Online Sales Strategy

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.


The Sale You Save.


Among the sales teams I work with, the list of symptoms is remarkably consistent:  long, unstable sales cycles; buyers going radio silent after receiving proposals; small deal sizes; low close rates; too many small ‘tests’ that lead nowhere; lack of pipeline visibility; weak forecasting.

Sound familiar?  The symptoms are so consistent because they all stem from the same disease.  Your sellers aren’t closing.  This may sound simplistic, and your senior sellers might even take exception with my diagnosis, but look a little closer and you’ll see that I’ve actually got it right.

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: Finally, programmatic CPMs are on the rise. Even though CPMs are still down YOY, last week US Display CPMs saw the largest WOW gain (+7.3%) since the start of the year. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

Closing isn’t a cliché, nor is it just a general attitude or posture on a sales call.  It’s a very specific event within the discussion; a direct question that either does or doesn’t get asked.  But rather than guess about whether your sellers are closing or taking their word for it, take this simple test.

  1. When you ask your team members about their upcoming sales calls, do they often use words like education and evangelism?
  2. Do they talk about seeing how the customer feels about the program or opportunity?
  3. Is the program or package in question attached directly to an urgent business problem?
  4. Does it have a specific expiration date attached to it?
  5. Is there a specific dollar figure attached to your recommendation? (Instead of just a range of options and levels.)

If your answers tended toward yes, yes, no, no and no, then you’ve got a closing problem.  Your seller is choosing (consciously or otherwise) a comfortable, non-confrontational conclusion to the meeting.  They’re telling the customer to please consider it or lamely offering to touch base again soon to see what you guys want to do.  They’re saying anything and everything besides asking the question that will improve all your business metrics.  Will you buy this from us?

Here’s an exercise you can do with your team that will start to immediately improve the situation.  As your sellers prepare to go on their next sales calls, ask Exactly what are we asking this customer to do?  and What’s the specific price tag or estimate you’re going to give them?   Now sit down across from your seller and role play:  have them ask you for the order in the exact words they would use with the client.  Is this going to be an uncomfortable moment?  Absolutely.  But if they can’t say the words to you, they damn sure can’t say them to the customer.

Comfortable, inconclusive meetings are a luxury you can no longer afford.  Ask your sellers the hard questions today so they can start asking your buyers hard questions tomorrow.  And be sure to let me know how it goes.

This Drift was originally posted in 2014.  And our sellers still aren’t closing. We’re now booking workshops for second quarter 2019.  If you you think I can help you or your team, visit our site or reach out to me directly.


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.


I’m Writing You Because…


For something we use every single day, most of us really end up sucking at email.

It’s not that we’re not all really articulate – we’ve got some really brilliant writers in our ranks.  It’s not that we have nothing to say – most of our companies really are doing terrific things that create real value for clients and agencies.

No, our emails suck for one very simple and pedestrian reason:  We don’t know how to start them.

We’re asking for your support for the family of our great friend and digital advertising pioneer Joe Gallagher, who we lost tragically and unexpectedly this summer. We’ve set up a GoFundMe page to raise scholarship funds for Joe’s kids. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated and 100% will go to the Gallagher family. Thank you for your generosity.

There are whole books and business articles and classes devoted to the use of email.  Recently, Robert Glazer celebrated the joy of brevity in his ‘Friday Forward’ post.  Brief, well-structured – check, check.  But none of that matters if you don’t – first – get to the point!

Consider that your customers read and edit much of their email on the screen of a mobile phone.  A quick swipe of the thumb and your email is gone and forgotten.  Whether or not that thumb goes left is based on (1) whether you have an existing personal or business relationship – odds are that you don’t;  (2) the subject line; and (3) the first two lines of copy.  Yet despite the critical importance of points 2 and 3, sellers waste this precious real estate every day.

For lack of consideration (or maybe lack of any real reason for writing), we carelessly stick the client’s company name “X” our company name in the subject line.  Perhaps because we want to appear folksy and nonthreatening, we start with something inane like “Hope you had a great weekend!” or “I’ll only take a minute of your time.”

Your subject line is nothing less than the headline for the story you’re writing.  It should speak directly to the core value you hope to deliver.  “3.5 Million Incremental Shoppers for Your Holiday Push” or “High Income Millennials are Not Hearing Your Core Story” would be good examples.

And when it comes to the opening sentence of your email, here’s the best one I’ve ever seen:  I’m writing you because… This simple phrase forces you to speak immediately and directly to the reason why your customer should spend even another second reading.  If you haven’t got a good reason, it will become immediately apparent to you, and you can go back to the drawing board.

It’s time to start thinking, acting and writing intentionally.  Drop the shallow chumminess and stop clearing your throat.  Respect is the new friendship, and if you respect your client’s time by getting to the point you’ll be rewarded with their most precious currency:  attention.