Online Sales

Expect? Or Engage?


The good news: if you’re selling digital advertising and marketing services today, you are in a position to make both a huge difference and a very good living. The bad news: it’s a hell of a lot of work.

In digital sales workshops I teach sellers the research, strategy, critical thinking, patience and discipline that it takes to compete in our confusing, asymmetrical world – a world with no closing or air dates… a world of incomplete information… a world where people don’t call you back or tell you why you didn’t get the deal. I tell them how it often takes eight or nine quality messages to engage a decision maker. I tell them about the insight-driven, structured approach needed to run a successful meeting with a senior customer. I tell them about all the other budgets out there that don’t have the words digital or media attached to them. And I tell them about how many people they’ll need to generate the kinds of quality opportunities and long-term loyalty needed for long term success.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to bionic-ads.com/seller.

How they respond tells me a lot about who they are and how they’ll do. They tend to fall into two camps.

The Expecters. This group tends to respond with a lot of whens and ifs. To them the future is a bunch of contingencies. When we have better tools. If the customer could only see the value. When measurement catches up. If I only had a better list. With every pivot toward expectation and deferral comes a new level of disempowerment. The market is too consolidated. The duopoly is too powerful. My company’s management is not making the right moves. It is, of course, a self-fulfilling set of prophecies. At their best, the Expecters will be as good as reality — when reality, itself, is really good.

The Engagers. These sellers lean much more into whys, hows and whats. Why does this customer need us? How can we do something great for them? What’s the best place to start? To the Engager, there’s no someday, only today. They don’t allow themselves to get caught up in meaningless speculation about company politics or the horse-race of venture funding or bright shiny objects. As the name implies, their natural inclination is to engage: with the tools at hand…with the problem or opportunity… in the quest. If I need to do all that stuff and see all those people to be really good at this… well then, shit, I better get started.

There are probably many reasons why someone turns into an Engager or an Expecter. Life experiences, personal psychology, past work history and more. But I believe that it often comes down to something quite simple: a choice.

So choose. Decide if you are going to be an Expecter or an Engager. Then be what you decide.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.


The Wrong Question.


As standard media has become more and more commoditized, publishers and media sellers have diversified their offerings. Rather than racing to the bottom on prices for banners and pre-roll videos, we’ve clambered up to the high ground of content creation,video programming, events, social optimization and data engineering.

The switch can be a jarring one. The work is harder and more detailed, involves more people (account management, client services, creative, production et al), eats up more time and is far more expensive. The uninformed, unqualified RFPs that used to aggravate us in the banner age are devastating us today. Too many sales teams take the bait and engage in a full-blown idea-fest, spinning out fully-baked programs, proposals and bespoke ideas… great work that ends up going nowhere 80-90 percent of the time.

There’s a better way.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

For starters, when we start the value creation process for a client brand, we almost always start by asking a question that begins with what: What are we going to sell them? What should we build? What do we include in the program? Instead, we should be starting with why: Why do they need us at all? Why are they not selling enough of their product? Why do their best customers not understand their value? 

Asking these why questions early in the process helps you quickly expose the fatally flawed RFP and cattle call invitations. Often the understaffed and undercompensated agency planning teams may not even know the answers to these questions. They too are focused on what. As well-intentioned as they are, the planning team is at best an unreliable narrator in a process that is causing publishers to swing at too many bad pitches, bankrupting their bottom lines and alienating their internal teams.

The second big change that must be made is quite fundamental. Accept that this kind of work must be proactive, early stage, left of budget. We must be the ones who identify client marketing issues, approach them with strong points of view, and create our own white spaces. Since we can’t count on decent RFPs in this new age, we have to start writing them ourselves.

Clients have told us what’s important to them. Real data. Real contextual integration within meaningful content. Real solutions to real marketing problems. They really mean it, and they really don’t care who brings them the fresh take on their situation and offers the fresh idea.

All we have to do is believe them. And act accordingly.


Rethinking Email.


I’m thinking a lot about reinvention lately.

So much of what we are able to do for clients and agencies is new. Yet how we go about communicating and selling is not. As I work with managers and sales teams our conversations almost always turn to Email and the fact that it’s just not working for us anymore, externally or internally.

Generally speaking, we tend to send badly-structured Emails that are too long, too predictable, to too many people. We use email as a blunt-force instrument, overwhelming our prospects and coworkers with unendurable detail and word counts. What was once a promising chance at immediate connection has jumped the shark and become a burden to all involved. It’s time to stop the madness. Here’s how.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic for Ad Sales, which automates ad sales lead generation with software that pitches your ad inventory to hundreds of media planning teams while they are making media buying decisions. To learn more, go to https://www.bionic-ads.com/seller/

Deserve their attention. If you haven’t done research on your customer and don’t have a specific way to help him, don’t reach out at all. Inboxes are flooded every day by people who want only to learn about your business or introduce you to my company. Not having a legitimate customer-focused agenda is a non-starter.

Write to the screen that’s being read. When you send email to a prospective customer, write to the email interface on the mobile device where they are no doubt screening and reading it. Write no more than what fits on a mobile screen.  Nobody wants to read a cold, 400-word recitation of your company’s value. Say less.

Have a communication strategy. While you’re whittling your message down to 80 or 90 words, know that it’s just one of the messages you’ll be sending. For a legitimate potential client for whom you can create real value, a couple of short messages followed by an intelligent voice mail followed by a LinkedIn message every couple of days is the perfect cadence – and the perfect blend of media, timing and approach. Stop trying to accomplish everything in one epic Email. Serialize your approach.

Lead with need. Assume you’re getting maybe a glance at your subject line and – if really lucky – a look at the first two lines of your message. Start writing thoughtful, concise, provocative subject lines about topics relevant to the customer, and stop wasting the critical first words with small talk and fake friendship.

Get to the point. Start your emails with I’m writing you because… Then immediately say something about your customer’s situation. This simple technique forces you to elevate the client agenda to the beginning of the communication.

Address to one, send to no more than two. Sending emails to several people or whole teams is just a bad idea. Whether you’re writing externally or internally, it becomes quickly apparent if you’re just covering your ass. Start limiting those distribution fields and speaking directly to your customers (and co-workers) and their agendas.

When it comes to understanding our customers and reaching out to them, there is an embarrassment of riches at our disposal. There’s no reason anyone should be bludgeoning customers with uninformed, cold email in 2019. This is a change you completely control. Make it today.


Into the Void… Boldly.


That giant sucking sound you hear is the big empty space at the beginning of many sales calls and business ‘relationships.’  It’s the Bermuda triangle of connection and progress; a black hole where the bright star of an insight or an idea might have shone. It didn’t have to be this way.

Across scores of seller interviews I conduct in preparing workshops each year, I hear a consistent litany of frustrations and complaints:

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.

The buyer puts us in a box with a bunch of other companies…

They don’t really listen to us…

It’s all about the numbers…

They’re not seeing the big picture…

We don’t really get a chance to compete…

But blaming the buyer, your marketing team, fate, God or anyone else makes no sense. You’ve got the power to fix this yourself. You see, there’s a fleeting moment at the outset of the sales discussion that you’re not filling with anything meaningful and urgent. Call it the “agenda vacuum.” Sometimes the vacuum is there because the rep just didn’t do the work, choosing instead to walk in with a canned presentation and ‘see what’s up.’ Other times the rep chooses passivity and caution: “Be polite and find out what the buyer wants to talk about.” Or the agenda is something incredibly lame like…

I want to really understand your objectives for the year…

I just wanted to introduce you to our company….

Let me update you on… whatever.

If you don’t put something urgent and provocative in front of the buyer in the first 90 seconds of your call, your buyer will step into the vacuum and fill it themselves. They’ll fill it with rote questions, flawed categorization, indifference, false objections, a recitation of numerical parameters or something worse. I’ll leave you with a tip to help you fill the void. Make this the first sentence of your next sales meeting:

We’ve looked at your business, and there’s one big issue we don’t think you recognize. And if it’s not addressed, you’ll be missing a huge opportunity.

Do the work. Think. Plan. Fill the vacuum.

These ideas were originally posted here in January 2013.


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.