Online Sales Strategy

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.

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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.


Eight Ideas.


It’s a vacation week, so I’m shooting out a very abbreviated Drift.  For the eighth month, here are eight short ideas.  Happy Summer.

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.  You have no idea what struggles and demons the other person – or the other company – may be confronting.

A customer will always build something bigger with you than he’ll buy from you. Participation equals ownership.  Let them in.

Don’t sell the drill bit.  Sell the hole.  Stop describing your products and start describing your customer’s life with your products.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

No customer has ever said “I just wish there’d been more slides.”   Rethink the nature of your sales calls and how much you really need to “share.”

Own your intent.  If you’re honest with yourself about why you’re making a decision, you’ll almost always make the right one.

Growth starts at the border of your comfort zone.  If you’re not feeling a little weird and uncomfortable, you’re probably just marking time.

Nothing sells itself.  Nothing.  Don’t just be another person who’s out there describing stuff. Your job is to change the outcome…and it’s a noble calling.

Stay…just a little bit longer.  Selling begins just when most reps are packing up to end the call.  The extra question you ask after it all seems done is the one that matters most.

 If you’re a qualified sales leader and would like to attend the Seller Forum on Wednesday October 17th in New York, request your invitation now.  Seating will be limited.


Soft Power.


At the final Seller Forum of 2018, we’ll grapple with a fundamental truth about digital sales success:  As a sales leader you depend on many departments and people that you don’t control.  Whether they directly report to sales or not, the loosely confederated disciplines of account management, operations, creative services, marketing and research can seem – at best – like a thoughtful bureaucracy.  At worst, a self-defeating mob.

So how then do some sales teams enjoy the services of highly-motivated, high-functioning partner departments while others don’t?  Unified reporting structure? Better leadership in those departments? Superior recruiting and hiring practices? Maybe in part.  But the real difference is made through soft power.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Soft power is a term usually associated with international diplomacy – what we do when we’re not sending in the military. It’s how we foster relationships and advance policy goals.  It’s no less real in the business world.  When the sales team is frustrated by the policies or practices of a group or department they rely on, rather than circle the wagons and indulge in blame and outrage, great leaders look inward and ask a crucial question:  What can we do to motivate them to work better with us?  It boils down to a handful of controllable qualities:

Empathy.  Sales people rarely say Tell me about your job.  Instead, we’re always the group that needs something right now… an exception, a better price, faster delivery.  The first manifestation of soft power is empathy.  Once someone feels heard and understood lots of good things can happen.

Early Access. The universal lament of partner departments is not knowing what’s coming until it’s too late.  Talking at all about what’s coming – or even what may be coming – will be a dramatic improvement.  When sellers complain about knowing nothing themselves about client needs till the last minute, this indicates a whole different problem.

Qualify the Work.  Bad sales teams blindly and indifferently hand over every RFP and request as soon as it comes in. Good sales teams make judgments about which part of the request is most urgent and important.  Great sales teams actually triage the requests.  Your AMs and ops people know the difference between an RFP that’s MVP or DOA.  Do you?

Collaboration.  Another thing that salespeople rarely say is So how would you recommend we get this done? Every interaction needn’t become a brainstorm but assigning even a little control – a voice – to those you depend on is good business.  To feel truly involved is to feel truly invested.  And invested people act like owners.

In the long run, soft power works.  And it’s completely controllable.  If you’re not leveraging it, ask yourself…why not?

 If you’re a qualified sales leader and would like to attend the Seller Forum on Wednesday October 17th in New York, request your invitation now.  Seating will be limited.


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.