My Mother’s Son.


I was holding my 91-year-old Mom’s hand when she died on Saturday.  And today I’m going to use my tiny bit of weekly attention to make her just a little more famous. She deserves that. Of course this has nothing to do with digital advertising or sales; just a whole lot about real greatness and the resilience of the human spirit.

Pat Weaver was born during the first years of passenger aviation and commercial radio and died during the age of paid space travel and YouTube celebrities. She was a child of the Great Depression, a World War II teenager and an 18-year old bride and mother of five during the postwar years of the baby boom. She did what needed to be done, often at the expense of her own personal opportunities, but always with a sense of joy and optimism. The wife of a Sheriff’s deputy, she always worked at least one job – often two – and was the stable daily presence in the lives of her sons.

She started adult life with a high school diploma, a marriage license and a one-way train ticket from her native Louisiana to Los Angeles. (That’s the trip she’s on in the picture at left.) Perhaps because of this, she became a lifelong learner, earning college credits for decades and writing out copious notes and journal entries on what fascinated her. And everything fascinated her. She faced down cancer and battled clinical depression and mental illness. And though she came age when such things were not to be discussed, she became an advocate for and friend to others who struggled to heal. Nobody suffered alone on my Mom’s watch. Nobody.

During an age that was not particularly kind to women, my Mom was unfailingly kind. In the face of adversity and loss, she chose resilience and optimism. During the final years of life, when many become isolated and despondent, Pat decided to embrace her life and every new person who came on the scene. Anonymous for three quarters of a century, she made her first movie at the tender age of 88. Through resilience and optimism and unquenchable joy, she won. She won big.

If something I’ve written or said to you over the years has made you feel more hopeful or confident – if I’ve helped you somehow – that’s all her. Her being there for me gave me the strength to be there for others.

As anyone would, I love getting awards and hearing praise. But the best thing that will every be said about me is that I was my mother’s son. Living up to that would be my greatest accomplishment. I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

If you are so moved, please consider donating to Mental Health America in the name of someone who inspires you.  And thanks for reading a little bit about my Mom.


Into the Void… Boldly.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the big empty space at the beginning of many sales calls and business ‘relationships.’  It’s the Bermuda triangle of connection and progress; a black hole where the bright star of an insight or an idea might have shone. It didn’t have to be this way.

Across scores of seller interviews I conduct in preparing workshops each year, I hear a consistent litany of frustrations and complaints:

Is your team asking the hard questions that would better qualify opportunities and decision makers? For the customer, there’s no upside in communicating a negative decision. Sellers have to work for the real answers. That work can begin with an Upstream Group sales workshop. It’s easier and more cost effective than you might imagine. And the consult is free. Reach out now to talk it over.

The buyer puts us in a box with a bunch of other companies…

They don’t really listen to us…

It’s all about the numbers…

They’re not seeing the big picture…

We don’t really get a chance to compete…

But blaming the buyer, your marketing team, fate, God or anyone else makes no sense. You’ve got the power to fix this yourself. You see, there’s a fleeting moment at the outset of the sales discussion that you’re not filling with anything meaningful and urgent. Call it the “agenda vacuum.” Sometimes the vacuum is there because the rep just didn’t do the work, choosing instead to walk in with a canned presentation and ‘see what’s up.’ Other times the rep chooses passivity and caution: “Be polite and find out what the buyer wants to talk about.” Or the agenda is something incredibly lame like…

I want to really understand your objectives for the year…

I just wanted to introduce you to our company….

Let me update you on… whatever.

If you don’t put something urgent and provocative in front of the buyer in the first 90 seconds of your call, your buyer will step into the vacuum and fill it themselves. They’ll fill it with rote questions, flawed categorization, indifference, false objections, a recitation of numerical parameters or something worse. I’ll leave you with a tip to help you fill the void. Make this the first sentence of your next sales meeting:

We’ve looked at your business, and there’s one big issue we don’t think you recognize. And if it’s not addressed, you’ll be missing a huge opportunity.

Do the work. Think. Plan. Fill the vacuum.

These ideas were originally posted here in January 2013.


Moving the Chains.


You know what we could use more of in digital sales? Cause and effect. Intentionality. Some good old fashioned I did this and then they did that.

Instead — too often — sellers go through the motions of the capabilities presentation or the big idea pitch and then expect – OK, maybe hope – that an approval or an insertion order materializes somewhere down the line. What’s missing are the numbers on the yardstick… the measurable, incremental answers and victories that get us from here to the sale. As a result, sellers assign far too much value (and time and resources) to the presentation and not nearly enough to running a great pipeline.

Is your team asking the hard questions that would better qualify opportunities and decision makers? For the customer, there’s no upside in communicating a negative decision. Sellers have to work for the real answers. That work can begin with an Upstream Group sales workshop. It’s easier and more cost effective than you might imagine. And the consult is free. Reach out now to talk it over.

Great pipeline management starts before you even schedule time with the customer. Did they open your email? Acknowledge it?  Have we secured a meeting date? Is there an important date on the customer’s calendar that would create a deadline? 

And once we engage, a new set of questions starts to emerge. What’s the most this customer could commit to if this meeting goes well? What specifically am I going to ask her to do at the end of the call? What evidence do I have that this opportunity is either more or less likely than it was a week ago? What else might we try to learn to validate this opportunity?

Moving the chains on a commercial opportunity isn’t just a nice idea. It’s everything. Planning for the very next decision, the next yard marker, keeps the seller in the present. It tells him what he needs to close on in order to keep the deal alive. It prevents wishful – or even magical – thinking from creeping into your pipeline. It keeps everyone focused on what’s still possible and on making it more possible.

It’s sad when a seller doesn’t get the results and the outcomes that she’s worked hard for. But when she doesn’t even know what needs to happen next? That’s tragic.


The On-ramp and the Off-ramp.


As sometimes happens in our sales workshops, someone in the group tossed out a brilliant metaphor the other day. If I could remember who said it I’d give him or her the credit.  (If it was you, please go ahead and raise your hand to claim it – you deserve the notoriety!) With a little embellishment and polish from me, here it is.

A sales call or meeting is like a drive on the highway. The two most critical moments – the only ones that matter, really – are the on-ramp and the off-ramp. Survive these and the rest of the trip will take care of itself.

If you want your team to be terrific, make them specific. Speaking directly to customer needs is good business, and all it takes is a plan and some discipline. A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Let me explain. The opening of your meeting – the on-ramp – is when you create a strong environment, set the agenda and truly engage and involve your customer. (Or… not.) Like the act of merging onto a busy highway, this moment demands that you be alert and decisive. You must speed up and create momentum while very intentionally finding your spot. At the very moment when this kind of decisive action is called for, too many sellers dawdle and meander through the opening of the call, wasting time and squandering trust with meaningless small talk.

Then there’s the end of the call – the off-ramp. This is the part of your journey that calls for careful braking… the part where you slow it all way down. This is the moment in the sales call where the thoughtful seller picks up most of the good information – where she truly qualifies both the buyer and the opportunity; where she identifies hidden decision makers and learns how she might get the deal done. But it’s at this exact moment when slow, deliberate and careful are warranted that many sellers speed up and rush through the close. As a result, they don’t ask for the sale and never get the chance to ask any of the important questions that follow – questions that could open up possibilities and close business.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Have a plan and practice it.

To hit your on-ramp at just the right speed, do some research and create one slide with a few headlines about your customer. Show the customer that slide and – before you say or do anything else – get them talking about it. You will immediately frame your meeting squarely around client needs while also immediately bringing them into a collaborative conversation.

For the off-ramp, write out and practice the question you’ll ask at the end of the meeting; a question that contains a verb (e.g. budget… approve… recommend…), a number (the amount you’re asking for) and a date (to activate the program, a start date, for the next commitment to be made). Role-playing the questions that follow (Tell me about how that decision will be made… Setting aside the outcome, is this something you’d personally like to see happen? … What other budgets might contribute to something like this?) is one of the very best ways a manager can support his sellers.

Open your calls quickly and decisively. Close them slowly and thoughtfully. And watch your numbers improve.


Things We Say Instead of Selling.


In the dozens of sales workshops I lead every year I can’t help but get hung up on the words. Specifically, all of the non-sales language that erstwhile sellers get stuck on. While they might never actually come out and say Please don’t buy anything from me today, these anti-selling clichés may be the next best thing.

We just hope you’ll keep us top of mind. This is the perfect ending to a sales meeting with no purpose and no agenda. Like Brigadoon or Shangri-La, Top of mind is a beautiful but non-existent place. Buyers today are stretched thin: if you don’t have an urgent sales agenda, they sure won’t either.

This is just an introductory callYou’ve just told me that you can do me absolutely no good in the important half hour you’re about to subtract from my life. You’re either immediately useful to me or you’re irrelevant. And you’ve just chosen irrelevance.

Is your sales team describing instead of selling? You win business one serious, well-planned meeting at a time. Can your team do that? A strategic digital sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine. Reach out now. The consult is free.

Can we talk about next steps? This is what we say when we don’t want to directly ask the customer to buy from us or commit to anything. In spite of what may have been a very good and persuasive call, this is the kind of question that lays on the table like a dead fish and tells the client you’re not all that sure about, or committed to, your product.

Let’s touch base in the next few weeks. There’s just so much wrong here. It’s the verbal equivalent of awkwardly backing out of the room. You’re telling the customer I know you’re not interested and I’m going to save embarrassment for both of us.

Let me send you more information. Great plan!  If we’re not talking about me buying something from you today then perhaps your ninja writing skills will do the trick. Because we all know how much customers love to pour over documentation and product description.

Today’s buyers have more ways to keep us away than ever before. If you’ve been lucky enough or diligent enough (or if your product is good enough) to have earned an in-person meeting or a scheduled phone appointment, it probably means you’ve got some kind of shot. Why waste it with lazy, ineffective language that lets the air out of the room?

Real sales is about persuasion, and the language of sales is the language of commitment. Practice asking questions that contain verbs like recommend, approve and budget. Then ask even more questions that either advance the sale or tell you why it’s not happening. To do anything less is to cheat your employer, your customer and yourself.