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.

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.

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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The Opposite of Selling.

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the-opposite-of-selling-2The 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 that 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.

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.

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.

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Is it Your Employee? Or is it You?

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is-it-the-employee-or-is-it-youI spent yesterday with a team of great young managers.  During our workshop I was reminded of the three-part test I’d encouraged managers to use last April…a test to determine what to do with employee performance problems.  It’s worth a second look.

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.

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.

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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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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Six Questions for GSK’s Scott Grenz.

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scottepharmaAn agency veteran and now VP, Global Media Head for the pharma and consumer healthcare divisions of GSK, Scott Grenz will be our featured guest at the Seller Forum on Thursday February 9th in New York.  Here, he answers six questions about the new world order for clients, agencies and the sales community. 

DW: The nature of the brand/agency relationship has been evolving for years.  This past year seemed different though.  Was it?

SG:  Yes, I think the advertiser/media agency relationship is evolving.  At GSK, we push our media agencies to deliver more for us and bring us new approaches and strategies and in the US we partner strongly with PHD.  We also expect them to push us.  How do we, GSK, need to behave so we get the very best from our agencies and by extension the media sellers?  We strive to be client of choice with our agencies and advertiser of choice with the media sellers.

DW: What’s different about a meeting you’ll personally take with a media company versus one you’ll hand off internally or to one of your agencies?

SG:  GSK is a progressive place for Media.  We partner strongly with our media agencies and expect the media selling community to be part of the equation developing custom solutions for our brands.  Our intention is to remain open to innovative, bespoke programs.  You can be assured GSK will invest all the time we need to bring a good idea to life.  The blueprint for this is the work we did with Weather on the Flonase launch.

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.

DW: You believe that media companies and publishers should be prepared to assume some of the risk on new ideas. Have you developed a good model or formula for sharing risk?

SG:  Investing media dollars has inherent risk, which the advertiser takes on the brunt of, especially if sales don’t improve as a result.  That said, I would advise any media seller to come to us with new ideas on how we can share the risk.  Maybe it’s a cost model based on business impact, piloting new opportunities at no cost…I’m sure there are others.  It’s more being open to the approach in general as we feel it will deliver more scalable and lasting partnerships.

DW: Sellers want to call on clients, and within client companies they want to get close to brand teams.  Good idea or bad idea?

SG: My counsel in this regard is patience.  At some point in the process, if the media company brings something unique and integrated, the brand teams will need to get involved.  If the sellers are strategic, understand our business, act as partners, they will become part of the team.

DW: What’s the single most overhyped idea in media today?  And what are we not talking about nearly enough?

SG:  “Digital” as a unique element of the communications plan – as in, we need to “do more digitally.”  If we are really astute about consumer journey and hold true to that in how we invest our media spend, we should find ourselves spending in all the correct channels.  Something we are talking about but are just starting to do well is tying investment back to ROI.  We have made great progress working with our media agency partners, but the media sellers need to step up and help us in this regard.  It’s another opportunity to differentiate yourselves.    Also important is top talent.  We expect the media agencies to maintain the best talent on our business.  The same can be said for media sellers.  I think there’s an opportunity there for sellers to differentiate…we really don’t talk too much about talent on the sales side and we should.

DW: Our business is insular.  What do you do, read or experience outside our world that keeps you grounded?

SG: I try to focus on experiences that allow me to be creative in different ways.  I like to cook.  That really is a stress-release for me and I don’t get many complaints on the results.  I also enjoy reading biographies.  I like to understand what experiences and environments equip people to accomplish what they do in life, both the good guys and bad guys.

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