Online Sales Strategy

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.

You Got the Client Meeting. Why?

Your client – that elusive marketer you’ve been trying to access — is taking a meeting with you today.  Are you sure you’re ready?  And are you certain you even deserve it?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Let’s start with the reasons why clients have historically not been willing to meet with sellers. Truth be told, our view of client interaction has been fairly unsophisticated. After arguing our case with the agency media planning team – the lower court – we’d try and appeal to the client – the appellate court – to overturn the verdict, essentially asking the client to involve herself in a media planning decision that’s below her pay-grade and beneath her agenda. A client – or even someone at a very senior level at an agency – doesn’t care whether one media or tech vendor ends up on a media plan or not. By trying to get them involved in this tussle, you bring them a brand new problem instead of solving an existing one.

So why would a client see you today? And why is today different than days past? Three words sum it up: Data…Creativity….Authenticity.

Data is so pervasive that it can seem like a commodity. But real, valuable, first-party data – and the ability to put it to work for the marketer – are in short supply. Marketers are viewing data through a very sophisticated lens: It’s bigger than advertising, bleeding over into CRM, retailer relationships, localization and more. The marketer will have a smart, future oriented conversation about data with you.

Creativity, also, is scarcer than you think. Sure there are modern day Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons toiling at work stations in agencies. But many of our companies are creating brand new palettes that agency creatives barely recognize. And ‘creativity’ in digital media today has as much to do with anthropology as it does with art. Media companies are simply closer to the behavior of the consumer than either the brand or its agency.

Authenticity is probably the one quality marketers crave above any other. Authenticity is what helps break through the veil of indifference and inattention and makes a brand or product genuinely matter to a consumer. The web is “an embarrassment of niches,” where consumers feel passionate and connected.   I don’t care if you call it content marketing, native, enhanced sponsorship or something else; the challenge is to bring their brand and your user experience together in a way to confers authenticity.

Digital has freed the captive genie from a bottle called “advertising.” Those willing to similarly free their imaginations and agendas from the same bottle will find a willing and open conversation with the marketer.  Just don’t try to fake it.

This Drift was posted in its original form in March of 2016.


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.

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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.