutions around business issues makes them more important and urgent…and gives you a seat at the client table.

If this client cancelled 100% of its advertising budget, how might our company still create value for them and earn investment from other budgets?  This is another way to get past the traps associated with “ad-centricity.”  Remember that advertising is seen by clients as a cost center — something to be managed and economized — while marketing is a profit center and a key to growth.

Knowing that your customer has more than enough places to run advertising (and doesn’t need another one), what’s the very best purpose and role our company could play for them?  This question is indeed an existential one:  At a time when ignoring swim lanes is becoming the norm, you don’t want to be the last one sitting politely in your silo waiting for the next budget. If you’re not trying to be more for your customer, you will almost certainly end up being less.

My standing recommendation to creative sellers is to buy a copy of “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas” by Warren Berger.  It will change you.

There are just five seats left for the Seller Forum on June 7th in New York.  If you’re a qualified media sales leader and want to hear from key clients, analyze original research on seller mobility and understand how to retain your best sales people, request your invitation today.

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The Meeting That Ate My Day.

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The Meeting That Ate My DayOK, so maybe it’s not actually one endless internal meeting that’s consuming your entire business day, draining your company’s resources and crushing the spirits of those around you.  But it can sure feel that way.

In most of the companies I work for, meeting culture is out of control.  Unnecessary meetings are needlessly scheduled, badly planned and horribly executed.  Instead of providing clarity and moving critical initiatives forward, meeting culture creates even more confusion and uncertainty.  Its principal outcome is more meetings.  As a public service, here are a few rules and questions to help you end the madness of meeting culture and make the meetings you do end up holding productive and empowering.

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.

Do We Even Need a Meeting?  The best meetings are sometimes the ones we don’t have at all.  Many of your meetings are automatic:  the weekly update, the kickoff meeting for the project and so on.  Before hitting send on that calendar invite, ask the question:  can we accomplish what we need to do without bringing everyone into the same physical or virtual space?  You’ll be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Don’t Use Meetings to Convey Factual Information.  If you can write it down briefly and clearly, don’t call a meeting to tell people the exact same stuff.  And here’s a tip:  if they won’t read your emails, they’re probably not going to really hear you in the meeting either.  The problem may be your own.

Answer “Why?” With a Verb.  Always ask “why are we having this meeting” (especially for the automatic ones) and challenge yourself to answer with an action verb.  Meetings should be about doing stuff.  Deciding.  Planning.  Prioritizing.  Choosing.  If the point of your meeting is to get everybody together or make sure everybody understands, then you’re setting up a pointless gathering.

Does It Have to Be a Half-Hour?  And Do We Need to Sit Down?  We always assume half-hour blocks for meetings, and we always book conference rooms.  A ten-minute stand up meeting can force clarity and action you won’t get around a conference table.

No Electronics.  If you simply have everyone leave their phones and laptops behind (or put them in a basket upon entering the meeting) you’ll have shorter, more productive meetings and breed a culture of respect and attention.  Knowing that no one else in the meeting is accessing their devices actually creates a sense of calm resignation.

No Hop-Ons.  There are almost always too many people in the meeting, and the reason they are there is too often political or based on fear of missing out.  Keep meetings as small and tight as possible.  And don’t be afraid to invite yourself to not attend a few of them.  You’ll be delighted by the new time you find on your own calendar.

If you’re a digital media sales leader and have not been invited to The Seller Forum on June 7th in New York, request your invitation today. Hear directly from top marketers, preview original research about seller mobility and retention, and discuss the wacky state of Q2.

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Just You and Me.

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Just You and MeThe reason your sales calls aren’t turning into sales may have nothing to do with preparation, content, fit or numbers.  They might just be too big.  Repeat after me:

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

It’s counterintuitive, but very true.  Many of us grew up doing classroom presentations, went on to practice doing the company pitch in front of our peers at sales conferences, and probably dream of someday doing our own TED Talk.  So it’s understandable that we crave the spotlight that goes with a crowd.  But in reality those presentations are not moving the ball down the field.  And they never will.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

When you get a group of 3, 4, 5 or more people together in a conference room, the politics get bigger and the opportunities get smaller.  People don’t share in large rooms.  They are less curious, more guarded, less honest.  People don’t surface real objections in a crowd.  They may listen to you, but they don’t work with you. Collaboration never gets started.  Everyone is polite (well, except those jerk-offs checking email on their phones of course) but no one is truly engaged.

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.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

In workshops with digital sellers, I preach the value of the intimate, collaborative, one-on-one or one-on-two meeting. With the right decision maker of course.  You’d be better off having five small meetings on the phone with key customers than ten big lunch-and-learns.  In small meeting about the right things, customers lean in, they share, they object, they tell you the truth…and they collaborate.  It doesn’t just happen of course…you’ve still got to earn the opportunity and execute it well.  If you go in and turn on the lawn sprinkler of PowerPoint and company bullshit, you’ll still get a bad outcome in a small meeting.  But if you prepare and plan and focus on doing good things for the client’s business, your meeting will stand out like a candle in the darkness.

Small meetings are always better than big meetings.

Marketing departments, stop cranking out newer and slicker versions of “the company story.”  Nobody wants to hear them.  Start helping your sellers tell the customer’s story and the heroic role your company can play in it.  Sales managers, stop confusing activity with progress.  Counting the number of rooms filled with warm bodies is a fool’s errand.  Sellers, focus on really deserving the meeting with the CMO or Product Manager or Group VP and you will get more of them.

And for God sake, keep ‘em small.  Intimacy is the new power.

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What Did You Bring Me?

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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.

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The End of Publishing?

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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.

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