Online Sales Strategy

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.

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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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Silent Selling.

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Michael OverbeckQuiet down now.  Don’t speak, just for a little bit.  Let the moment marinate.

Most of us in sales are running over-programmed sales calls in which every pause, every quiet second, is something to be filled and patched over like so many cracks in a leaky boat.  We believe that there is just so much to say and explain that to waste even a second means perhaps missing the one point or feature that might create the magic moment.  But it’s a fool’s errand:  the magic moments were there all along….we just talked over them.

Those empty seconds of silence are actually filled with anticipation, consideration, curiosity.  They are the wellsprings of customer collaboration and commitment to the idea.  But as the seller you have to do more than just listen.  You have to program these white space moments into your sales calls.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. With AppNexus Mobile Solutions, you can access more demand partners than ever, gain precision insight into your inventory’s pricing and attract the ad spend of the world’s largest advertisers.

In the sales workshops I conduct for media and technology sellers, the problems to be solved are always remarkably similar:  the seller has far too much information and detail to share; the buyer is far too jaded, distracted and evasive;  the marketplace is confusing and filled with far too many competitors; the time together is brief and fleeting.

Too many managers – and sales trainers – give the shallow admonition to “do your homework” and “listen more than you talk.”  But that means little to the seller.  What she really needs is a plan…a plan to provoke and manage those quiet moments of consideration and commitment.  That’s what I try to provide, and there are just five parts to the plan.

  1. First, show the customer a slide that tells them a few things you’ve learned about their business, their situation, their needs, their competitors. Ask them what they think is most important on this slide and what else you might have missed.   Then shut up and listen fully.
  2. Next, show them a slide or page that clearly (and briefly) outlines the problem you hope to solve for them. Ask them how much this issue means to them and what else is critical to talk about.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  3. Before talking about your solution, show them a page that makes a handful of promises about the standards and practices your company will employ in solving the problem for them. Ask if these are important considerations and what else they value.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  4. Now talk about your potential solutions. Stop the conversation at several points and invite some silence by asking “How do you feel about this? … What would you do here?” At each point, shut up and listen fully.
  5. Finally, ask the customer for a commitment: If we can deliver this will you approve $X budget for it?  This may be the most important silence of all.  Shut up and let your customer fill the void.

This is what programming the silence looks like.  At each step in the process you are provoking a thoughtful response from the customer.  The opposite of talking isn’t just listening.  It’s being in the moment.  And it works.

Want to know more, or to teach your team this approach?  Just let us know.

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Are You In?

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Are you inTo the casual observer, sales looks to be all about power.

It may look like a bunch of confident, charismatic sellers in command of their material and in charge of the room. The successful seller is the one who can talk a blue streak and who is at ease in any crowd.

But looks can be deceiving.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

Many of the greatest sellers I’ve been privileged to work with are not the ‘life of the party’ types.  Many would probably be classified as introverts.  What these sellers have discovered – perhaps by default – is the power of vulnerability.  They’re willing to own their opinions and feelings, take risks and commit to the moment.

They are present in a way that many of their competitors are not.   They’re OK with moments of silence and even the occasional awkward pause.  It’s in that moment that something unusual can happen:  something authentic, something meaningful, something real.

A significant number of the people I meet in sales are ambivalent about being in sales.   They call themselves account executives, business development people and strategists, and they seem to really gravitate to the word “partner.”  One reason for this “sales avoidance” mindset is that these introverts have never made peace with the popular notion of what it means to sell.

Now they don’t have to.  And neither do you.

Start taking risks.  Share a little more than you feel comfortable sharing.  Take a position in your discussions with customers.  Tell them what you think and then ask them what they think about the position you’ve taken.  Be curious.  Don’t fill up the quiet moments.  Be generous. Let things happen.

This is how you get to an authentic place with your customers.  You have to get in…all in.

If you’re in sales but feel like you’re playing a role much of the time, you are not only cheating your customers, you’re cheating yourself.  This can be a life filled with really terrific moments, but only for those who are truly open to them.

So be open.  Be vulnerable. Be real.

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5 Slides.

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5 SlidesI’ve been working with clients on a new strategy for engaging clients on sales calls and navigating them through complex programs and offerings.  From introduction to agreement in 5 slides.

If you’re like many digital publishers, ad tech companies or other sales organizations, you’re probably a little intrigued by the idea.  You’ve probably seen first-hand the emotional and human cost of a PowerPoint culture run amok.  Your marketing and product people labor over the perfect company narrative, generating dozens of detailed slides containing heavy images and intricate builds and animations.  Your sales people feel the pressure to show all these slides to customers who not-so-surreptitiously check their phones and look at their watches.  Wasted opportunity follows wasted opportunity. And the worst thing happens:  nothing.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

So here’s the radical idea:  run the entire sales call with 5 simple slides.

Slide 1:  The Phrase Cloud.  This is a technique I’ve been teaching over the last 4-5 years.  Research the client’s business online and put up 5-10 phrases (headlines, blurbs, quotes) that relate to important business and marketing issues they may have in mind.  Your PC doesn’t have to be perfect or even mostly correct.  It just needs to be a credible effort at some homework. Let the client read the slide while you sit quietly.  Then ask them what they found most interesting and valuable.

Slide 2: The Challenge.  Write out a brief statement that answers the question “Why are we here today?”  This is the moment where you clearly call out the unsolved problem you are prepared to tackle for the customer.  Ask them how important they think this issue is and what other detail they’d like to offer.  Listen to what they tell you.

Slide 3: Process and Values.  On this slide are several statements and headlines that detail the process and values your company will employ as you work for the customer.  You’re establishing how it will be to work together before you tell them what they should buy from you.

Slide 4: The Solution Placemat.  This is a simple schematic that visually depicts the elements of your proposed solution.  Screen shots of products, phrases and numbers representing audiences and scope, visuals illustrating thematic ideas.  (If the client’s feedback on slides 1 and 2 changed things, you can simply cross out or add elements to this page.)  This allows the rep to conversationally talk through the different parts of the recommendation without a lengthy trail of slides. (And if something needs immediate elaboration, you can take a detour for an additional slide or trip to the site.)

Slide 5:  The Close.    On this slide the rep notes the initial price estimate and specific ask of the client.  “If we can execute this program and help you solve problem X, will you recommend/budget/green-light $X over the next X months?”  (Tip:  Many sellers are scared to death of such a direct question, but it’s the only way to truly qualify the opportunity — and the decision maker — and shorten the sales cycle.)  Be sure to include both a number and a verb on this slide.

If you’re thinking “but what about my company introduction?” don’t bother.  Your sales people will define themselves and your company much more effectively by getting down to business and solving problems collaboratively with your customers.  These 5 slides may be just the vehicle to let them do so.

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Getting to the Client.

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Gettign to the ClientThe headline for this week’s post is one of those sneaky little bits of irony.  A lot of us spend a lot of time and effort “getting to the client.”  But when we do, we don’t end up “getting to the client.”  Let me explain.

Many digital media and tech sellers work diligently to close transactional deals with buyers.  We respond to their RFPs, try to decipher conflicting signals and contradictory requests, and – to the best of our ability – bring them proactive ideas and opportunities.  But when these efforts predictably collapse in despair and recrimination, our boss inevitably says “we’ve got to get to the client!” And he’s right.  Well…half right.

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 take the cue and pursue the client meeting.  But, fatally, we don’t bother to upscale the agenda.  We bring the client the exact same buying decision that got turned down or ignored at the agency.  The client either ignores our outreach, sends us back to the agency or politely listens to our pitch and then does…nothing.  Without realizing it, we brought this customer an issue or opportunity that was below their pay-grade.  We’ve treated them like the appeals court…asking them to overturn the verdict that we lost in the lower court.  To the client, this is no opportunity:  if they change the outcome and put you on the plan, they’ve created a whole new set of problems – an alienated agency, political risk and potentially a shit-storm of POVs and meetings that they really don’t need.

Don’t just get to the client:  get to the client.  Make sure that your client-side agenda is squarely focused on business issues and marketing opportunities.  Don’t help them spend an existing budget; help them justify a new one.  Don’t show them how you’ll reach their current customer; introduce them to the one they haven’t yet met.   Work with the media planning team to fill existing orders: help the client decide what to order next.

I’ve always believed that big decision makers only want to make big decisions.  If you’re going to knock on the client’s door, don’t show up with an agenda that’s two sizes too small.  If you do, she’ll send you packing.

And she’ll be right to do so.  Totally right.

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