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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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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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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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Just Three Things.

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just-three-thingsOne of the real pleasures of my job – and what makes my job possible – is that I get to speak candidly and personally to a few hundred salespeople every year.  It’s in those conversations that I have come to understand the qualities that all the great ones seem to share.

As you might imagine there are dozens of behaviors, approaches and beliefs that one could point to.  But in the end it seems to come down to a very short list of just three things.  And if I were building a sales team today and could hire only three qualities, I’d pay for these:

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.

Curiosity.  To truly sell means to persuade another person – or group – to do something significant.  In this quest, curiosity is a superpower.  The curious are always looking to understand more about the work and life and issues of the customer.  Their curiosity helps them learn how the customer’s business works, and why it sometimes doesn’t.  And it makes the customer feel deeply interesting and attended to.  In this environment, change and commitment become truly possible.

Generosity.  The old stereotype of the slick seller busily counting his commission would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetically misguided.  Great sellers rarely wait for the cash register to ring and always leave something on the table.  They are also generous with their time and attention…and with credit when something goes well.  Because they give, others want to give to them….support, loyalty, commitment.

Paranoia.  Yes, this one sounds odd by comparison.  But the touch of paranoia afflicting the great seller makes her always do one more thing…check one more detail…meet one more person…make one more phone call.  When a deal is 95% certain, the great seller dwells in the 5% that’s not…turning every bolt, checking every circuit.  His curiosity and generosity are what bring business to the table; his paranoia is what finishes the sale and drives the success of his company.

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