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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.


Living in the Light.


Indulge me.  I’ve been at this since the very beginning of web advertising (1994) and I’m seeing patterns.

Each massive, tectonic shift in our business has been preceded by an equally massive economic or cultural upheaval.  The dotcom bust of 2000-2001 ended the era of site-by-site buying and ushered in a period of extreme targeting and data enhancement.  The housing crash and recession of 2008-2009 effectively kicked off the programmatic era that we’ve been living for the past 9+ years.  Now we’re living through the third major upheaval…and it, too, is setting us up for a very different world.

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.

Consider this:  in the past two years we’ve seen (1) the ANA’s release of the K2 Report on Media Transparency in June 2016; (2) P&G’s top marketer Marc Pritchard call out the industry’s dirty supply chain in January 2017; (3) The New York Times and the Guardian break the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and (4) the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR – by the European Union.  Oh, yeah, we had a little Brexit, a US election and more than a little foreign hacking.  Don’t look at these as singular events, but rather as a pattern.  A big one.

So what, then, is the new look of our industry?  What will it be like to do business in the next era?   What rules might we follow?

Welcome to our time in the sun.

As I told an audience of programmatic and automation leaders in Nashville earlier today, I believe we’re already starting to live into an age of radical transparency.  Over the next several years, you won’t find anyone wearing a grey hat: there will only be heroes and villains.  It may feel selective, it may feel unfair, but it is very definitely here.  So how does one build an automated media or marketing business at a time like this?

  • Stop aiming at compliance. That bar is too low.  Focus instead on making clarity and fairness into core values for your organization.
  • Celebrate your newfound commitment. I’m looking forward to seeing a sign on someone’s office wall that says “485 days of being squeaky clean.”
  • More is no longer better. Better is better.  Get used to the idea of a smaller, better internet, one filed with real people, real attention and real connections.  When you eliminate the fraud and the stuff nobody really wants, this is what we’ll have.  It will be a great place to work.
  • Don’t benchmark around the scoundrels. What someone else may get away with is not the point.  Don’t pander to the least among us.  Instead aspire to be the best among us.
  • Work through the pain. Quickly.  Yes, there is economic pain to be endured.  But it won’t be more endurable in 12 or 18 months.  And in that time, you might find your world collapsing around you.  Time to rip off the band-aid and do the right things.

Like it or not, we all live in the light today.  All can be seen and everything will be made clear. And it will be a time of reinvention, of leaders, of new ideas.

I can’t wait.


The Controllables.


Under the best of circumstances, sales can feel like a hall of mirrors; full of distorted images, dead ends and confusing passageways.  Factor in the inherent complexity and ambivalence of our digital marketing and advertising world and it all comes right off the chain.  Almost every digital seller I meet in workshops, forums and coaching talks desperately wants more control in their sales lives.

They don’t realize just how much control they already have.

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.

Controlling your controllables is no mere cliché; it’s the recipe for a satisfying, effective and full life in sales (not to mention a truly satisfying life overall).  Focusing on factors and events you don’t control burns precious hours and energy and leaves you with nothing to show for it.  What will the boss decide? How will the budget shake out?  How will the markets react to the latest world news?  What can you do about any of these?  Just worry and wait… the two least productive and most frustrating options available.  So let’s take a quick look at four things you absolutely control every single day.

Curiosity.  This is as simple as asking one more genuine question to learn more about the customer or how their business works.  It’s saying “tell me a little bit more about that.” Don’t be tricky or clever with your questions: it’s not about how much you know, but rather about how much you want to know.  When people feel interesting they will be interested in return.  And you control this action completely.

Organization.  To say you’re simply not organized is a cop out.  Every one of us can stop and make a list, gather notes into one document, close a few windows on our desktop.  Disorganization isn’t charming or quirky; it’s a choice you make and a form of self-sabotage.  Just a few minutes each day to pull things together before you start responding is all it takes.  You don’t leave the house without looking in the mirror and checking your appearance; just add five minutes of intellectual organization to your routine.

Response.  Challenging stuff happens.  But none of us is ever really responding to what’s taking place or what’s being said.  We are responding to the story our ego is telling us about what’s happening. Your ego tells you unreliable stories about the other guy’s intentions or the fact that it’s all a big conspiracy against you.  Instead of responding instantly with the harsh comment or defensive email, pause and consider other possible backstories and motivations. Your emotional IQ soars. Slow down, reconsider, control.

Attention.  The root word here is attend; literally, being present.  With just a modest amount of discipline, you can choose to give just a minute or two of your full, undivided, undistracted attention to those you rely on and those you serve. Those 60 or 120 seconds will be more productive and constructive than all those endless meetings you half-attend.  Put away your phone and let your full attention nourish the quality of your relationships and your work.  It’s controllable and it’s transformative.

This all requires zero talent and you depend on no one but yourself. Enjoy your new superpowers.


The Right to Target.


Look hard at the title of this post.  If you sit with it for just a few beats you may see irony, a contradiction in terms … or you may not see much of anything.  But our interpretation of this simple phrase – The Right to Target – says a lot about each of us and when we probably got involved in this whole digital marketing thing.

To those who came to the business between 2000 and 2010, there may seem little to discuss.  Of course there’s an inherent right to target advertising to users… they’re getting their content for free, right?  Indeed, in the first decade of the millennium the machinery of targeting and its rationalization were both cranking full force.  Technologies were invented and businesses were launched to do nothing else.

To those who came earlier – and probably to those just joining the party now – the irony and inherent conflict in the term seems rather obvious.  To target someone seems like an overtly aggressive and invasive act.  Seen in a vacuum, the verb alone is rather jarring.  How could anyone have a right to target someone else?  It’s a question I raised way back in 2010 (@ 18:45 of the video) just as programmatic buying and technology were crashing over the business like a tsunami.   Back when it was raining money, this question may have seemed quaint or naïve.

Doesn’t seem like that anymore, does it?

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 Cambridge Analytica scandal the onset of GDPR regulation may not be causing a sea change in attitude and practice, but they are vividly reflecting it.  Zuck’s well-rehearsed damage control exercise on Capitol Hill brought the issues of targeting and data control out of the server closet and into mainstream consciousness.  I don’t think this dies down now, do you?

So if targeting is no longer a right, then what is it?   It’s a privilege.  It’s a pact.  It’s a knowing transaction executed in simple terms that have nothing to do with the insane legalese of the user agreement.  It’s not even targeting anymore; it’s customization and content selection.  And there is going to be very little in the way of gray area.  There will be great companies who uphold the highest standards and there will be scoundrels.

Semantics?  No.  Brands both established and emerging have woken to the social and business cost of being on the wrong side of history.  They’re in the room now with their eyes wide open.

The change has come.  Welcome to the sunlight.