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The Conference Imperative.

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As I write this post, a few hundred of our industry’s best are at Dmexco, which folds right into New York’s Advertising Week which – before you know it – turns into CES and SXSW and Cannes and …. You get the picture. But it’s not just the big tent-pole gatherings; there are scores of smaller meet and greets peppered throughout the year from the likes of Digiday, ad:tech, iMedia, Digital Storytelling and even Upstream Group’s own Seller Forum. In a recent MediaVillage post, the value equation/boondoggle-factor of such events was briefly questioned.

Yet even as “can you believe how many events there are these days?” remains one of the most popular cocktail topics (at these very same events) the market value of human gathering is beyond question. Simple economics tells us so. If sponsors and attendees weren’t willingly ponying up the cash, many events would simply wither and die off. Yet here they are – again – blooming like dandelions. I’ve got a theory about why.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

The popularity of human focused events has grown in direct inverse proportion to the decline in day-to-day human contact between people who buy and sell stuff. In other words, the more that “connecting technology” – email, voicemail, texting, hangouts, shared documents – keeps us physically apart, the more we crave the handshake, the few minutes of eye contact, the nod of the head. Bitch all you want about whether a given event was “worth it” or not, human contact is at a premium and we will continue to pay that premium.

Now…to get your money’s worth out of any given event…

1. Have a plan. You’d be surprised how many people and companies don’t. Who do you aim to meet? How will you structure your time? Can you secure a formal or informal meeting spot? If you just show up, you’re just part of the crowd.
2. The first shall be first. As you attend parties or panels, get there first. Hosts and panelists remember the early arrivals. Then leave a little early to get a jump on the next one. No one will miss you at that point.
3. Spread out. People from the same company often stick together at conferences like 7th graders at the first middle school dance. If there are two of you in every conversation, one of you is irrelevant.
4. Write shit down. Give out a hundred business cards and collect two hundred. After each exchange, scribble a note on the back of a card. If someone doesn’t have a card, ask to take picture of their name badge with your phone, then text a copy of the photo to yourself with a short note. No matter how important the conversation or the customer, the connections are ephemeral unless you make sure they’re not.
5. Marketing, meet Sales! So often marketing and sales live in silos. Marketing buys a sponsorship and a bunch of passes to an event and then doesn’t get confirmation from sales about who’s attending until a few days before. Wasted dollars, wasted opportunity.

Human-to-Human matters more than ever. Make it count.

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Summer is for Managers (Part II)

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Enjoy the second in our series of manager focused posts. Because nothing says summer like management theory!

Everybody wants to talk about great leaders these days. But this management stuff is pretty hard work!  Many business-people don’t seriously distinguish between leadership and management, but they should. As Marcus Buckingham says in The One Thing You Need to Know, “Leaders play checkers; managers play chess.” In checkers, every piece moves exactly the same; there’s one leadership message that applies to everyone in the company. In chess, every piece has its own quirky individual moves; management is about how you move and plan for the individual.

Over the past weeks I’ve conducted sales workshops for a dozen digital sales organizations, working closely with leaders and managers to “make it all stick” for their teams. It always comes down to what the managers do; what they commit to and how they hold their sellers accountable. So  let’s look at what managers do.

Promotional Message: As a CRO, you’d love all your managers to have two more years of experience and perspective, but you can’t afford to wait that long.  In one to two days, Upstream Group can offer the equivalent of an executive MBA in digital sales management custom built to their needs.  Executive Sales Strategist Scot McLernon has led two different sales organizations that were both recognized as the industry’s best by the IAB, and he’s ready to help your managers better compete for the people and business your company deserves. Ask us about “Accelerated Transformation for Sales Managers” today. 

Managers Break It All Down: When leaders and companies inspire with soaring missions and motivational gems it can actually have an adverse effect on some sellers. “I see where the company is going, but I just don’t see how I can get there.” The good manager sees the delta between grand vision and troubled reality and helps the seller navigate it, piece by piece. Which accounts have the best odds? Where will you spend your time? Who are the right people? The good manager understands that talented sellers often need help building a plan.

Managers Keep Track of Actions: In The Heart of the Game, Thomas Boswell points out that great baseball managers never obsess about the final score, which is after all just an outcome. Instead, they obsess about the interim actions and decisions that would have subtly changed the course of the game:  the base-running error in the second inning; the missed cutoff man in the sixth; swinging at the first pitch against a tiring starter. They focus on how the game was played, which is ultimately controllable. It’s the same with sales managers. Watch, discuss, correct and reward the behaviors that will lead to sales. If you don’t, you might be cluelessly celebrating hollow victories, lucky breaks.

Managers Remember:  It’s not sexy, but truly great managers are the institutional memories of their organizations. They remember what they’ve asked their team members to do and when; they remember the narrative of key deals; they remember the behavioral promises of those they manage. It’s one of the reasons great managers commit to CRM systems and consistent reporting; and it’s the reason why so many instinctive, “lone wolf” sales superstars end up making lousy managers. If you’re a great manager, your organization and process management are what frees your sellers to play a much bigger game for their customers, and for your company.

Once you’ve looked this over, share it with the people on your team. It might be the key to unlocking a productive new relationship with those you manage.

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Summer is for Managers (Part I)

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While you might take a vacation, you never really take a complete break from being a manager. Over the next handful of weeks, we’ll be offering up several of our most popular posts on the art and science of being a great manager. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

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.

Promotional Message: As a CRO, you’d love all your managers to have two more years of experience and perspective, but you can’t afford to wait that long.  In one to two days, Upstream Group can offer the equivalent of an executive MBA in digital sales management custom built to their needs.  Executive Sales Strategist Scot McLernon has led two different sales organizations that were both recognized as the industry’s best by the IAB, and he’s ready to help your managers better compete for the people and business your company deserves. Ask us about “Accelerated Transformation for Sales Managers” today.

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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The One You’ve Been Waiting For.

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Maybe it’s because it’s where my birthday falls, but I’ve always felt like the mid-point of the year was a good time to reflect and reevaluate.  New Year’s Day is alright, but after the holidays who’s really got the energy left for serious resolutions?  If, like me, you’re considering a course correction for July 1, here it is.

Stop waiting.

Among the many sellers and managers I coach, waiting is a constant thread.  Before making a positive step or taking responsibility for a new initiative, they find themselves waiting:  waiting for a title, waiting for an executive mandate, waiting for recognition, waiting for their boss to really, truly approve of them and the actions they’re taking.  Sometimes they are waiting for consensus or, worse, for everyone involved to really understand or to get on the same page.

Stop waiting.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic.  Transparency has become the most pressing issue facing digital advertisers and publishers this year. As more brand spend shifts to programmatic channels, the call for transparency around the overall value exchange has reached a fever pitch. It’s time to be clear – about control, quality, and supply. Join PubMatic in a dialogue around these issues and together, let’s be clear.

Certainly there is the occasional psycho, anal-retentive CEO or manager who tries to control every move.  But they are the outliers, the exceptions.  In my view, the need for consensus and permission in today’s business culture is more perception than reality.  When I’m asked about how to get an initiative off the ground I ask the individual, “How much of this project could you just start taking on right now, without any formal action by your boss?”  The answer is almost always “most of it.”  Then I ask, “What exactly do you need from your boss to get started?” Occasionally there’s a shifting of some resources or a minor policy exception, but most often the answer is “not much.”

The advice is simple and clear:  go take action and just keep your boss informed.  Communicate your intent and then act on it.  Most busy executives love to see their reports take initiative.  At best it shows they are thinking on behalf of the company and trying to make things better.  At worst it creates a coaching opportunity in which the boss gets to talk with you about how you’re making the change instead of a long, philosophical talk about “if.”

In the 1991 film “The Fisher King,” Robin Williams’ character gives Jeff Bridges’ some advice on how to conquer his cigarette habit.  “Decide if you’re a smoker or a non-smoker and then be what you decide.”

Be what you decide.  Be the change you want to see in the world. Stop waiting.  Because it turns out the one you were waiting for is you.

Happy mid year.

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I’m Dying Up Here!

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If you’re a sales manager – or if you manage just about any kind of team – you may be feeling, at best, ambivalent about your regular meetings.  At best they accomplish soft goals like “making sure everyone is on the same page” or “running through the numbers.”  At their worst – and all too frequently they are – you feel like the comic on stage tapping the microphone and asking “Is this thing on?”

Let’s face it:  by default these meetings are often awkward and painful.  Instead of fostering decision making, motivation and action, they end up being a weekly chore for you and your unlucky team members at the conference table or on the other end of the webcam or conference line.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here’s a short checklist of ideas to help you go from suck to successful.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic.  Transparency has become the most pressing issue facing digital advertisers and publishers this year. As more brand spend shifts to programmatic channels, the call for transparency around the overall value exchange has reached a fever pitch. It’s time to be clear – about control, quality, and supply. Join PubMatic in a dialogue around these issues and together, let’s be clear.

Don’t use the meeting as a data delivery vehicle.  If you can deliver facts, numbers, research in writing (either in advance of, or instead of at) the meeting, then do it.  Telling everyone what they can otherwise read is a waste of time and only muddies the facts.

Set your agenda using verbs.  Meetings should be where you do stuff.  Decide, practice, troubleshoot, role-play, question.   Program your meetings as if you were going to have to sell your team on attending.

Cut the meeting time by 50% and the electronics usage by 100%.  You’ll be amazed how motivated and productive people can be when their phones are sitting in a box in the middle of the table.  You ambling hour long meeting just turned into a 30 minute gem.

Share your own questions with the team.  “Here are the three issues I’m grappling with that I’d like your help resolving” is a great meeting opener.  As you’re dispensing answers, your team is your audience.  Engaged in your quest for answers, they are your army.

Celebrate Interim Victories.  Add a modest amount of recognition to every meeting.  But don’t just recognize success; note the high quality actions – a breakthrough in contact, a compelling idea that opens a door with a client, a well-prepared meeting.  You orient and motivate your team around excellence, which nourishes and sustains.

Program 10 minutes of inspiration.  If like me you belong to the Church of TED, you know that inspiring talks and ideas are everywhere.  Instead of just routing a TED Talk or a blog post, share ten minutes of it with your group in person and discuss it.

Much of this won’t feel natural at first.  Leadership never does.

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