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Nothing Sells Itself.


Next month I’ll be speaking at Programmatic I/O in New York about selling programmatic technology and audiences.  No, selling programmatic isn’t a typo, nor is it a contradiction in terms like jumbo shrimp or amicable divorce.  I believe the seller has an active role in an automated marketplace.  That the role hasn’t been fully realized yet doesn’t make this any less true.

The person who first said this technology (or algorithm or data set) sells itself was clearly not tasked with selling it.  We must believe in our solution, the logic says, and if it’s good all we should need to do is get it plugged in…get the tags up, get the master services agreement signed. The market will respond appropriately and it will provide, we tell ourselves.  But then, too often, it doesn’t.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

This is where the seller makes a difference.  As I’ve previously said in this space, there’s a big difference between selling and simply describing stuff.  So how, then, do technology sellers earn their keep and drive the business forward?

Draw Sharp Contrasts.  Only by understanding the deeper business and audience needs of the client accounts can the seller draw sharp contrasts between the quality and depth of their solution and the rest of the market.  Broad banalities like brand safe and premium don’t get it done.  There’s a lot of crap out there:  if your offering has real value to the advertiser’s business, you have to own that narrative.

Be Radically Curious. Far too many sellers are just happy to be included. They settle for just being in the game, which explains all those non-producing PMP deals and under-producing programmatic streams.  Until something happens, nothing happens. Strong sellers have hard conversations about how things work.  Who do we need additional support from?  How will planning and investment teams express demand?  Any rep who has just one or two points of programmatic contact is vulnerable.  And if you find yourself frequently waiting for stuff to happen, you’re in trouble.

Catalyze Activation. Once a programmatic buyer says yes to a PMP or other automated relationship, their attention and enthusiasm wane noticeably.  Strong sellers push back on what happens next – How do we get set up? Exactly how the money will begin to flow? Who will make the downstream decisions that will affect revenue? – and puts appropriate pressure on the buyer organization to get things going.  Many a promising business relationship ends up stillborn simply because the integration was never prioritized.

Merchandise Your Offering.  Someone once told me that you have to merchandise programmatic inventory and tech.  Indeed.  Just like the person in the supermarket who makes sure their product is at eye-level and supported by in-store signage and coupons, you have to constantly make sure your inventory or solutions are constantly in view of planning and investment teams.  We can’t just be supply sellers…we must also be demand generators.

Nothing sells itself.  And when we count on the technology to do the selling, that’s exactly what we end up with:  Nothing.

Look for me on Monday October 15th at Programmatic I/O in New York.  If you haven’t yet made plans, you can find out more here.


Things No Customer Has Ever Said.


I’ve often threatened to write a book filled with “Things No Customer Has Ever Said.”  In honor of this final short week of summer, here’s a short look at what might be on the first few pages. 

“I just wish there had been more PowerPoint.”

“That was great!  Could you play that sizzle video one more time?”

“So, you’re really that much bigger than your competitors?  Who knew!”

“Wait…don’t leave yet.  I haven’t really committed to anything.”

“Forget what I paid last time…let’s start fresh.”

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

“Would you look at all those logos!  Wow, if those companies are buying from you then I’d better get on board too, right?”

“Oh absolutely!  Bring a whole bunch of your managers to the meeting.  It’ll be so much more productive that way.”

“Wait…you mean you’re the leading company in your space?  Heck, I had no idea!  That changes everything!”

“You know, we’re just talking way too much about our issues. This is feeling a little too much about us.”

“Hey Jenny…call everyone in here please.  This guy brought in his general presentation and I don’t want anyone to miss it.”

“I’m sorry, but there just weren’t enough acronyms and buzzwords in this for me.”

“Are you sure those are all the products you have?  I’ve got more time.”

“Would you mind flipping back to that slide with the map of all your offices?  I forgot whether your APAC headquarters was in Singapore or Hong Kong.”

“I’m actually just telling you that we’re waiting on direction.  You actually don’t have a chance in hell to get this but I just hate when things get awkward.”

“I was confused but those cylinders, arrows and triangles really sorted things out for me.  Thanks!”

“Tell me more about your founder!  He sounds like a fascinating guy!”

“You’re launching a new site?  Well by all means come on over!”

“You say your CEO is in town?  Shoot, that hardly ever happens!  Of course I’ll make time on the calendar.”

“Wait…that’s it?  It’s over already?  Are you sure you don’t have a couple more slides?”

We’ve just released the working agenda for our final Seller Forum of 2018.  If you’re a qualified digital media sales leader and would like to attend, request your invitation today.  There are just 12 seats remaining.


Death by the Half-Hour.


OK, so maybe it’s not actually one endless internal meeting that’s consuming your entire business day, draining your company’s resources and crushing the spirits of those around you.  But it can sure feel that way.

In most of the companies I work for, meeting culture is out of control.  Unnecessary meetings are needlessly scheduled, badly planned and horribly executed.  Instead of providing clarity and moving critical initiatives forward, meeting culture creates even more confusion and uncertainty.  Its principal outcome is more meetings.  As a public service, here are a few rules and questions to help you end the madness of meeting culture and make the meetings you do end up holding productive and empowering.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Do We Even Need a Meeting?  The best meetings are sometimes the ones we don’t have at all.  Many of your meetings are automatic:  the weekly update, the kickoff meeting for the project and so on.  Before hitting send on that calendar invite, ask the question:  can we accomplish what we need to do without bringing everyone into the same physical or virtual space?  You’ll be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Don’t Use Meetings to Convey Factual Information.  If you can write it down briefly and clearly, don’t call a meeting to tell people the exact same stuff.  And here’s a tip:  if they won’t read your emails, they’re probably not going to really hear you in the meeting either.  The problem may be your own.

Answer “Why?” With a Verb.  Always ask “why are we having this meeting” (especially for the automatic ones) and challenge yourself to answer with an action verb.  Meetings should be about doing stuff.  Deciding.  Planning.  Prioritizing.  Choosing.  If the point of your meeting is to get everybody together or make sure everybody understands, then you’re setting up a pointless gathering.

Does It Have to Be a Half-Hour?  And Do We Need to Sit Down?  We always assume half-hour blocks for meetings, and we always book conference rooms.  A ten-minute stand up meeting can force clarity and action you won’t get around a conference table.

No Electronics.  If you simply have everyone leave their phones and laptops behind (or put them in a basket upon entering the meeting) you’ll have shorter, more productive meetings and breed a culture of respect and attention.  Knowing that no one else in the meeting is accessing their devices actually creates a sense of calm resignation.

No Hop-Ons.  There are almost always too many people in the meeting, and the reason they are there is too often political or based on fear of missing out.  Keep meetings as small and tight as possible.  And don’t be afraid to invite yourself to not attend a few of them.  You’ll be delighted by the new time you find on your own calendar.

This Drift was originally posted in May 2016.  For other ideas on how to reform your culture and recharge your organization, join us for The Seller Forum on Wednesday March 17th at the Viacom Building in New York. 


Playing Offense: The RFO.


Irritation and push-back (from publishers, agencies and clients) on the increasingly irrelevant RFP (request-for-proposal) is a well-worn theme at this point.  Clients and agency leadership think they’re a waste of billable hours and an awful process for buyers.  For publishers and sales teams, they are at best the piñatas we all get to blindly swing at near the end of the party; at worst, they are the dumpster fire that consumes time, resources, morale and hope.

So why are so few companies doing anything about it?  Why are we continuing to throw people and money at a process that’s not only broken – it’s getting worse!  One answer is that nature abhors a vacuum: that without a clear alternative, people will cling to a deeply flawed behavior or broken relationship.  Just in case that’s what’s happening, I’ve got an alternative.

Stop answering RFPs.  Start writing RFOs.

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.

The RFO – request-for-opportunity – isn’t an incremental change to the RFP; it is its complete opposite.  In the RFP process the seller reacts.  In the RFO process, the seller drives.  Where the RFP is based on a bunch of issues and qualifications that were agreed upon by various committees, the RFO is disruptive and driven by a strong POV.

The RFO is really quite simple.  It consists of just four steps.

  • Find a couple of higher level decision makers – senior account owners at agencies or practice leads at the client – for an account you covet. Don’t worry if they haven’t gotten budget or plans yet (that’s kind of the point!)
  • Do an hour’s research on the specific brand or product in question. Specifically, look for key competitors, core message they are conveying, hard-to-find audiences, disruption in their marketplace, key promotions or dates, etc.
  • Pick a problem you think you could help the customer solve and the means by which your company could solve it. (Pick one that’s big enough to matter, but small enough to fix…don’t go crazy.)  Write out the problem in plain English in just a couple dozen words.
  • Now send a very short email with a really clear headline: We’d like to help you (or your client) solve for X.  Avoid all the fluff, get to the point and stay focused on the problem.  They don’t care about your company background or any of that (yet).  Tell them your team has done some creative thinking on the account and you’d like to bring them into the collaboration.  (If talking to an agency exec, be sure to mention how this RFO might help them extend their capabilities, generate some incremental client spend and help them defend their business from encroachers.)

It’s not hard, just different.  You don’t have to be right, just credible.  Companies focused on answering RFPs are hoping for a sliver of the remaining budget.  Those who write RFOs are taking concrete steps toward creating budget.  If you think you’re already doing this, go back and read your outbound emails carefully.  Too often, you’re probably just leading with we’ve got a great idea! – which holds no water with the client.

It’s not about your product, it’s about their problem.  Don’t tell them what you sell; tell them what you solve.


The Next Big Thing.


As most of you are seeing this post for the first time, I’m behind closed doors with a group of six-dozen digital sales leaders talking about something crucial – innovation – in a very non-standard way.

In our industry, we tend to think of innovation almost exclusively in terms of technology:  it’s always about a new algorithm or bidding engine or streaming solution that’s going to change everything.   It’s a natural conclusion, since we’ve all been brought up on the fable of two guys in a garage or a dorm room tinkering away at world-altering technology.  Jobs, Brin, Page, Gates – these make up our pantheon of digital change.  But there are two major problems with this narrative.  First, it disempowers the rest of us…we end up as hapless pawns on a chessboard that’s always on the verge of being overturned.  Rather than being agents of our own fortune, we accept helpless victimization.  The second problem with this fixation on “the next big thing” is that it’s not even true.

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.

One of our speakers at today’s Seller Forum is Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of “The Innovation Biome.” In his book, Mehta challenges the myth head on.  The next big thing is usually NOT a thing at all.  It can be a policy shift, an approach to pricing, or even just a change in a process inside your company.  In addition to not being things that one needs to invent, these examples also have one more quality in common:  they are eminently controllable by the sales leader and other executives in the company.

  • Amazon didn’t have to invent anything to offer free shipping and tie it to your Prime Membership.
  • Airlines didn’t have to invent new technology in order to create frequent flier programs.
  • Google didn’t invent search; only a radically different way to buy it.

Embracing this new narrative democratizes innovation.  It’s no longer a thing that 95% of the company waits around for (or fears), and it doesn’t only happen during formal brainstorms or executive retreats.

By simply questioning our assumptions, asking “How might we” and breaking down and examining our own processes, we can yield extraordinary results.

  • Can your team adopt a new pricing model for your services or inventory?
  • Can you offer free services alongside your core offerings to justify your premium price?
  • Can you reorganize the ways in which your teams work on client problems to deliver superior results?
  • Can you fundamentally change the approach toward meetings – both team meetings and one-on-ones – to build innovation and experimentation into your culture?

The answer to all these questions is yes.  How frequently, though, does our first answer end up being no?  Perhaps a better first response to most all of our business and revenue questions should be Yes…and….

The next big thing just might be you.