Go to Their House.

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At the very beginning of my sales career I had to deliver a lot of bad news. My first ad sales job – back in the mid-80s – was at a small, specialty automotive magazine that was critical to many of its advertisers. I didn’t know when I took the job that the magazine was in financial trouble and that I’d have to tell many of our longtime advertisers that they’d face an immediate 60% rate increase.

As a 25-year-old ad sales newbie, I can say I was categorically unprepared for the shitstorm that ensued.  Heck, I don’t think I’d be prepared for it even now. Advertisers yelled, they threatened and more than a few pulled out of the magazine. We were snubbed at trade shows and our calls often went unanswered and unreturned.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice. Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

Fast-forward 12 months. Virtually all of the advertisers on my list returned to the fold. Some even increased their spending with us. Over dinner at a barbecue joint in northern Mississippi near the factory-headquarters of one of these comeback advertisers, I asked him how we got “from there to here.” How exactly did we overcome all the bad feelings, disappointment and rancor to get to such a good place? His answer was immediate, simple, and one that I remember to this day.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he explained in his gruffly-distinguished Southern accent. “You came to our house. That matters a lot to us.”

He went on to explain that very few of the salespeople they spent money with had ever taken the time to visit their headquarters, to walk the factory floor and see how their stuff was made. “They’ll call me on the phone when it’s time to renew and they’ll shake my hand at the trade show, but they don’t come here.” During the dark period when they weren’t running ads with us, I’d made two trips to Northern Mississippi and was now making a third.

Despite all the technology and the instantaneous communication, people are still people.  They take pride in where they work, where they build things. And they know when they’re being respected and treated like a valued customer. Often, there is no next best thing to being there. You just have to go.

Carry this principle a little further… to the internal constituencies at your own company that you need so badly to execute and activate the programs you sell. Have you “gone to their house” lately? Most sellers don’t ever go and sit at the desks of the people they depend on every day. You send them email when you need something, you have a beer with them at the sales meeting, but you don’t go there.

Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. Be the one who came to their house. You’ll find, as I did 30 years ago, that it makes you exceptional.

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Steal This Post!

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It may be just me, but the wind seems to be changing and radical ideas are afloat.

We’re now two weeks removed from the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Florida where President/CEO Randall Rothenberg blistered the crowd with a Jeremiad that was both bracing and very, very clear.  I’ll paraphrase:

This thing of ours has gotten pretty fucked up.  And if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

This thing of ours, of course, is digital advertising and marketing.  And he’s right.  The very fact that the head of your industry organization is giving a speech called “Repair the Trust” tells you a lot.  Sure, we’ve had areas of disagreement and mushy standards for much of the last two decades.  But when the subjects were arcane things like terms & conditions, viewability and margin transparency, most of us just kept our eyes down and pushed our food around the plate.  Avoidance and obfuscation was a perfectly reasonable strategy.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice.  Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

But no longer.  Because now the issue is fake news.  Remember that kid sitting in his kitchen in Macedonia pumping out fake news stories about Obama’s love child or the Papal endorsement of the Trump campaign?  Turns out we were collectively paying him.  Ouch.

The rotten system that blindly rewards page views and ad calls and shares has become the intravenous feeding tube for parasitic monsters who may realistically render the concept of truth itself irrelevant.  Fake traffic and fraudulent video numbers were bad.  Fake truth and moral relativism are much, much worse.

Randall made it very clear when he said “It’s time to get out of the fake anything business.”   Yes.  We are only as good and as moral as who our system pays and what it pays for.  Without ethical clarity, the next $50 billion in digital advertising revenue will be just so much drug money.  And each one of us has a part to play in making sure it’s not.

You see, our business is really just an average of the behaviors of our best and worst players.  It’s time to bring back the concept of shame.  If you employ the highest standards as a publisher, talk about them.  If you demand the highest standards as an advertiser, pay for them.  And whoever you are, get off the line and pick a side.

The world is watching.

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Specificity.

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Checking to see the depth of the tread left remaining on this studded snow tire.

It’s a little corny, but here goes.  If you want to be terrific, be specific.

Sellers in our industry are plenty smart and deeply articulate.  They can talk for minutes on end about technology, market position, programs and tactics.  And they can do it all with a high degree of specificity.  So why, then, does it all get so soft and shallow when we talk about our customers and their plans and problems?

Ask the average seller to tell you about their company and you’ll hear volumes.  But ask about the objectives of the customer and you hear thin, tactical terms like lead generation, improved ROI and the perennially meaningless branding.  Most of us will grab the first and most simplistic description of client needs we’re given and then immediately start layering on tons of information, products, features and statistics.  It’s as if we’re worried about tarrying too long on the client stuff, lest we miss the chance to tell our whole story in its enormity.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice.  Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.

The reps who stand out, the ones who find a permanent place in the lives of their clients, don’t rush through the client agenda.  Rather than accept a softball like branding or storytelling, they study the situation and talk specifically about exactly that part of the client’s story that needs to be told – and to whom.  When they hear about a need to move product, to encourage test-drives or to put butts in seats, they slow down and ask why these objectives are not being achieved.  By getting very specific about the client need, they identify the interim tasks and processes they can help improve.

We all say we want to be more consultative in our approach to sales.  What we don’t realize is that the difference between a thoughtful consultant and an average transactional seller is really quite simple:  the consultant just spends more time with the problem.  When a customer feels like their business and success are being fully analyzed and considered, they feel heard and understood.  And when they feel heard and understood, they’re fully prepared to accept and support your solutions.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.

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The Opposite of Selling.

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the-opposite-of-selling-2The opposite of selling is describing.

Selling means changing the outcome.  It means turning a no to a maybe and a maybe to a yes.  It means earning more favorable terms and protocols on a technology deal and overcoming the competition to have your content marketing program win the recommendation.  Selling is persuasion.  It’s leaving the world a slightly different place that it was a few minutes ago.

This all sounds obvious, but – sadly – it’s not.  A great many sales executives in our industry (and I’d suspect many others) are not actually selling at all.  They are part of the culture of description.  They describe your products to the customers and then describe the customers’ reactions to the boss.  They describe the market conditions or feature shortcomings that prevent the customer from buying.  They describe technology and process in excruciating detail, and they describe their own backgrounds and track records on their ever-growing resumes.  They’re just not selling.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bazaarvoice.  Reach and influence 3 out of 4 true in-market shoppers with Bazaarvoice Advertising. Bazaarvoice’s fresh first-party data comes from shoppers interacting with consumer generated content across our network of 5,000 leading brands and retailers, allowing us to reach your shoppers with advertising to influence their purchase decisions.

It would be natural for those of us who run companies and sales teams to lament this creeping cultural affliction.  But first we’ve got to stop causing it.

Stop Loading Your Team Down with Stuff to Describe.  Between marketing, product – sometimes even your company’s founders or top brass – your would-be sellers are bombarded with a crushing volume of slides, concepts, diagrams, videos, demos and more.  The message is unmistakable:  Just better describe more of our stuff and everything will be OK!  This happens for a reason. So…

Stop Worshiping Your Own Product.  The “Product-as-Hero” myth is a prevailing one, and companies in our world buy into it with enthusiastic myopia. When they buy, it’s because the product is great.  When they don’t, it’s a sales failure.  Yes, work to make your product and features great.  But immediately recognize that great products don’t always win and you immediately recognize and elevate the importance of a strong sales culture.

Root Out Cultural Ambivalence about Sales.    If the language of sales – closing, pipeline, incremental commitments and more – seems somehow beneath the brilliant engineering and master-of-the-universe business planning of your company, then you’ve got a problem.  If within your sales team itself there are no titles that include the word “sales” you might have an even bigger one.  We need to be as great – and as proud of – sales as we are of our engineering and business plans.  If we are not, they will never have a chance of succeeding.  There’s your new mantra.

Don’t just describe the difference between sales and description.  Sell it inside your own company.

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Is it Your Employee? Or is it You?

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is-it-the-employee-or-is-it-youI spent yesterday with a team of great young managers.  During our workshop I was reminded of the three-part test I’d encouraged managers to use last April…a test to determine what to do with employee performance problems.  It’s worth a second look.

Thousands 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.

If you’re a qualified digital sales leader or manager and would like to be supported in your own growth or that of your team, come to the Seller Forum on Thursday February 9th in New York. Seller Forum is the industry’s only peer-to-peer gathering of people just like you.  You’ll hear from clients and market experts, get insights on the shape of Q1 spending and share best practices and tips.  Request a spot for yourself and another key manager on your team. Seating will be strictly limited.

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.

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