The First Thing You Say.


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about the general malaise and episodic funk that many in our industry seem to be suffering under.  (The New Normal, February 7, 2019.)  As a manager, I believe one of your greatest callings is re-framing situations and market conditions for your sellers and returning them to a centered, productive mindset.  In confusing times, that’s not easy.  OK, it’s never easy.

In both private manager coaching and management workshops, I tend to elevate one truly vital piece of advice.  Without it, all of your logic, strategy and motivation will end up going nowhere.  It goes like this:

Pay close attention to the very first thing you say.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provide insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: Despite PMP CPMs being up 31% YOY, the steep decline in PMP impressions (-40%) makes overall PMP revenue (-21%) a smaller part of the overall programmatic marketplace so far in 2019. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

When stressed or challenged, sellers and other team members tend to (1) come to their manager interactions very hot, (2) come seeking immediate answers and gratification, and (3) they want to dump the problem or situation in your lap.  And as managers, we tend to walk right into the trap by responding immediately and factually.  We believe that if we just answer the question or supply the information right now, then the situation will magically resolve.  But it just doesn’t work.

Your strategy shouldn’t be about dispensing answers, but rather posing questions.  You shouldn’t immediately assume the responsibility for the situation, but instead transfer the responsibility or resolution back to the employee in an empowering way.  That’s why the first words out of your mouth in these situations are so critical.  Next time the heat gets turned up, try rolling out some of these phrases and see what a difference they make in the quality of your interactions (and the quality of your life!)

  • I know what I’d do, but I really want to hear your thinking.  Give me two alternatives on what you think we should do in this situation.
  • Let’s slow down and make sure we’re solving the right problem.  Tell me what we’re not considering right now?
  • Let’s break this down into the things we can and can’t control. What do you think we can really change?
  • Tell me how I can help you get refocused on the things that are going to help you succeed.
  • I can tell you’re struggling with this.  I’m more than willing to let you blow off steam for a little while.  Then I think it’s time for us to break this situation down together.
  • I believe in you and I know you’re better than the conversation we’re having right now.  Tell me how you think this turns into a victory?
  • I’m not sure we have all the information we need to make the right call right now. You’re closer to the situation:  What else is important here that we haven’t looked at?

Spit back answers all day and you create dependent followers. Push the responsibility back to them – put the authority where the information is – and you empower confident leaders.  Every one of us wants to have great conversations with our employees and team members.  And we will.

But only if we start them the right way.


Tear Down This Wall!


At yesterday’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Chairman/CEO Randall Rothenberg doubled down (again) on the direct brand economy and how it’s flipping marketing models and gutting sacred cows of publisher strategy.  There was a ton of great information and examples, but there was one subtle point (Play #5 in the IAB’s new DTC Playbook: “How to Build a 21st Century Brand, Part Two”) that really grabbed my attention:

For Disruptors, branding must perform – and vice versa.

STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: CPMs are down YOY from escalating impression volume. Are publishers increasing ads per page? Is more direct converting to programmatic?  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today and get these details.

This really spoke to me.  For all of the 35 years that I’ve been in media and 25 I’ve spent in digital, we’ve labored under the artificial and counterproductive divide between brand and performance advertising.  To performance advertisers (we were told), media was just so much raw material to be processed in getting to the number.  And brand advertisers (we were told) only cared about reach and audience and shooting beautiful commercials and visuals.

Now (we are told) the wall is coming down.  And disruptor/DTC brands are the ones holding the sledgehammer.  The myth that your solution must be either brand– or performance-focused has finally been exposed.   The answer to branding or performance is now – simply – yes.

In the same IAB Playbook (Play #3) we learn that Storytelling gets more acquisitions more cheaply.  Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) actually gets better in high quality, story-focused environments like podcasts.  It’s become clear that hybrid approaches – blending authentic storytelling, high engagement environments, and real performance – are the hottest vehicles on the lot.

But like William Gibson famously wrote, The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.

We can still screw this up.  We can retreat to the brain-dead, self-defeating apology tour of attribution and discounting. We can focus on the wrong metrics. We can choose to serve the status quo of the advertising business instead of embracing directly the complex, nuanced needs of a new generation of marketers.

If we only do what we’ve always done, we’ll only ever have what we’ve already got.  There’s a new beginning taking shape.  The wall that’s always stood between brand and performance has been breached.

As media sellers, I suggest we confidently walk through it.


The New Normal?


Understanding our business by following the recent headlines about digital publishers is like learning civics by binge-watching cable news.  Yes, there are real issues and struggles. But there is also a fair bit of handwaving, amplification and ginned-up drama.

Yes, it’s awful if your job was eliminated in your company’s recent RIF.  Yes, it sucks if the company’s recent pivot and reorg means you’re now doing a job you don’t like quite as much.  And yes, it’s lousy that your firm has gotten a big haircut in its valuation.

But no, this is not the beginning of the end.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: video units are being sold at an average of 6x higher CPMs than display ($8.46 vs $1.26), while PMPs for video are 2.5x higher than Open Auction ($16.86 vs $6.93).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

It will sound simplistic and reductive, but having spent a full quarter of a century in digital media has given me some perspective on our latest crisis of confidence.  And since perspective seems to be in short supply just now, let me share.

Hegemony is Not Forever.  We were once assured that winner in digital advertising was Netscape.  (I’ll pause while you look it up.)  Since then we’ve seen Infoseek, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and others come and go.  Consolidation is a fact of life – it has always been thus – but it’s also cyclical.  The biggest guys dominate everything for a while, and then the smaller, more specialized players make a comeback.

Don’t Think You Know.  Don’t compare your insides to everybody else’s outsides.  As we struggle with our own company’s glitches and limitations, we tend to romanticize the workings and success of others.  Having spent time in the backyards of close to 700 companies over the years, I can tell you that everybody has weeds and brown spots.

It’s About the Marketer, Stupid!  Put away your 2×2 competitive matrix and lose your copy of the latest analyst reports.  Obsessively pouring over The Racing Form won’t make your horse run any faster.  If you’re going to obsess, stay tightly focused on marketers and their immediate business problems.  There are audiences they can’t connect with and stories they can’t tell.  They’re confused and anxious and need your help.  Put your energy on them:  it’s their money.

People Matter.  Sure, great technology might win you some deals and make your company more valuable to investors and acquirers.  But the dirty little secret is that smart people paying attention to a quality process still matter.  A lot. Our customers are working with the lowest headcounts and brain-counts they’ve ever experienced.  Care enough and focus on the right things and you’ll earn far more than a spot on the plan… you’ll become an in-sourced department and you’ll be bulletproof.

Default to Action.   Every one of us has a finite amount of attention and energy.  Spend it worrying about your competitors or watching stock prices and industry headlines and see where it gets you.  Expect nothing…blame no one…do something.  You can’t control the outcome but you can control your own behavior and choices.  And feel great about the work you do…every day.


You, But Strategic.


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.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: while January 2019 CPMs are down 11% year over year, don’t necessarily fret. Overall revenue is up 17%, with impressions up 26% (US only, open auction, excluding Facebook).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

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.

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 was originally published in 2015.


Own It.


Whether you sell digital media advertising, online marketing programs, multichannel marketing or a sophisticated ad tech solution, one thing’s for sure:  there’s not an action, a word or a minute to waste.  Welcome to the age of intentional selling.

Living intentionally has been a long-held concept in self-help programs and books.  It means getting in really close touch with why you’re doing what you’re doing, choosing what you’re choosing.  It’s past time for those of us in this industry – and likely many others – to bring intentionality to the strategy and practice of sales.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by STAQ. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarking allows CPM comparisons against industry average by partner, deal type, creative, device, etc., through anonymized programmatic data sets across scores of publishers. Weekly Insight: CPMs for Mobile surpassed Desktop for the first time ever last week (US Open Auction Display): $1.15 vs $1.13. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarking.

Consider this: Never have so many had to communicate so much complexity to buyers who’ve had so little attention and so many filters and roadblocks at their disposal. If you’re selling in our world you feel it every day: the unreturned emails and calls; the sure-thing deals that slipped away; the in-person enthusiasm followed by radio silence; the ambivalence and uncertainty in your pipeline. It’s not you… it’s the world we live and sell in today. But the solution? Yeah, that’s you. Own it.

Being intentional in your sales career isn’t impossible, but it does take discipline. Here are a few keys to help you start selling intentionally right now.

Kill Your Sacred Cows. There are a thousand tropes and maxims sales people believe and act on every day. I must go all out on every RFP every time or I might not get another one… We’ve got to take them through the general presentation so they know who we are… Let’s get everybody in a room together and work things out. Being intentional means questioning – and often rejecting – conventional wisdom.  All the statements above will lead to needless detours, delays, false positives and extra work for your team. Which you’ll never know unless you consider alternatives.

Keep it Small and Honest. I’ve said in this space before that small meetings are always better than big meetings. And it’s still true. So many reps bounce between disinterested lunch-and-learns and way-too-inclusive RFPs.  The third way is to lean into small, one-on-one talks with key customers, sometimes on the phone.  And when you’re in one of these meetings, talk about what matters. Be honest and vulnerable.  Demonstrate to the customer that you want their business and ask them for commitment.

Lead with Needs. The ultimate hallmark of intentionality is to be obsessive about solving client business and marketing problems. First. It means not wasting a meeting or a call to find out what’s going on with them. It means having a point of view… a hypothesis… an educated guess about what’s ailing the customer and how you can help them feel better. You only get one chance to start an email, a conversation, a meeting or a relationship. Start it well.

Own It. Ask yourself why you’re there and have a good answer. Like I’m in this to really try to make a difference for this client… to help them succeed. That’s what owning your own intent sounds like. And if that’s the voice in your head, you’ll be just fine.