One Tiny Change.


If swapping out just a single word in your vocabulary would create enormous positive change in you and those around you – massively shift attitudes and perspective for the better – would you do it?  It will take discipline and consistency to normalize the new word, and it will feel awkward at first.  So…would you make the change?

You just need to start using the word for in place of other prepositions like in and to.

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For example, when composing your team or company mission, you might be tempted to write something like “Our goal is to be the best digital marketing company in the world.”  This may sound positive, but inherently it says there is a contest out there that we will win…we will be recognized…. we will be respected.  Being the best in the world….is about you.

But with one tiny change, your goal becomes being the best digital marketing company for the world.  It becomes about them.  It morphs from self-aggrandizement and recognition to generosity and service.

All day long, sales teams and the in-house marketing, technology and client service folks who support them focus on building and delivering the things that we can sell to the customer.  Small wonder that so many sellers feel a sense of creeping unease in their customer relationships; who wants to be thought of as a seller when selling seems to mean taking?

With the same tiny language change, we turn the whole thing around.  Instead of selling to the customer, we’re selling for the customer…. building for the customer… creating for the customer.  The relationship is no longer a transaction we hope to win, no longer a beauty contest in which we hope to end up with the crown.  It becomes about the work.  About deserving the client’s trust, respect and – ultimately — their investment.

In an age of ubiquitous video and visual overkill, this focus on words may seem dated. But words matter.  And in the culture you’re aiming to create and the career you are aspiring to enjoy, your words will either work against you…or they will work for you.

This Drift was inspired by my good friend Charlie Thomas, legendary seller and digital sales executive who has always been a great source of inspiration and ideas. 


Keeping it real.


A consistent thread connects hundreds of workshop discussions I’ve had with sales teams over the past 20 years: how to generate and foster a sense of urgency in a channel where there are no closing- or air-dates? It’s a huge issue, to be sure. Without urgency, deals drift, pricing erodes, pipeline visibility becomes cloudy and your forecasting turns to mush. The absence of urgency presents itself in many ways; here is one of the most common – and puzzling – scenarios.

You meet with a client directly – or perhaps with someone very senior at the agency. They express strong interest in “working together” and perhaps are even “very excited” by what you’ve had to say. In fact, they’re even going to recommend you go and see someone in the buying group. (Let’s call him “Steve.”) Maybe they’ll even send you on your way with an email referral or introduction.

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Many of us would be delighted by such an outcome – at least initially. But 95 times out of 100 you either don’t get the Steve meeting scheduled or, if you do, Steve has zero alignment or concern for the idea you’re there to discuss. What felt like positive progress toward a sales was actually a deft bit of redirection.

The client chose not to stay engaged in the deal. He chose not to keep his hand in. Why?  No sense of urgency was created. So what would create that much needed sense of urgency?

Attaching the Idea to Hard Sales Goals:  Mostly we speak in the clinical, antiseptic language of advertising, media and digital. We’re peddling impressions and clicks and the cotton candy of “branding.” How will your idea actually drive sales, or the incremental outcomes that lead to sales? Nobody wants to be the one who says “Those incremental sales aren’t important.”

Humanizing It:  Along the same lines, instead of “users” or “page views” or impressions, how many actual people will your program speak to? Where do they live? How important will they be to the success of this brand in a given market? Losing interest in the latest complicated digital advertising idea is understandable. Turning away potential customers?  Not so much.

Putting It On the Clock:  What’s the critical launch date of the product? What holiday will make or break the brand’s profit this year? How long is their special offer valid?

Weaving it Into the Competitive Dynamic:  How often do we talk about the specific competitive advantage our idea will provide over Brand X? (That being, of course, the brand they truly dislike.) Will this give them a competitive head start? Will it help them exploit the competitor’s weakness?

Asking for Personal Commitment:  This one sounds overly simple, but when was the last time you “personalized the close?” When you asked the customer, “I know there’s a lot more to be done, but is this something you want to happen? Do you think this is a good idea and can you help us make it real?”

It makes no sense getting to higher level decision makers and then leaving satisfied that you had “a positive call.” The great sellers are the ones who will think deeper about the business, challenge, and remain fearless about pushing the customer a little out of his comfort zone. And that’s really all urgency is about.

In its original form, this post first appeared in 2012. I’m reposting it this week while I’m on a short vacation. Happy summer to all of our readers.


Playing Offense: The RFO.


Irritation and push-back (from publishers, agencies and clients) on the increasingly irrelevant RFP (request-for-proposal) is a well-worn theme at this point.  Clients and agency leadership think they’re a waste of billable hours and an awful process for buyers.  For publishers and sales teams, they are at best the piñatas we all get to blindly swing at near the end of the party; at worst, they are the dumpster fire that consumes time, resources, morale and hope.

So why are so few companies doing anything about it?  Why are we continuing to throw people and money at a process that’s not only broken – it’s getting worse!  One answer is that nature abhors a vacuum: that without a clear alternative, people will cling to a deeply flawed behavior or broken relationship.  Just in case that’s what’s happening, I’ve got an alternative.

Stop answering RFPs.  Start writing RFOs.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

The RFO – request-for-opportunity – isn’t an incremental change to the RFP; it is its complete opposite.  In the RFP process the seller reacts.  In the RFO process, the seller drives.  Where the RFP is based on a bunch of issues and qualifications that were agreed upon by various committees, the RFO is disruptive and driven by a strong POV.

The RFO is really quite simple.  It consists of just four steps.

  • Find a couple of higher level decision makers – senior account owners at agencies or practice leads at the client – for an account you covet. Don’t worry if they haven’t gotten budget or plans yet (that’s kind of the point!)
  • Do an hour’s research on the specific brand or product in question. Specifically, look for key competitors, core message they are conveying, hard-to-find audiences, disruption in their marketplace, key promotions or dates, etc.
  • Pick a problem you think you could help the customer solve and the means by which your company could solve it. (Pick one that’s big enough to matter, but small enough to fix…don’t go crazy.)  Write out the problem in plain English in just a couple dozen words.
  • Now send a very short email with a really clear headline: We’d like to help you (or your client) solve for X.  Avoid all the fluff, get to the point and stay focused on the problem.  They don’t care about your company background or any of that (yet).  Tell them your team has done some creative thinking on the account and you’d like to bring them into the collaboration.  (If talking to an agency exec, be sure to mention how this RFO might help them extend their capabilities, generate some incremental client spend and help them defend their business from encroachers.)

It’s not hard, just different.  You don’t have to be right, just credible.  Companies focused on answering RFPs are hoping for a sliver of the remaining budget.  Those who write RFOs are taking concrete steps toward creating budget.  If you think you’re already doing this, go back and read your outbound emails carefully.  Too often, you’re probably just leading with we’ve got a great idea! – which holds no water with the client.

It’s not about your product, it’s about their problem.  Don’t tell them what you sell; tell them what you solve.


The Next Big Thing.


As most of you are seeing this post for the first time, I’m behind closed doors with a group of six-dozen digital sales leaders talking about something crucial – innovation – in a very non-standard way.

In our industry, we tend to think of innovation almost exclusively in terms of technology:  it’s always about a new algorithm or bidding engine or streaming solution that’s going to change everything.   It’s a natural conclusion, since we’ve all been brought up on the fable of two guys in a garage or a dorm room tinkering away at world-altering technology.  Jobs, Brin, Page, Gates – these make up our pantheon of digital change.  But there are two major problems with this narrative.  First, it disempowers the rest of us…we end up as hapless pawns on a chessboard that’s always on the verge of being overturned.  Rather than being agents of our own fortune, we accept helpless victimization.  The second problem with this fixation on “the next big thing” is that it’s not even true.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

One of our speakers at today’s Seller Forum is Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of “The Innovation Biome.” In his book, Mehta challenges the myth head on.  The next big thing is usually NOT a thing at all.  It can be a policy shift, an approach to pricing, or even just a change in a process inside your company.  In addition to not being things that one needs to invent, these examples also have one more quality in common:  they are eminently controllable by the sales leader and other executives in the company.

  • Amazon didn’t have to invent anything to offer free shipping and tie it to your Prime Membership.
  • Airlines didn’t have to invent new technology in order to create frequent flier programs.
  • Google didn’t invent search; only a radically different way to buy it.

Embracing this new narrative democratizes innovation.  It’s no longer a thing that 95% of the company waits around for (or fears), and it doesn’t only happen during formal brainstorms or executive retreats.

By simply questioning our assumptions, asking “How might we” and breaking down and examining our own processes, we can yield extraordinary results.

  • Can your team adopt a new pricing model for your services or inventory?
  • Can you offer free services alongside your core offerings to justify your premium price?
  • Can you reorganize the ways in which your teams work on client problems to deliver superior results?
  • Can you fundamentally change the approach toward meetings – both team meetings and one-on-ones – to build innovation and experimentation into your culture?

The answer to all these questions is yes.  How frequently, though, does our first answer end up being no?  Perhaps a better first response to most all of our business and revenue questions should be Yes…and….

The next big thing just might be you.


You Got the Client Meeting. Why?


Your client – that elusive marketer you’ve been trying to access — is taking a meeting with you today.  Are you sure you’re ready?  And are you certain you even deserve it?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Let’s start with the reasons why clients have historically not been willing to meet with sellers. Truth be told, our view of client interaction has been fairly unsophisticated. After arguing our case with the agency media planning team – the lower court – we’d try and appeal to the client – the appellate court – to overturn the verdict, essentially asking the client to involve herself in a media planning decision that’s below her pay-grade and beneath her agenda. A client – or even someone at a very senior level at an agency – doesn’t care whether one media or tech vendor ends up on a media plan or not. By trying to get them involved in this tussle, you bring them a brand new problem instead of solving an existing one.

So why would a client see you today? And why is today different than days past? Three words sum it up: Data…Creativity….Authenticity.

Data is so pervasive that it can seem like a commodity. But real, valuable, first-party data – and the ability to put it to work for the marketer – are in short supply. Marketers are viewing data through a very sophisticated lens: It’s bigger than advertising, bleeding over into CRM, retailer relationships, localization and more. The marketer will have a smart, future oriented conversation about data with you.

Creativity, also, is scarcer than you think. Sure there are modern day Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons toiling at work stations in agencies. But many of our companies are creating brand new palettes that agency creatives barely recognize. And ‘creativity’ in digital media today has as much to do with anthropology as it does with art. Media companies are simply closer to the behavior of the consumer than either the brand or its agency.

Authenticity is probably the one quality marketers crave above any other. Authenticity is what helps break through the veil of indifference and inattention and makes a brand or product genuinely matter to a consumer. The web is “an embarrassment of niches,” where consumers feel passionate and connected.   I don’t care if you call it content marketing, native, enhanced sponsorship or something else; the challenge is to bring their brand and your user experience together in a way to confers authenticity.

Digital has freed the captive genie from a bottle called “advertising.” Those willing to similarly free their imaginations and agendas from the same bottle will find a willing and open conversation with the marketer.  Just don’t try to fake it.

This Drift was posted in its original form in March of 2016.