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Rep-splaining.

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The 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 then 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.

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.

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.

This is a re-post of one of the most widely-shared posts in the 16 years of The Drift. We hope it strikes a nerve with you and your team as well.

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Selling is Like Shaving.

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The headline over today’s post references an old saying in direct marketing.  “Selling is like shaving,” the accountable direct response ad seller would say.  “If you don’t do some of it every day, you’re a bum.”  It was a handy way for DR sellers to contrast their work with that of the ad sellers out there peddling branding – which they dismissed as no more than a con.

But today the slogan takes on a deeper meaning for all ad sellers, publishers, tech and marketing service providers.  The jig is up, the news is out, the fatted calf has been picked clean.  For generations, we’ve organized our businesses and revenue models around the premise that our jobs are to help the advertisers and their legion of agencies spend their money… perhaps a little more accountably, responsibly, efficiently or viewably than the next guy.  We’ve all been citizens of the ad business, and we spoke its language and observed its customs.  But no more.

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.

Fundamental change doesn’t always break down the door.  Often it creeps in on tiny cat feet.  And while we were busy arguing and negotiating over how much of that big pile of ad money would go to digital or TV or something else, marketers have been undergoing their own fundamental change.  They’ve been under siege from direct-to-consumer competitors, a collapsing retail channel, online shopping and more.  In the face of this existential crisis, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising.

Well….to put a finer point on it, they’ve fallen out of love with advertising for the sake of advertising.

Which leads me back to the new premise.  Today we must all help the marketer sell – we must attach ourselves to business outcomes, become co-marketers…lest we be dismissed as bums.  To survive and thrive in what used to be called the ad sales business we must all go back to school and become fluent in the language and customs of marketing.  Someday soon our talk of rating points, viewability and attribution will sound as anachronistic as the Latin mass.

The 21st century ad seller is a business problem solver.  She doesn’t wait for budgets, she helps create them.  She avoids the watering hole where the herd gathers for RFPs and planning cycles.  She hunts alone.  She knows more about how the client’s business works – how he sells his products, who he sells them through and what gets them bought – than anyone but the client.

She sells.  Every day.  But she doesn’t sell ads.  She helps the customer sell product.

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Local Food.

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Leave it to Mike Shields of Business Insider for taking a position and calling out marketers and agencies for the faux shock they are expressing on issues of fraud and supply chain corruption.  Not since Tom Phillips of Dstillery famously evoked HBO’s “The Wire” has culpability been served in such substantial portions.

I’m sure that many in our industry will have nits to pick with Mike – honest people can disagree.  But come on people!  At very least, the optics are terrible.  Marketers publicly crying foul, agencies and tech companies pointing fingers at one another… it’s enough to give one the vapors!

As my small contribution to the debate, I’m offering a new way to look at the issues of quality, transparency, viewabilty, etc.  Set aside all the tech speak and financial-bubble metaphors:  the discussion is really about the quality of the internet food supply.  Welcome to the concept of local food!

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.

Rather than continually backpedaling on issues like the percentage of viewable impressions and acceptable fraud levels, might we instead start to compete on the basis of quality – on how much we do know about the inventory we serve?  Might we now start talking about the exact source of inventory – where it was born – and exactly what hands its passed through on its way to market?  No shady rail depots or slaughterhouses.  No grain silos tainted by GMOs or banned pesticides.  I know the where all of my impressions came from and you are getting the cleanest shipment imaginable – USDA prime!

Think this is all a bit much?  Or perhaps that I’ve gotten soft in the head from living in a farm state – Vermont – all these years?  Maybe you’re right.  But consider for a minute the plight of the small publisher who’s struggling to get fair compensation for high quality inventory?  Is she really all that different from the organic farmer who’s now able to charge a premium for a purer, cleaner product?  Or think about the volume publisher or platform operating in a bottomless pool of inventory:  Isn’t he a bit like the big packaged goods company trying to drive up the price of commodity staples by appending organic, gluten-free or non-GMO to every possible product?

Maybe it’s not as simple as asking the advertiser do you know exactly how that got on your plate?  But maybe it’s not such a bad way to start the conversation.

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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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