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Do the Math. Make the Sale.

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“I was told there’d be no math.”  ~ Ethan Hawke as Troy, “Reality Bites.”

Like it or not, there’s math.  And if you want to make the sale, you’re going to have to dust off the calculator.

When I work with teams of sellers in sales strategy workshops, I introduce them to a tactical tool called The Teaching Challenge.  Inspired by the great conceptual work of Dixon and Adamson in The Challenger Sale, it’s really just a very clear statement – preferably written and shared early in the sales call – that answers the question “So why are we here today?”  The answer should challenge the customer’s assumptions and summon up and re-frame an urgent business problem.  This then creates a meaningful path to your solution.

I’ve come to discover that the best Teaching Challenges almost always revolve around numbers.  When reps take the time to do the math – even if the math is questioned by the customer – it almost always creates the urgency and focus that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Promotional Message:  If you could tell five thousand digital sales leaders and sellers about your product or service each week in a focused, exclusive environment, would you do it?  Digital sellers have been anticipating, reading and sharing The Drift for more than 15 years.  A provocative, POV-driven read, it’s also a great vehicle for our underwriting sponsors.  We’re taking reservations for the second half of 2017, so if you’re interested please contact Tamara Clarke to plan your campaign today.

But very few sellers do the math.  Instead, they throw out meaningless generalities like “we’ll help you reach more millennial moms” or “we can help make your media plan more efficient.”  How many more millennial moms?  In what period of time?  What’s their economic value to my brand?  How much more efficient will you help me become?  How much money will I save this quarter?  If I’m the customer, I may not necessarily expect you to have all the answers.  But I at least want to know you asked the right questions.

But isn’t impossible to find these answers?  If your standard is immutable truth, then perhaps. But that’s not where the bar should be set.  Each of us can approach our customer with a working hypothesis about the scope and cost of her unsolved problem or unrealized opportunity.

Old, traditional approach:  “Young urban men are really important to your brand, and we’ll help you reach a lot more of them.”

After doing the math:  “We’re estimating that there will be 2.5 million urban, millennial men actively searching online for a product like yours in the next 6 weeks. Every 5% of that active market you win means $3 million in sales.  You’ve got a window of opportunity to get to these customers with a proactive strategy before your competitor, brand X, does.  We have the core capabilities to help you with that strategy.  Can I tell you how?”

Many reps avoid specifics because they worry too much about the downside of being wrong.  But it’s better to be specific and wrong than it is to be accurate and meaningless. Your hypothesis need only be credible, and you need only to be able to show your work.

So take a shot.  Do the math.  Bring your customer to the whiteboard to work on the problem with you and you’re halfway home.

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Here’s How.

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Somewhere out there this morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. She’s staring at a number – her sales goal for the next several months. Her company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

Her managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell her to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell her how.

Here’s how:

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. If you answer all or mostly “no” then it’s a C account; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

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.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) Your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand? and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

This post, in its original form, was first shared in January 2015.

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More, from Less.

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JP Morgan Chase publicly announced that they’d cut the number of sites on which they advertise from 400,000 to 5,000 – with no difference in marketing outcomes.

YouTube announced that its Creator program is being given a new floor.  Where previously any YouTube creator could participate in the flow of advertising, now only those creators with a set minimum of followers are qualified.

Fake news, fraud, viewability issues and dodgy content have pushed many marketers to pound the table and demand a new level of care around distribution of their ads.  In so many words, P&G’s Mark Pritchard said we’ll play in a somewhat smaller arena if we just stop the nonsense and get back to making great ads and showing them to real people.

Welcome to the age of less.

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.

For two decades, the growth and capitalization of the online ad business has been built on assumptions of abundance; that more page views, more ad calls, more reach and more clicks would always be the answer.  Now we are faced with a different question:  how might our companies thrive in an age where we must manage scarcity?

Our planning for this era has taken on a bit of urgency.  If the headlines above weren’t enough, there’s the simple fact that the war for reach and scale is over.  (Spoiler alert:  Facebook and Google won.)

I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but supposedly the Chinese character for crisis combines characters of both danger and opportunity.  (If not true, it should be.) In this crisis, there is indeed a huge set of opportunities.  Now that it’s no longer possible (or desirable) to reach a bazillion users, we can get back to knowing our customers, speaking their language, creating great stories for them.  We can pull the reach needle out of our arm and start a respectable life solving business and marketing problems.

We can all get more of what we want.  In the era of less.

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Life on Mars.

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“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, ‘this is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work”

~Matt Damon as Mark Watney in “The Martian,” 2015.

In the dynamically wonderful and broken world of digital marketing, media and advertising, we all live on Mars.  We find ourselves alone in and facing the latest existential crisis.  The technological shift that happens overnight and threatens to render your business model obsolete in minutes.  The public fiasco that frightens the advertiser herd into a stampede away from whatever it is you’re selling.  The dawning realization that – from where you sit right now – you simply can’t get to your number.

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.

It’s at times like these that I like to pass along this little gem of a speech that slid in at the end of “The Martian.”  Having survived the unsurvivable, Matt Damon’s character makes the essence of survival very simple.

“That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

You just begin.  You do the math.  You solve one problem at a time.  Simplistic? Perhaps.  But is there really any other way out?  When I coach managers and sellers in our business I often find them feeling overwhelmed and broken by the perceived enormity of the challenges.  Indeed, if you find yourself struggling intellectually with the entire issue it will, in fact, break you.  But the best managers and sellers – the best executives of every stripe – all seem to have the same rhythm.  They slow it down.  They break it down.  They solve one problem and then the next.  And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

They also realize that what we do – as people and as executives – is a team sport.  They tap into their own generosity and to the generosity of others.  They beat back the crippling cynicism that hollows the soul and drains the spirit and they choose to believe that – given the chance – others will rally to help them.

“Every human being has a basic instinct: to help each other out. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

Welcome to Mars.  You’ll do fine here.

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Think the Unthinkable.

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If we’ve learned anything from the events of the past few months, it’s that nothing is inconceivable.

For those of us in digital marketing and advertising, the received wisdom has been that the march of ad tech would be relentless, inevitable and total; that we’d keep tracking and parsing and coding until we’d achieved targeting nirvana –a blissful utopia that combines the best aspects of Wall-E, Minority Report and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

But it’s time to consider a different scenario.  Perhaps everyone in the ad tech world should question our own inevitability. It may not play out this way, but staring at this alternate future may be the healthiest thing we can do right now.

Want to confront the dead internet marketing ideas and dated thinking that continues to plague our industry? That’s just what we’ll be doing at The Seller Forum on Wednesday, June 7th in New York. If you’re a qualified sales leader or manager, request your invitation today.

Lately it seems like our industry has been caught up in a tornado like the one in Wizard of Oz. Massive winds and floating debris…hey, there’s the advertisers who are pissed at YouTube!….more wind, more dust…publishers fuming about the Facebook/Google duopoly….shingles and farm animals flying past….there goes Pewdiepie giving the Nazi salute!…dust, wind….fake news!

What brought the whole mess into sharp relief for me was the masterful screed on Doc Searls Weblog, “Brands Need to Fire Ad Tech.” If you’re a publisher who feels like you’ve been taking it on the chin for a long time, this guy is a populist arguing for a return to a better time. If you’re an ad tech true believer (or someone who’s bet a lot of money on ad tech winning) you may dismiss him as a dinosaur or a dreamer or the guy talking to himself on the street. But in any case you’ve got to read this. And then read it again. Among the key points:

  • Adtech sucks at branding. Hundreds of $billions have been spent on adtech so far, and not one brand known to the world has come out of it.
  • Yes, it works, about .0x% of the time, on average. The other 99.9x% of the time it produces nothing but negative externalities, including lots of tendentious math by agencies and platforms to justify the expense. Among those externalities are subtracted value from brands themselves.
  • Adtech’s rationalizations are all around putting the “right message in front of the right people at the right time,” and aiming those messages with spyware-harvested Big Data. Both of those are direct marketing purposes, not those of brand advertising. The difference is stark, absolute, and essential for everyone to understand.

Ouch! Hard to read. But Doc has seized the high ground. And there are plenty who will rally to this flag.

Do I think we’re going to see some kind of apocalyptic Day After scenario, where the whole ad tech machine comes crumbling down? No. But I think we should consider the Atlas Shrugged scenario.  What if all quality news organizations, publishers, reputable entertainment companies, and brand marketers simple dropped out? What if they circled the wagons and said “We don’t want that internet anymore…we want our own?” What if they left the rest of the web to its own devices — and vices — and simply let it run its course?

Or maybe it will be like A Christmas Carol: Confronted with a bleak future, we change for the better.

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