Doug Weaver

Smart is Not the Problem.

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If you’ve talked to a recruiter lately or had someone else pitch the value and character of a company to you, you’ve no doubt heard something like this:  “The people at this company are SO smart…!”

You’re told this because the person doing the telling/selling believes it’s the sincerest form of validation.  The collective IQ of the founders, executive team and/or entire company virtually guarantees it will be a well-run operation steaming toward a series of successful outcome.   With this much brainpower firing away, how could it be otherwise?

The only problem is that ‘smart’ is rarely the problem.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

The internet and its assorted digital interfaces and services have had more than two full decades of being the belle of the hiring and funding ball.  We’ve attracted big IQs and degree-holders from prestigious colleges like a bug light draws moths on a dark country night.  Let’s face it:  It’s the internet ….everybody is smart.  All these algorithms and complicated business plans would never see the light of day if it weren’t so.  Even the sixth-place company in a five company space would look like a MENSA class to the average civilian.

So next time you’re being wooed by a company – or considering a candidate – and “the S word” comes up, look harder.  Instead of smart, see if the people on the other side of the desk have these qualities:

Experience. Have the people involved seen both success and adversity in the past?  Sometimes just the few extra laps can make you a better driver.  This is where you watch out for those managers and leaders whose entire background is theoretical or financial.  A little operating experience goes a long way.

Grit.  My favorite word.  Is this a team that finds ways to overcome?  A lack of grit, at best, makes a company feel soft.  At worst it feels like perpetual panic and angst.

Morality.  This may sound old fashioned, but values matter.  Can the leadership of this company be counted on to do the right thing when things go wrong?  What are the third rails they won’t touch?  What are the core principles and business rules that everybody in the company understands?

Purpose.  You had to know this was coming.  Why does the company exist?  What do its leaders believe in?  Sometimes the purpose is nothing more than flipping the company and making a profitable exit.  But if there’s not much more there, then this is a company that will shed people and value as soon as the winds change.

Now that’s smart!

In case you missed yesterday’s announcement, industry legend Scot McLernon is once again carrying an Upstream Group business card.  Scot’s joined our team as Executive Sales Strategist and is debuting a raft of new services to help sales leaders like you.  Reach out and we’ll hook you up with Scot.

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Your Double Life.

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Individual contributors become managers every day, and when they do the event is usually quite clear and visible to everyone in the organization. But the transition from manager to leader can be another story entirely.

I just read a terrific post by Butterfly co-founder Simon Rakosi called “Why Transforming Managers into Leaders Shouldn’t be Left to Chance.” He points out some great distinctions between management and leadership, including Managers educate around skills and tasks; leaders inspire around a vision and Managers view their employees in silos; leaders focus on team dynamics.

The challenge in our dynamic, hyper-kinetic industry is that there’s rarely a clean breaking point between one job and the next: it’s rare that someone ever says “I’m done being a manager now: time to start leading!” Most senior digital sales executives will pivot between these two roles a thousand times – often within the same day.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

On paper, the chief revenue officer is a leadership job, while the regional director is pretty clearly a manager. But the CRO must instantly snap back into manager mode when working with her direct reports, while the regional director must step up and lead when in the presence of his full team. A couple of thoughts and ideas to make your head stop spinning:

  • Leaders play checkers, managers play chess. So says Marcus Buckingham in “The One Thing You Need to Know.” When you’re in leader mode, all the pieces move the same, so the message or policy is for everyone.  When managing, each piece moves differently:  focus on what’s right for the individual in front of you right now.
  • Lead in public, manage in private. Managing is an individual sport. Shut the door.
  • Every group deserves a culture. If you’re manager of a team of individual contributors and others – even if that group is just two or three people – start answering the question “What does it mean to be part of our team?” Better yet, answer it together.
  • You can never understand enough about how people work together. Process, process, process. Leaders rightly obsess about it, and their teams get more out of it than you might imagine. Beware of any discussion that ends with “We’ll figure that out…”

To all of you out there who are living double lives, make sure you live in the moment and be the best manager and leader you can be. Just be sure you know which is appropriate and called for at the time.

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Agency Economics, 101

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Sales organizations spend lavish amounts  of time, energy and capital pursuing business at agencies.  But once there, most of us ignore the elephant in the room.

We talk about marginal improvements to performance, brand “safe” environments, effective CPMs and a lot of other minutiae tied to successful stewardship of the latest plan.  We prattle on about our latest reporting dashboard, the premium publishers or content we represent, how we’re more “transparent” than the other guys.  I wonder if at a certain point of this litany the agency folks just see our lips moving and only hear “blah…blah…blah….”

We stay locked onto the marginal, temporary issues of media planning  (insuring that all we’ll ever have is marginal, temporary success) while ignoring the big economic issues that could give our relationship with the agency some much needed urgency and power.

It’s the Agency Economy, Stupid!

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

My hypothesis is pretty straightforward.  We are living at a time of consolidation, in which clients and agencies are going to be dealing with fewer companies, not more.  (This trend is masked by the insignificant “testing” that goes on around the margins of planning.)  The winning media companies, aggregators and tech vendors will be those who frame their benefits and align their value with the core economic issues confronting agencies.  There are four:

Account Security: Senior agency executives live in perpetual anxiety over a major account going into review.  That’s a seismic event.  But the more subtle, persistent agita comes from the soft erosion of clients inviting other shops in on a “project” basis.  If you’re not talking about how your services and capabilities can help the agency drive interest and loyalty with the client, you are missing a big opportunity.

Budget Growth: The dirty secret is that margins on digital media buying are thin to non-existent.  The only way the agency stays healthy and profitable is to get its current clients to increase budgets.  Too many of us only stay focused on getting our share of existing budgets, instead of on how we can help the agency access and grow the dollars they get from clients.

Workforce Extension: It’s no secret that agencies are severely understaffed.  Most don’t have the FTEs (Full Time Equivalents — agency-speak for “people”) to do more than keep up with process.  How can your organization serve as an extension of the agency’s own workforce and provide core services — creative, aggregation, marketing, promotion — that allow the agency to drive more profit without more bodies?

Commoditization: And here we sellers thought this was our issue!  The agency — and most especially the planning teams — are swimming against the same currents of commoditization and automation that many of us do.  How can you effectively bundle your services into programs and add value to them so that they can’t be commoditized or automated? How can you help the daughter agency or the planning team hold onto the spending and influence they so desperately fear losing to the trading desks?

Are these conversations you’ll have with the media planner at the 11th hour of the RFP process?  Hardly.  But if you’re not engaging in them at an organizational level and allowing them to drive your strategic planning, then don’t be surprised when the RFPs stop coming and you find yourself frozen out of the agency entirely.

The core content of today’s Drift was posted in 2012.  Despite so much change, how little has really changed.

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Whole Selling.

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If you’re in sales today, there’s a simple three-word phrase that you might consider tattooing onto your forearm: Finish the Job!

Unless yours is the most transactional commodity-for-price type of selling (in which case you have an entirely different set of problems), you are finding that getting the customer to “yes” may actually be the easiest, most straightforward part of the job. Bringing the deal to fruition, fulfilling the terms and ultimately recognizing the revenue… now that’s another story.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at www.krux.com.

The name of the game is co-dependence.  To realize success in today’s increasingly complex, high-touch program and platform sales, the seller depends on finance, legal, account management and creative services.  As this side of the business and the predictable tension and friction grow exponentially, weak sellers acclimate themselves to a culture of blame:  “I sold it, but (at-fault department here) didn’t do their job!”

No more.  Motivating, empowering and rewarding other team members for supporting your deals is the new definition of your job.  Don’t think it should be this way?  There is no should:  there is only must.  Great sellers have always realized this and behaved accordingly.  They are the ones who other team members gladly stay late for.  The ones who inspire and share credit are the ones who win.  It’s not even close.  This is not just what defines excellence:  it’s what survival and relevance look like in 2017.

Maybe there’s someone on your New York team who embodies this definition?  Along with the New York area’s premier digital marketing organization, I’m very proud to announce the 212NYC Weaver Award for Digital Sales Excellence.  If you’re a sales leader or manager in digital media, ad tech or services, you can nominate your special team member for special recognition by his or her industry peers.  I’ll be participating in the judging myself, and we’ll recognize the top three finishers at the 212NYC Winter Gala on Wednesday March 22nd in New York.

Sales excellence isn’t what it used to be.  And it doesn’t just happen.  It’s high time we started calling out the deeper qualities of the great seller…qualities that are driving a renaissance in our business and our profession.  It’s time to celebrate the best of the best among us.

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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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