Online Sales Strategy

Stop…Drop….Start Over!!

You there!  Yes, you!  Drop the mouse and back slowly away from the keyboard…hands where I can see ‘em.

Sure, sure…I’ve heard it all before.  You were just going about your business getting ready for one of those “sales calls” that your boss likes so much.  You finally wore down that 29-year-old Media Sup to the point where she agreed to “get the team together” for a sit-down next week.  And now you’re making sure you’re armed to the teeth and ready for battle.  You’re pasting the customer’s logo onto the front of a hefty PowerPoint that has it all:   company intro….partner logos….all your products….case studies….even the obligatory Questions? slide at the end.  You’re even packing up a few gifts to make them all feel engaged and included:  a little swag to grease the skids.

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But I just can’t let you go through with it.  I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.  It’s Fatal Attraction and you’re Glenn Close; it’s Thelma and Louise and you’re both of them.  In the name of all that’s holy, stop now and start over again!

Too many of our sales calls end up with both parties simply falling into their assigned roles.  Both the seller and buyer know they have to have a certain number of meetings, and they end up in the business equivalent of a bad blind date.  You share the same space, make polite but disinterested conversation, and part with some vague talk of keeping in touch or sending something.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

What is the meeting going to be about?  If you haven’t proactively identified a business or marketing problem and centered your entire meeting on it, then you’re simply another rep doing another “catch up” call who’s hoping for some of their money.

What exactly to you want to happen?  Write out the words of your closing “ask” before you walk in.  If you don’t know what you want to happen, you’re certainly not going to get it.  The right people might not even be in the room to give it to you.  Any answers that include words like updateeducation or evangelism are just too soft and meaningless.

What are you telling them that they don’t already know?  If you’re armed only with the information that the buyers themselves have given you, then you end up being another rep who’s describing their own product, rather than one who’s prepared to make something new happen.

Do you really need that PowerPoint?  People really looked forward to seeing PowerPoint decks….in 1995.  If you’re seeking a real, genuine conversation, then a piece of paper with some observations about the account is a better bet.

How will you use the first 90 seconds of your time together?  Sales calls have something in common with fistfights.  How they begin goes a long way in determining how they will end.  Hyper-awareness and presence right at the outset can change the entire character of a call.

If your sales calls are feeling less than fulfilling, look hard at your own approach.  You just may be sleepwalking into mediocrity.  You deserve better.

Before posting this week, I stopped myself.  I looked back to 2014 and decided this post deserved a second airing.  If it wasn’t new to you, I hope it was a good reminder.

Agency Economics, 101

Sales organizations spend lavish amounts  of time, energy and capital pursuing business at agencies.  But once there, most of us ignore the elephant in the room.

We talk about marginal improvements to performance, brand “safe” environments, effective CPMs and a lot of other minutiae tied to successful stewardship of the latest plan.  We prattle on about our latest reporting dashboard, the premium publishers or content we represent, how we’re more “transparent” than the other guys.  I wonder if at a certain point of this litany the agency folks just see our lips moving and only hear “blah…blah…blah….”

We stay locked onto the marginal, temporary issues of media planning  (insuring that all we’ll ever have is marginal, temporary success) while ignoring the big economic issues that could give our relationship with the agency some much needed urgency and power.

It’s the Agency Economy, Stupid!

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at

My hypothesis is pretty straightforward.  We are living at a time of consolidation, in which clients and agencies are going to be dealing with fewer companies, not more.  (This trend is masked by the insignificant “testing” that goes on around the margins of planning.)  The winning media companies, aggregators and tech vendors will be those who frame their benefits and align their value with the core economic issues confronting agencies.  There are four:

Account Security: Senior agency executives live in perpetual anxiety over a major account going into review.  That’s a seismic event.  But the more subtle, persistent agita comes from the soft erosion of clients inviting other shops in on a “project” basis.  If you’re not talking about how your services and capabilities can help the agency drive interest and loyalty with the client, you are missing a big opportunity.

Budget Growth: The dirty secret is that margins on digital media buying are thin to non-existent.  The only way the agency stays healthy and profitable is to get its current clients to increase budgets.  Too many of us only stay focused on getting our share of existing budgets, instead of on how we can help the agency access and grow the dollars they get from clients.

Workforce Extension: It’s no secret that agencies are severely understaffed.  Most don’t have the FTEs (Full Time Equivalents — agency-speak for “people”) to do more than keep up with process.  How can your organization serve as an extension of the agency’s own workforce and provide core services — creative, aggregation, marketing, promotion — that allow the agency to drive more profit without more bodies?

Commoditization: And here we sellers thought this was our issue!  The agency — and most especially the planning teams — are swimming against the same currents of commoditization and automation that many of us do.  How can you effectively bundle your services into programs and add value to them so that they can’t be commoditized or automated? How can you help the daughter agency or the planning team hold onto the spending and influence they so desperately fear losing to the trading desks?

Are these conversations you’ll have with the media planner at the 11th hour of the RFP process?  Hardly.  But if you’re not engaging in them at an organizational level and allowing them to drive your strategic planning, then don’t be surprised when the RFPs stop coming and you find yourself frozen out of the agency entirely.

The core content of today’s Drift was posted in 2012.  Despite so much change, how little has really changed.


Checking to see the depth of the tread left remaining on this studded snow tire.

It’s a little corny, but here goes.  If you want to be terrific, be specific.

Sellers in our industry are plenty smart and deeply articulate.  They can talk for minutes on end about technology, market position, programs and tactics.  And they can do it all with a high degree of specificity.  So why, then, does it all get so soft and shallow when we talk about our customers and their plans and problems?

Ask the average seller to tell you about their company and you’ll hear volumes.  But ask about the objectives of the customer and you hear thin, tactical terms like lead generation, improved ROI and the perennially meaningless branding.  Most of us will grab the first and most simplistic description of client needs we’re given and then immediately start layering on tons of information, products, features and statistics.  It’s as if we’re worried about tarrying too long on the client stuff, lest we miss the chance to tell our whole story in its enormity.

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If you want to be terrific, be specific.

The reps who stand out, the ones who find a permanent place in the lives of their clients, don’t rush through the client agenda.  Rather than accept a softball like branding or storytelling, they study the situation and talk specifically about exactly that part of the client’s story that needs to be told – and to whom.  When they hear about a need to move product, to encourage test-drives or to put butts in seats, they slow down and ask why these objectives are not being achieved.  By getting very specific about the client need, they identify the interim tasks and processes they can help improve.

We all say we want to be more consultative in our approach to sales.  What we don’t realize is that the difference between a thoughtful consultant and an average transactional seller is really quite simple:  the consultant just spends more time with the problem.  When a customer feels like their business and success are being fully analyzed and considered, they feel heard and understood.  And when they feel heard and understood, they’re fully prepared to accept and support your solutions.

If you want to be terrific, be specific.

Silent Selling.

Michael OverbeckQuiet down now.  Don’t speak, just for a little bit.  Let the moment marinate.

Most of us in sales are running over-programmed sales calls in which every pause, every quiet second, is something to be filled and patched over like so many cracks in a leaky boat.  We believe that there is just so much to say and explain that to waste even a second means perhaps missing the one point or feature that might create the magic moment.  But it’s a fool’s errand:  the magic moments were there all along….we just talked over them.

Those empty seconds of silence are actually filled with anticipation, consideration, curiosity.  They are the wellsprings of customer collaboration and commitment to the idea.  But as the seller you have to do more than just listen.  You have to program these white space moments into your sales calls.

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In the sales workshops I conduct for media and technology sellers, the problems to be solved are always remarkably similar:  the seller has far too much information and detail to share; the buyer is far too jaded, distracted and evasive;  the marketplace is confusing and filled with far too many competitors; the time together is brief and fleeting.

Too many managers – and sales trainers – give the shallow admonition to “do your homework” and “listen more than you talk.”  But that means little to the seller.  What she really needs is a plan…a plan to provoke and manage those quiet moments of consideration and commitment.  That’s what I try to provide, and there are just five parts to the plan.

  1. First, show the customer a slide that tells them a few things you’ve learned about their business, their situation, their needs, their competitors. Ask them what they think is most important on this slide and what else you might have missed.   Then shut up and listen fully.
  2. Next, show them a slide or page that clearly (and briefly) outlines the problem you hope to solve for them. Ask them how much this issue means to them and what else is critical to talk about.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  3. Before talking about your solution, show them a page that makes a handful of promises about the standards and practices your company will employ in solving the problem for them. Ask if these are important considerations and what else they value.  Then shut up and listen fully.
  4. Now talk about your potential solutions. Stop the conversation at several points and invite some silence by asking “How do you feel about this? … What would you do here?” At each point, shut up and listen fully.
  5. Finally, ask the customer for a commitment: If we can deliver this will you approve $X budget for it?  This may be the most important silence of all.  Shut up and let your customer fill the void.

This is what programming the silence looks like.  At each step in the process you are provoking a thoughtful response from the customer.  The opposite of talking isn’t just listening.  It’s being in the moment.  And it works.

Want to know more, or to teach your team this approach?  Just let us know.

Are You In?

Are you inTo the casual observer, sales looks to be all about power.

It may look like a bunch of confident, charismatic sellers in command of their material and in charge of the room. The successful seller is the one who can talk a blue streak and who is at ease in any crowd.

But looks can be deceiving.

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Many of the greatest sellers I’ve been privileged to work with are not the ‘life of the party’ types.  Many would probably be classified as introverts.  What these sellers have discovered – perhaps by default – is the power of vulnerability.  They’re willing to own their opinions and feelings, take risks and commit to the moment.

They are present in a way that many of their competitors are not.   They’re OK with moments of silence and even the occasional awkward pause.  It’s in that moment that something unusual can happen:  something authentic, something meaningful, something real.

A significant number of the people I meet in sales are ambivalent about being in sales.   They call themselves account executives, business development people and strategists, and they seem to really gravitate to the word “partner.”  One reason for this “sales avoidance” mindset is that these introverts have never made peace with the popular notion of what it means to sell.

Now they don’t have to.  And neither do you.

Start taking risks.  Share a little more than you feel comfortable sharing.  Take a position in your discussions with customers.  Tell them what you think and then ask them what they think about the position you’ve taken.  Be curious.  Don’t fill up the quiet moments.  Be generous. Let things happen.

This is how you get to an authentic place with your customers.  You have to get in…all in.

If you’re in sales but feel like you’re playing a role much of the time, you are not only cheating your customers, you’re cheating yourself.  This can be a life filled with really terrific moments, but only for those who are truly open to them.

So be open.  Be vulnerable. Be real.