Online Sales Strategy

Just. Stop. Talking.


In recent conversations and workshops with customers I find myself continually revisiting Simon Sinek’s classic 2009 TedX talk, “The Golden Circle,”which is also the key theme in his best-selling book Start with Why. If you watch the full video, pay particular attention at about 5:40 and he explains the biological reasons why we tend to be purpose-driven mammals who are motivated by meaning and mission.

According to Simon, the newer portion of our brains – the neo cortex – is language driven and can understand and process vast amounts of complex information. The problem is, that part of our brain simply doesn’t drive decision making. So throw all the technical detail and three-letter-acronyms and speeds-and-feeds at me that you can: I’ll listen, discuss and probably feel good about myself for keeping up with you. It’s just going to have zero impact on what I decide.

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To get at what drives the decision, you literally have to dig deeper: it’s the much older, pre-language “limbic” brain that makes us do stuff. Often called the “Lizard brain,” it’s where our feelings and emotions live. It’s the launching pad for motivation. And it has no capacity for language.

The more you say to my limbic brain, the less it hears. The more complex you make your narrative, the more likely it is to shut down and take no action. And this is a huge problem for salespeople, managers and marketing teams at digital publishers and ad-tech companies. We’re all having a lot of complex, expensive conversations that are completely disconnected from the outcomes we need.

Connecting on an emotional level with your customer’s Lizard Brain doesn’t mean getting all weepy or going over the top with some kind of gung-ho pep talk. It does mean a new commitment to discipline and focus; not just from the seller but from your entire organization. It goes like this.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people.

Say less: Start with zero PowerPoint slides and build from there. Use short, declarative sentences. Explain what your white paper means in a sentence; your strategic value in a paragraph; the reason the customer should meet with you in 140 characters. Remember, you’re speaking to the pre-language brain.

More powerfully:   At the very front of your materials or presentation, there should be a short clear statement that speaks to the danger your customer needs to avoid, the cost of not reaching that missing customer, the chance that they are falling behind a competitor for no good reason.   Their story is a drama, a come-from-behind sports movie. Tell that story.

Earlier: If you wait till a budget is formed and the problem has already been fully defined, you’re screwed. Unless you influence how the RFP gets written, you’re just another blindfolded kid swinging at the piñata.

To the right people: All the persuasion and motivation in the world matters not at all if you’re talking to someone who can’t give you what you want. Qualify the buyer; ask hard questions; know who you’re talking to.

Say less. More powerfully. Earlier. To the right people. It just works.

Today’s Drift was originally posted in November of 2015. It. Still. Works.


Scatter Market Forever.


One of the media world’s most stubborn legacies is The Upfront.  It’s best known as a way for big advertisers and their agencies to commit “upfront” dollars to networks in exchange for price breaks on the shows and demos they most desire.

We like Upfronts.  We like them so much that we make up excuses to stage them all the time. By now we’ve all heard of the Digital Media “New-Fronts,” the fortnight in late spring where we show off cool “programming” and ideas and try for up front commitments.  I’m for anything that allows digital media providers to strut their stuff, but…

But can the Upfront concept – a fixed, date-centric marketplace – survive in a world of unlimited “inventory” and constant technological change? Or will Upfronts go the way of “The Fall TV Season,” an event that used to mean something but that is now manufactured to gin up attention from buyers?

Welcome to the age of abundance.  Welcome to the Forever Scatter Market.

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I’m not naïve and I understand completely why Upfronts exist.  But the vast majority of us would be better served by committing to the skills and strategies needed in a permanent scatter market…. A market in which we must create or own opportunity, find our decision makers and – often – identify the budgets that might fund the things we create.

Scatter is about acting, not waiting.  It’s about the broader business or marketing problem, not about the narrow focus of the media plan.  It’s not about big showy presentations and product demos, but rather about the intimate, collaborative meeting at the whiteboard.  Upfronts are about what will be bought and for how much.  Scatter is about how the marketing or storytelling problem gets solved.  The Upfront is about the advertising business.  Scatter is about business solutions.

Banking on the Upfront is about fighting the last war… a war of fixed battles and well positioned armies….a war that’s perhaps already been won by a handful of superpowers.  Scatter is asymmetrical, guerilla engagements….it’s house to house and hand to hand.  And we’d all better start honing the strategies and skills we need to compete.

Scatter selling is here.  And it’s forever.


How the Idea Survives.


Pushed out of the multiplex by Big Hollywood’s parade of CGI superhero vehicles and gross-out comedy sequels, Little Hollywood – the creators – responded with a creative programming renaissance in cable, OTT and streaming channels.

Pushed off the digital media plan by Big Platforms and the relentless growth and consolidation of Big Programmatic, Little Publishing – our creators – have responded with their own creative programming renaissance.  Custom events, podcasts, influencers, social optimization, content marketing – I’m sure the list of possibilities has grown just since I began this post.  Publishers new and old have become more creative than ever before in all aspects of their businesses.  Except one:  Sales.

Promotional Message:  Tired of the pessimism and helplessness born out of a consolidating digital ad market?  Ready for some actionable strategies and meaningful alternatives to help your team sell more and better?  Our final Seller Forum of 2017 is happening on Wednesday October 11th in New York, and if you lead a sales team and want more from and for them, request your invitation today.

In boardrooms and bullpens all around New York and Silicon Beach, execs at creative companies are scratching their heads, puzzled at why their amazing creative ideas are not fetching the attention and premiums they often deserve.  The answer is deceptively simple:  you are feeding those ideas directly into a transactional ad buying system that was built to manage cost against standardized ad units.   Dress that business up in the language of creativity and ideation – hire gurus, launch divisions – and it’s still the same buyer (with the same calculator) on the other side of the table.

As content and experience have become multidimensional, sales has doubled-down on transaction.  And the results have been predictably underwhelming.  The challenge for the next generation CRO – the “moonshot” of the next 2-3 years – is to reinvent digital and integrated media sales; to make the sales process as intricate and creative as the ideas it represents.  This is going to call for four big intellectual and behavioral shifts:

  1. Embrace enterprise selling. The standard call to “go see the client” is not enough. We need to break out of the advertising channel entirely and sell broader and deeper within the client organization.
  2. Find new budgets. Why do we always start with “the digital ad budget?”  What we do has as much in common with PR, sales promotion, shopper marketing, research, compliance…you get the picture.
  3. Learn to love Scatter. Planning cycles, campaigns and RFPs are looking more than a little tired.  They exist because media agencies need them to exist.  Those who will win are those who will set their own pace and not rely on inclusion in a process that’s getting less relevant by the week.
  4. Think like a producer. The old questions were “How am I going to win a spot in this campaign?” and “How can I sell them this product?”  The new question is “How can I get my project funded?”

Your ideas aren’t the problem.  They just need a new marketplace.


Meet Your Competition.


Working with scores of companies in the digital ecosystem, I end up being the go-to guy on a persistent question:  “How do we compare with the other guys?”

Individual sellers and whole sales organizations demonstrate a serious need to be benchmarked.  There are great companies out there who offer this as a service:  they’ll tell a given company whether they are number one, two or twenty-three in the eyes of agencies or marketers.  Or you can always fall back on whose is bigger (comparing revenues, page views, video streams….whatever.)

But nevertheless, they ask me the question, because I’ve spent close time with many of the companies they perceive to be competitors.  And they really, really want to know how they stack up.

Promotional Message:  Tired of the pessimism and helplessness born out of a consolidating digital ad market?  Ready for some actionable strategies and meaningful alternatives to help your team sell more and better?  Our final Seller Forum of 2017 is happening on Wednesday October 11th in New York, and if you lead a sales team and want more from and for them, request your invitation today.

The answer is simple, if also a bit frustrating:  If you’re measuring yourself against any competitor, you’re embracing ambivalence and courting failure.   Give power and currency to someone else and you immediately make it all about a company and a sales team and issues that you have no control over.

The right approach is to localize the questions:  Given our resources, skills, voice, capabilities, scale, etc., what is the best we can possibly be?  How might we become indispensable to this customer at this critical time in their business?

Tell your team (or tell yourself) to stop comparing your insides to other companies’ outsides.  The more you obsess about your ‘competitors’ the more you stop paying attention to the customers whose money you hope to earn.  Your competition is you….your benchmark is your potential value to the marketer.  All the rest is noise.

When a member of her staff would ask Oprah Winfrey about the latest guest that Jerry Springer or Arsenio Hall or Sally Jesse Raphael had booked, she always offered the same admonition:  “Let them do them.  We’ll do us.”

Priceless.


It’s Not You, It’s Them.


Often the most profoundly true things about sales are deceptively simple.  Yet they can seem maddeningly elusive.  Like this one:

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

Sure, we all believe in customer-centricity and starting with the needs of the customer and all that.  We just don’t act on it.

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When a customer won’t see us, or when they raise an objection or say that we’re not right for their needs, the first reaction of most sellers is to say something else about their own company.  If they’re not buying us it must be because they just don’t know enough about us!  We then tax our internal research and marketing teams for more stats and slides and research tables that amount to a collective “Are too!”

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.

This is a point in the sales process when we need to fight our own impulses to answer the objection or win the argument.  If it’s the late stage of a transactional sale, it’s too late for this to work anyway.  They’ve made up their minds and telling them they’re wrong or that they’re making a mistake will only piss them off and ruin your next chance.  Instead, it’s time to ask yourself a couple of important questions:

What is truly unique about this customer’s business or marketing situation that we can really help them with? How can we not just win some of the business but actually make their situation better?

Instead of telling yet another fragmented version of your own story, you’re telling theirs.  You’re offering them a meaningful, thoughtful exception to or extension of their own strategy.  It’s a better response to being told you’re not getting the business.  And it’s a better basis on which to pursue it in the first place.

The answer to why they should buy from you can’t be about you.  It has to be about them.