Sales Management

If You Choose to Manage…


At last week’s Seller Forum we published a few top line ideas for managers in our hyper-kinetic, often dysfunctional world. We’re reprinting them here.  Please feel free to share your own.

Don’t try to manage what’s inside the heads of your employees. Instead, focus on their actions. Don’t try to change their minds. Change their behaviors and they’ll end up changing their own minds.

Don’t use meetings and personal interactions to share information that could be delivered in other ways. Reserve your personal interactions with employees and teams to do what you can only do in person – coaching, prioritizing, planning, deciding.

Many managers overburden themselves and their teams with too many scheduled meetings. But management doesn’t fit into neat little boxes on your calendar. Focus instead on maintaining a helpful and healthy presence with your team. Accessibility and being able to focus intently in-the-moment are the superpowers that matter.

As a manager, you quickly become the PEZ dispenser of answers on a million tactical questions. About price, escalation, exceptions and more. Force your sellers to bring you two possible solutions each time they bring you a problem (see item 1 above). This change in the script will turn them from problem-bringers into problem-solvers and make your interactions far more productive.

As soon as a seller elicits your help – on strategy, on an email, in reaching a customer – immediately ask them for a first-draft. You want to put yourself in a position to coach and improve the work they do… not to do it for them.

Don’t give feedback. As a term, feedback has become tainted by association with criticism, nitpicking and negativity. It’s also always about the past. Instead, give guidance… it’s about the future, about possibility. Language matters.

No team is too small or too temporary to benefit from a strong culture, and that culture starts with you. Get in touch with the specific values that matter most to you as a leader – tenacity, generosity, curiosity, whatever – and share them directly with your team. Invite them to hold you accountable to those values and bring them up frequently. Don’t worry if you get a few eye-rolls; it doesn’t mean they’re not hearing you or that it’s not making a difference.

Don’t manage results. Manage excellence. You don’t control whether your team gets the business, but you absolutely control whether they deserve it. Focus on deserving it and you’ll be leading a team centered on excellence. The results will follow.

Insights like these are just the beginning. Join us for our final 2019 Seller Forum on Wednesday, October 23rd, at Reuters on Times Square and enjoy firsthand ideas and advice from your digital leadership peers. Contact us today to save your spot.


Buh-Bye!


You’re used to the loud ones. The sellers and others in your org who complain – about systems, sales goals, products – are the least of your worries as a manager. Because they are up in your grill about every little thing, you’ll have plenty of chances to engage: they won’t surprise you. Likewise, the seller who’s working hard but missing goals and suffering financially – you’ll step in and connect seeing her financial plight.

No, the ones who should keep you up at night are the ones who don’t keep you up at night. The quiet performers, the stalwarts. He’s the efficient performer who always seems to be quota-adjacent and doesn’t make much noise. He might be in a far-flung regional or home-office, or he might be right under your nose at headquarters.

And out of the blue, he’s just told you he’s leaving you.

STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides actionable insights into your programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s market level insight: Mobile increases 9.75% as a percent of total revenue by device YOY while desktop decreases 10.87%. This trend is expected to continue through 2019. Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

What to do now? Nothing. It’s too late, and countering the offer he’s gotten is bad strategy. But reflecting on the situation so it doesn’t happen again (and again!) is a very good idea. So here goes.

People join companies, but they quit managers. And not always because the manager was awful. Often its because the manager never fostered a culture that the employee could belong to. Even as she performed well, she continued to be a well-liked outsider. What was lacking was engagement.

Understand and manage engagement. Gallup has done years of research on employee engagement, and it’s not what you think. The majority of employees are actually not engaged with their companies or their teams – including the quiet performer who’s just handed you his laptop and company ID. Engaged employees talk about their team using the word we, and talk about their work at the company in future tense. Engagement is not something you hire; it’s something you – the manager – creates.

Back to college. That sales meeting or team training you considered only seems like a luxury. In terms of employee retention, it’s a bargain. Managers who regularly bring their teams together in learning and sharing environments enjoy better retention. The team gathering is when there becomes an us. But don’t use these occasions to just talk at your people and drown them in facts.

Give them a voice. Engaging managers don’t dispense facts; they manage with questions. “How should we approach this?” and “What do you think we should do?” forces your team members to think, share and engage.

Give them something to own. You foster engagement by surrendering control. Letting team members lead initiatives, develop category and technical specialties, run programs and teach others isn’t just about feel-good inclusiveness. It’s what binds your best people.

If your quiet performer was engaged, she wouldn’t have been open to the job she’s leaving you for. Sometimes the best hiring strategy is not needing to hire at all.

A customized, collaborative sales strategy workshop for your team is easier and more cost-effective than you might think. And it may be the key to not only performance, but retention of your best people. Visit www.upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


Team You.


Last week I posted some ideas about how to shake off the torpor and malaise of Q1-2019 in the digital ad/marketing business. Today I’m speaking to managers and sales leaders.  This is a moment where you can (and should!) reshape your relationship with your team. What looks like a rough patch is actually a garden of possibility.

Whether you’re a CRO, a regional manager, a vertical category lead or even a project captain, there are some immediate, tangible and highly effective moves to be made.

STAQ is generously underwriting this week’s Drift. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides actionable insights into your programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s market level insight: Open auction hits 90% of total programmatic revenue in January and February of 2019, a level not crossed in any month in 2018. Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

No Group is Too Small for a Culture. Those who wait for the company to define and establish a culture and values for their teams are inevitably frustrated. Think of the sales team you lead (and don’t forget the account managers and others who support!) as if it were a platoon. Unit cohesion is everything, and Team You is looking to you – their leader – for inspiration and guidance. Engage them (in a group and individually) with these questions: As a team, what do we believe? And How do we treat one another? It won’t all happen at once, but it will begin to happen immediately.

Manage the Moments. If you think management is about the reviews you conduct and the meetings you lead, think again. What you do – occasionally – in the big moments pales in importance beside what you do in all the little ones. Are you pausing and getting your team members to bring answers along with the problems? Are you leading conversations with optimism and patience? Are you summoning the discipline to be completely clear with your employees? Like parenting, management is not something you can schedule.

Reinvent the Meeting. When you do bring your team together, put some real thought and planning into it. Do in a team meeting what you can only do in a team meeting. Don’t waste time reviewing numbers and facts. Decide. Question. Plan. Prioritize. Collaborate. If there’s no strong verb associated with your meeting, it’s not serving your needs or your culture.

Don’t Scrimp on the Inspiration. Statistically, most of us don’t sit in the pews on Sunday anymore, but we are joining the Church of TED in record numbers. There has never been more thoughtful motivation available than there is right now, all with a mouse click. Real people are overcoming real adversity and re-framing business and leadership practices, and they’re giving it to us for free. Program a 5-minute video or short article into your team meetings, along with some discussion time. You may get an eye-roll or a cynical comment along the way, but stay with it. For strugglers, it’s hope; for performers, it’s fuel.

Team You won’t just happen. It takes work and discipline. But it’s your most impactful – and controllable – driver of success.

A customized sales strategy workshop for your team is easier and more cost-effective than you might think. And it may be the key to not only performance, but retention of your best people. Visit www.upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


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.


The First Thing You Say.


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about the general malaise and episodic funk that many in our industry seem to be suffering under.  (The New Normal, February 7, 2019.)  As a manager, I believe one of your greatest callings is re-framing situations and market conditions for your sellers and returning them to a centered, productive mindset.  In confusing times, that’s not easy.  OK, it’s never easy.

In both private manager coaching and management workshops, I tend to elevate one truly vital piece of advice.  Without it, all of your logic, strategy and motivation will end up going nowhere.  It goes like this:

Pay close attention to the very first thing you say.

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: Despite PMP CPMs being up 31% YOY, the steep decline in PMP impressions (-40%) makes overall PMP revenue (-21%) a smaller part of the overall programmatic marketplace so far in 2019. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

When stressed or challenged, sellers and other team members tend to (1) come to their manager interactions very hot, (2) come seeking immediate answers and gratification, and (3) they want to dump the problem or situation in your lap.  And as managers, we tend to walk right into the trap by responding immediately and factually.  We believe that if we just answer the question or supply the information right now, then the situation will magically resolve.  But it just doesn’t work.

Your strategy shouldn’t be about dispensing answers, but rather posing questions.  You shouldn’t immediately assume the responsibility for the situation, but instead transfer the responsibility or resolution back to the employee in an empowering way.  That’s why the first words out of your mouth in these situations are so critical.  Next time the heat gets turned up, try rolling out some of these phrases and see what a difference they make in the quality of your interactions (and the quality of your life!)

  • I know what I’d do, but I really want to hear your thinking.  Give me two alternatives on what you think we should do in this situation.
  • Let’s slow down and make sure we’re solving the right problem.  Tell me what we’re not considering right now?
  • Let’s break this down into the things we can and can’t control. What do you think we can really change?
  • Tell me how I can help you get refocused on the things that are going to help you succeed.
  • I can tell you’re struggling with this.  I’m more than willing to let you blow off steam for a little while.  Then I think it’s time for us to break this situation down together.
  • I believe in you and I know you’re better than the conversation we’re having right now.  Tell me how you think this turns into a victory?
  • I’m not sure we have all the information we need to make the right call right now. You’re closer to the situation:  What else is important here that we haven’t looked at?

Spit back answers all day and you create dependent followers. Push the responsibility back to them – put the authority where the information is – and you empower confident leaders.  Every one of us wants to have great conversations with our employees and team members.  And we will.

But only if we start them the right way.