The Zen of Wooden.

As a kid in 1960s Los Angeles I ended up watching the same show every week. The UCLA men’s basketball team would play even-up with some other college for the first ten minutes of the game. By halftime, they’d have a double digit lead. Then a romp. Game after game, season after season…victories…NCAA Championships. An astonishing ten of them in a twelve year stretch.

The ironic part was the guy running the team: dark suit, horn rim glasses, every so often shouting out “goodness gracious sakes alive!” In the middle of the turbulent 60s and 70s, at the apex of the protest movement, in ultra-trendy L.A., the guy in charge looks like…a schoolteacher!  The schoolteacher, of course, was John Wooden, the so called Wizard of Westwood…part Professor Dumbledore, part Indiana farm boy, part ninja philosopher. Here are a few of his best bromides, as applied to selling and leading in the digital age.

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.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Far too many of us – individuals and companies – focus on what’s missing, what we lack. Winning is about making the most of our strengths.

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” The economic crucible of the past few years was a great time of learning. What did you learn…about you?

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” The great people and great companies don’t over-react to failures and they always adapt. In fact, they celebrate their ability to adapt.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Time management tip: Slow down.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Many people in our business are crippled by the weight of their own knowledge and experience. The only guy who really worries me is the one who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
 Question your own process constantly. Much of the sales day is taken up by “stuff we’ve always done” that’s not really making any difference.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
 Sustainable, long term success is always built across carefully cultivated team environments. Always. So whenever you think it’s just your own mad skills that are making it all happen, remember that…

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”


This is an edited version of a Drift originally posted in 2010, shortly after Coach Wooden’s death.  I’m sure he’d be humble and grateful that we’re still quoting him.

The RFP: Back from the Dead?

According to Digiday’s Lucia Moses, “media buyers are ditching the much hated RFP.”   Clearly this was meant to be a crowd-pleasing idea:  both agencies and clients reportedly can’t stand them anymore, and to sellers they’ve been the nasty habit they just can’t seem to kick.  I think it all sounds a little too good to be true.

The RFP is the Freddy Krueger of the digital buying-selling process.  It’s the friend from college who crashed on your couch “for a night or two” but ends up staying for 10 months.  It’s the annoying song that’s stuck in our collective heads.  In theory, we all want to be rid of it.  In spirit and practice it’s still very much with us.

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.

Yes it’s true that there are fewer digital RFPs being sent out (a look at Seller Crowd will back this up) and fewer winners in the process.  Programmatic buying has rightly taken a big chunk of those transactional dollars out of the system, and consolidation into the hands of Facebook and Google has taken more.  But the RFP is still very much with us: it’s just migrated.

Now that avails and standard ad units are off the table, buyers are using the RFP process to ask for things like custom videos, content marketing ideas, influencer campaigns and social posts.  If anything, this is worse.  Now a buyer can ask an unlimited number of questionably qualified publishers for things that are really difficult and expensive to bid on.  And sellers are taking the bait.  The arrival of every RFP – never mind how speculative – becomes like a crash cart rolling through the trauma unit of an ER.  Creatives, account management, pricing, events and talent are all dragged in to save the patient – who still expires 80-90 percent of the time.

The RFP was a weak idea when we were trading standard ad units for dollars.  In the content marketing era it’s a full-on dumpster fire.  Any seller who’s not connecting – proactively and directly — with clients and agency leadership is part of the problem.  Any publisher who’s ignoring the P&L of the weekly creative RFP lottery is mortgaging their future and tossing their most valuable resources – their ideas and the creativity of their people – into the wind.  Agencies won’t stop using the RFP.  Sales organizations can only control if, when and how they respond.

Qualify.  Qualify.  Qualify.

Don’t Blink.

Managers tend to get caught up in the big, structured, scheduled acts of management.  The weekly sales meeting.  The monthly one-to-one conversations with your direct reports. The performance reviews.  We think that if we plan and execute these well enough, we will have managed…and that the stuff that happens in between will take care of itself.

There are also parents who focus only on the big vacation or attending the school play or coaching the soccer team on Saturday.  Sure, all that stuff is important, and you should get it right.  But you’ve still got to be there for your kid and for your employee in the moment.  Most of the great opportunities to manage aren’t scheduled; they come and go in the blink of an eye.  The problem that’s just arisen.  The firefight that’s just broken out between two of your team members.  The out of control email discussion.  The moment of self-doubt that your seller is experiencing.  You can’t plan for all of them, but here are a few of the great moments broken down.

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.

Slow it down.  What your employees bring you is often important, always urgent.  You’ll always deal with the situation better if you buy a little time.  “I know this is important.  I need a little time to work through it with you.  Let’s meet at 2:30 today for a few minutes.”  The lack of instant gratification is a good lesson all by itself.

Give homework.  While you’re slowing things down, force your team member to do some of the critical thinking.  “When we get back together, please bring me two possible solutions to the problem.”  Not one, two.  Making them consider a backup plan is forcing them to engage in critical thinking.

Break it down.  The big, hairy problem that’s plaguing your team member is actually a bunch of little problems and dependencies stuck together.  A great manager doesn’t just cough up a solution: she takes the time to break it down and force a conversation on how we’ll get to a solution.

Ask how they’re doing.  Then ask again.  Whether it’s during an issue-based exchange or just on the spur of the moment, hit the pause button and ask your employee how he’s doing.  And then, after he give you “fine,” ask again.  Ask what he’s excited about.  Ask where he’s challenged and where you can help.

Be fully there.  In these or any exchanges with team members, remember that attention is relationship currency.  You buy their engagement, belief and performance with your full attention.  If you’re perpetually distracted, multitasking or checking your phone, then your currency becomes virtually worthless.  Your managerial superpower goes unused.

Your moment to be a great manager is here.  Don’t blink:  you’ll miss it.

The Dirty Secret of Sales.

The fact that you chose to start reading this post supports my premise:  People love secrets and shortcuts.  The dirtier the better.  That there’s a technique, phrase or trick out there that would make the whole sales thing fall into place is a seductive idea.   Indeed, sellers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on books, videos and seminars in search of this particular grail over the last several decades.

But after selling for my entire adult life and being a voice-in-the-ear for sellers in the digital marketing business for the last 20 years, I’m here to give away “the secret” – such as it is.  Here goes.

Discipline, grit and hard work.  Lots of it.

Imagine a world where you save time, can believe your forecast and have the insights to grow sales. Imagine one place to see an accurate picture of your entire business, including programmatic. Learn more about boostr as the media industry’s CRM of choice. Request a demo at boostr.com or email success@boostr.com to speak to an expert.

Disappointed?  I get it.  But true is true.  Being a good seller is like playing good defense on the basketball court.  While only a select few can soar above the rim or hit more than half of their three-point shots, anyone can play good defense.  And, if fully committed, anyone can be a good seller.

Discipline, grit, hard work.

Good sellers have a strong sense of discipline.  They make lists, they stay organized.  They respect the clock and the calendar.  They know when three days have passed since the last contact.  Good sellers embrace process and pipeline.  They develop positive habits.

Good sellers have grit.  They stay in each conversation a little longer than is comfortable.  They go and find one more name on an account…then they go find another one after that.  They inspect their own work and progress.  If prospects are elusive, they don’t assume the door is closed; they assume it’s worth knocking again.   They don’t fall apart in the face of criticism or rejection.  They don’t fear falling down; they obsess about getting up again.

Good sellers work hard.  Great salespeople aren’t born that way.  They are forged by labor.  They get up a little earlier and stay a little later….not to be seen, to achieve.  They always believe there’s one more thing that can be done to help a deal close.  They take the time to properly thank their customers and their team members.  They do homework.  They go to see the customer, they visit the factory, they take the extra trip. Having estimated what it will take to succeed, they do 50% more.

Is this what it takes to be in sales?  No. It’s what it takes if you want to be good at it and deserve the business you get.   All of it – every single word – is fully in your control.

And not for nothing…it’s the same secret to success at everything else in life.

The Happy Heisman.

Every advertising sales boss in history has pushed every advertising seller to reach and persuade more senior customers.  Don’t get stuck with the transactional buyers, they say.  I want you seeing clients and the people who run accounts at the agency.  So the sellers dutifully arrange those meetings: they prepare, they research, they drop names, they bring in the big guns from their own organizations.  And too often, something unexpected happens.


Well, actually it doesn’t feel like nothing when it’s happening.  What it feels like is progress.  It feels like the client likes you and supports the idea.  It feels like they really want to see it happen.  It feels like you’re getting a benevolent recommendation for further action on your program.  What you’re really getting is the Happy Heisman.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by boostr. Your CRM does not need to be a time-waste requiring additional data entry. boostr was built so sellers can focus on what they do best – bringing in revenue! With boostr e-mail and calendar plugins, you can populate your CRM while you’re doing your normal job. Request a demo at www.boostr.com or email success@boostr.com to speak to an expert. 

Many sellers of a certain age can identify with getting the Heisman, being pushed away or deflected by the customer.  (As illustrated by the pose of the famous Heisman Trophy, of course.)  When the client or senior agency director says Be sure the team sees this or Once we have budget we’ll take a look at this, they’re really just giving you a soft exit.  There’s no real upside for them to say This will never happen… that would just invite a longer conversation.  A much safer bet to offer gaudy good wishes as you leave the conference room.

It doesn’t have to end like this.  A couple of strategic changes can help.

What exactly did you ask for?  If you didn’t know precisely what you wanted this client to do at the end of your meeting, they’re not going to figure it out for you.  If you’re asking her to recommend your program or approve the budget for it, you need to ask questions using those specific verbs. 100% of questions that go unasked go unanswered.

Not so fast… The very moment when a client says something supportive is exactly when most sellers stop selling.  But it’s actually when you should start. Ask the client to stay with the deal.  I appreciate your support on this.  But when someone in your position steps away it’s too easy for the wheels to come off.  May I keep you involved? Can I connect with you every other week to see that this is moving forward?  You’ll know quickly how committed or serious this customer really is.

Go big.  Big decision makers want to make big decisions.  Too often we bring a junior agenda to a senior meeting.  The client really doesn’t give a shit about whether you get on the media plan or not.  Make sure that your solution is level appropriate and makes the marketer or agency better, and isn’t just an improvement to the plan or CPM.

And remember, the opposite of yes isn’t no.  The opposite of yes is anything other than yes.