Sales Training

Beach Blanket Bibliography.

Beach Blanket BibliographyWe’re hurtling toward the Independence Day weekend and the beaches and lakes and country porches are calling.  Maybe you’d feel guilty spending a couple of days on some Dean Koontz thriller but are intimidated by something like “Capital in the 21st Century.”   Or perhaps you’d just like to take a fresh look at your strategy and approach, and come back from your summer break with fresh momentum.  With that in mind, here are a few previously recommended sales and management books to toss in your bag as you head out for the long weekend.

Anyone who’s been in a workshop with me in recent years will be familiar with “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.” For my money, this is the best sales book of the past 15 years, and particularly relevant for the asymmetrical, dynamic world of online marketing.  An efficient and engaging read over its first 100 pages, “The Challenger Sale” exposes the failings of “solution selling” and butchers many of the sacred cows of sales theory.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

While not technically a sales book, “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” just may be the most important thing a digital seller reads this summer.  We’re all drowning in statistics and throwing data at one another with savage regularity:  but where’s the meaning?  It turns out that – just like Dorothy – we had the power all along.  By tapping into your inner artist, you learn to synthesize, fuse ideas, interpret and make the numbers start to sing.  And you can finally show your Dad that the painting class you took senior year wasn’t a waste of tuition after all.

I never miss a chance to recommend “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham.  A sharp and engaging business writer, Buckingham distills the most important things we each need to know about Leadership, Management (quite different from Leadership, thank you) and sustained personal success.   One of the very best, and a perennial read for me.

Engaged Leadership by Clint Swindall.  Great follow up read to “The One Thing…”  Written as a series of parables, it gives the sales manager some good tactical guidance on cultivating employee engagement, which is the soil in which success and excellence grow.

The Go-Giver  by Bob Burg and John David Mann is told as a dialogue-intensive ‘fable,’ and will take you all of about two hours to finish. But the sales – and life — wisdom is so significant that you’ll want to read it again immediately.  What happens when you base your personal strategy on generosity instead of the zero-sum thinking that drives most sales behavior.

Have a recommendation or two of your own?  Please add them in comments.  Happy summer.

The Child Inside Your Customer.

200570697-001The next time you’re preparing for a meeting with a prospective customer (polishing the slides, queuing up the sizzle reel, practicing the demo and making sure all the “partner logos” are up to date) force yourself to stop and switch customers.  Instead of the 36-year-old product manager or the 40-year-old group planning director, I want you to pretend you’re meeting with a five-year-old.

This is not to say that customers are childish or somehow incapable of digesting important, detailed information.  No, this is actually not about them at all.  It’s about you and how you’re over preparing and ultimately overshooting your target.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by The Media Trust, the leading provider of campaign quality automation (for creative quality assurance and campaign screenshots/verification), security (for malvertising and data) and transparency (third-party ads) services to the online and mobile adtech ecosystems. See what over 500 publishers utilize every day to ensure quality and drive revenue.

For those who have not yet had an up-close and personal relationship with a five-year-old (or whose memory of that relationship may now be clouded by intervening years) let me describe:  this is the human being in its most essential, most honest incarnation.  There’s relatively little depth or contemplation, and even less empathy.  As she should, she cares about her own needs, her own self-preservation.  Before you arrive, she’s probably not thinking much about you at all, and a few minutes after you’re gone she’ll have mentally and emotionally moved on.  Now I want you to consider your next sales call as if you’ll be meeting with this five-year-old.  How would you prepare differently?  Which assumptions would you leave behind?  How much faster would you get to the point?

Inside every human – every one of your customers – there’s a five-year-old, complete with all the fidgetiness, self-involvement and impatience.  Preparing to speak to that primal creature means getting to the important stuff really fast…connecting emotionally….being clear.  As an assist, here are three questions that most five-year-olds like to ask, reinterpreted to help you prepare for better customer calls:

“What did you bring me?”  They’re not thinking about helping you out or what kind of day you’re having.  “What’s in it for me?” is the order of the day.  So… bring them something.  No, not a sweatshirt or US Open tickets.  Right away, first thing, hand them an agenda or a set of insights that specifically about them.  Talk about anything else first – your company history, other successful customer relationship – and you’re just spouting “boring grown-up stuff I don’t care about.”

“Where are we going?” Five-year-olds – and customers – want to know what’s next so they can get excited about it.  So describe the future:  What’s it going to be like when you’re working together?  How will things be better?  Bring the “shared destination” to life.

“When are we going to get there?”  Customers and five-year-olds are both impatient beings. Imagining them asking you this question every 3-5 minutes (as children do) will keep you honest, brief and relevant every step of the way.  It’s easy to assume you have more time and attention than you really do.  Sticking with that assumption too long will be fatal to your sales efforts.

Change the Conversation.

Change the conversationLast week’s “MadMen” season finale featured some of the best one-liners of the year.   (My personal favorite came from Roger Sterling – of course:  “You know what they say about Detroit. It’s all fun and games til they shoot you in the face.”) But there’s one line that’s been repeated across many seasons, first by Don Draper and more recently by his protegee and alter ego Peggy Olson:  “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.”   This is a lot deeper than it looks at first glance.  Sure it’s a metaphor for the total self-reinvention of both characters (in Don’s case, he’s his own most successful image campaign.)  But it carries a significant lesson for both companies and individual sellers in our world.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by The Media Trust, the leading provider of campaign quality automation (for creative quality assurance and campaign screenshots/verification), security (for malvertising and data) and transparency (third-party ads) services to the online and mobile adtech ecosystems. See what over 500 publishers utilize every day to ensure quality and drive revenue.
Over the last 16 years working with digital companies large and small, I’ve watched them squander massive amounts of time and resources answering a question nobody cares about:  “Who Are We?”  The thinking goes that if we can only write a clear enough description of who we are – if we can just nail the PowerPoint or the sizzle reel – then we’ll bring on that moment of epiphany and they will understand us, buy us, love us.  But then, of course, you have to account for all those pesky competitors with their rival claims and narratives.  So the adjustment, the tinkering and the fussing continue. But before you waste another minute tightening the bolts on your “identity pitch,” consider this:  you’re probably answering a lot of potential issues and questions that your customers don’t care about anyway.  (You think they’re obsessed about which box you’re in on the LUMAscape chart?  Really?)

If you don’t like what they’re saying about you….  What they’re really saying about you is….well, nothing.  Scratch the surface and you realize that if a client’s not already working with your company then their beliefs about you are almost non-existent.  You are a tabula rasa, a cipher.  And all the positioning statements and videos and pages of customer logos in the world are not going to change that.  The customer just doesn’t give two shits about your existential crisis.

…change the conversation.  As you’ve read here before, the very first thing you put in front of the customer is the problem you’re prepared to help solve.  Challenge them, disrupt their thinking, show them a new take on an issue they’ve not considered. Do something relevant.  Say something shocking.  Do anything but “introduce yourself.”  First, they will care that you’ve brought and agenda that’s about them;  then they’ll get emotionally connected with the problem or issue you’re prepared to take on; then – and only then – will they want to know your bio, credentials and track record.

Change the customer conversation now.  Especially how it starts.


Back in July in this space I recommended Susan’s Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Hearing clips of the author’s TED Talk on NPR this weekend has me now doubling down on that recommendation and underscoring  some themes I didn’t call out in my brief mention of the book.

The core idea in “Quiet” is that our culture – especially in education and business – incubates and celebrates extroverts, while giving short shrift to the potentially powerful contributions of the introvert.  We organize our classrooms into “discussion pods,” and reward students for vocal participation and visible group “leadership.”  Our business culture revolves around committees, task forces and work groups, all so we can collaborate our way to success.  Along the way, we’ve come to the conclusion that the loudest voice belongs to he (and it’s very often ‘he’) who is the most confident, and therefore the leader.  If forced to conform to today’s cultural and business climate, introverts like Gandhi, Warren Buffet, Eleanor Roosevelt, Larry Page, Bill Gates and (!) Dale Carnegie would never have emerged as leaders.  The logic is inescapable, and there’s plenty of advice on how companies can better leverage the deep insights and massive potential of the introverted third of the world.

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But the thing that really grabbed my attention in the TED Talk was this:  Our celebration of extroversion has brought about the near death of our ability to work alone; to puzzle over a problem or incubate the germ of an idea.  Our individual inability to stay with a problem causes us to lunge at simple solutions.  In sales, this promotes a “grab and go” culture in which the seller over-relies on marketing services to “come up with ideas.”  Often it ends up a shallow, frustrating exercise for all involved.

In the workshops I conduct with sales teams I have started to look for the introverts and carefully draw out their ideas and solutions.   Having spent a little more time in their own heads, their thinking is almost always more complete.  And I’m encouraging all sellers – introverts and extroverts alike – to schedule 30 minutes of unplugged ‘quiet time’ during each business day (and 60-90 minutes on the weekend) to consider problems and ideas on behalf of your customers.  Call it your daily “time in the wilderness.”  You’ll be amazed at what it does for your confidence and effectiveness.

As Susan Cain says, “Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”  Try some today.

Media Seller 3.0

Digiday recently interviewed several sales leaders and media executives on a pretty interesting topic:  the shape of The Future Publisher’s Sales Force.  Among the many observations are that nobody will be selling banners in 3 years, that digital sales leaders will find the balance between programmatic and direct selling, and that true media sellers will start to look more like McKinsey consultants (OK, that one was mine.)  The whole thing got me thinking about what the 21st century media seller will and won’t do – and how the really good ones are already behaving.

The Digital Anthropologist: The old model of content as an anchor for “your ad here” is quickly falling away.  Even in content rich environments, we’ll be focusing on the actual behavior of the consumer – how they’re interacting, what they’re forwarding, how they’re communicating with others.  MS 3.0 will be good at finding marketing opportunities (not just ad placements) within real customer behavior.

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The Guerilla Fighter: The first 20 years of digital selling was like watching World War II generals fight the Vietnam War.  We organized around  the big fixed battles of RFPs and presentations and planning cycles, embracing the same nostalgic tactics.  We wish that everybody still wore uniforms, the battle lines were set,  and it was all about taking the next hill.  But today – and going forward — we need sellers who can navigate uncertainty and thrive in asymmetrical sales environments. It’s never going to be simple again.

The Clarifying Agent: Media Seller 3.0 will eschew the data-driven approach to sales, ditching the PowerPoint and the complex schematics outlining the technology and capabilities.  Instead, at every turn, she will clarify, simplify and distill information based on communication and economic value to the marketer.  If you think your team members are largely doing this now, take another look.  This skill is still exceedingly rare.

The Challenger: The days of asking great questions and discovering existing client needs are over. Technology and new business models have gotten us to a place where the customer doesn’t even know what’s possible, so Media Seller 3.0 will move the customer out of his comfort zone and into a space where truly new possibilities and ideas can be explored.

As William Gibson famously wrote, “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.”  The great media sellers of tomorrow are already embracing these “new skills” today.

Want to hear inside thoughts from the top execs at Universal McCann?  Understand what kinds of innovation marketers and agency leaders truly crave? Join 49 of your fellow sales leaders at The Upstream Seller Forum on October 30th.  Reach back today to save your seat.