Shake it Off!


Snap out of it! 

Yeah… you know who I’m talking to: You there in the Slanket about to launch your Netflix queue. Like many others in the digital ad business, Q1 2019 has been a hazy sleepwalk of stalled budgets, consolidation, sheepish buying and general malaise. But it’s not just you. And it’s not fatal. And it ends now.

Today’s Drift is our collective wake-up call. Here are a few ideas and themes to get your motor going and shake off the cold of Internet Marketing Winter.

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: The 300×250 dominates as mobile continues to grow. The ad unit’s share of mobile revenue increased to 59% in 2019, while its share of revenue on desktop dropped to 19%.  Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

Start with One Short List. Getting your business back on track seems overwhelming because of the hundred choices and tasks littering your desktop and inbox. Get all that shit out of your way by consolidating into one short list. If it’s not something that’s going to get you closer to a customer or drive a revenue opportunity forward, table it.

Default to Action. Make sure your short list includes a lot of action verbs like write and call and propose. These will be your triggers to act.  Don’t fall prey to wimpy non-actions like follow up and touch base. The feeling of getting important things done has a massive psychological impact. You move the ball and simultaneously blow your funk out of the water.

Turn Down the In-House Noise. Has anybody ever bought anything from you on Slack? I didn’t think so. Yet we allow ourselves to let an endless string of email chains, slack discussions and internal meetings eat our days. Just say no. Put an internal out of office message on that says I’m on client business right now: text or phone me with any specific, urgent items. Then go back to your list.

Aim for the Middle. The CMO isn’t going to see you and the media planners can’t help you. But there’s a whole lot of people in the middle who can. Client advertising managers and marketing staff; agency media directors and group VPs.  Reach out to them with some We were thinking about your business today notes that cite a potential business problem, missing audience segment, storytelling problem… whatever. Ask for a short phone meeting with screen sharing (it’s less threatening and easier to schedule.)

Generosity is Fuel. Right now, you might be hung up on your need to sell something. Anything! This is exactly the time to be generous. Internally, do a favor or pay someone a public compliment. With your customers, think about doing something cool for their businesses. Generosity gets you out of your own head and breaks the negative loop you’re stuck in. Don’t just make a deal, make a difference.

Ask Unreasonable Questions. Are you open to having us earn a million dollars by solving a problem for your client? What would it take for you to open up the budgeting process and consider improving your plan? What would get us immediate approval to go to contract on this? 

Expect Nothing. Blame No One. Do Something. You are the one you’ve been waiting for. There are a million mopes out there who will only ever be a little better than the worst break they’ve had. Overcoming adversity and being better than your circumstances starts with a positive choice. Make that choice now and start acting on it.

Could your sales team use a boost? We build and deliver custom sales strategy and process workshops with a deep understanding of digital advertising, motivations and the fundamentals of selling. Visit www.upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


MVP 3.0


Who’s the MVP on your sales team?  And more importantly, why?

Through Upstream Group, I’ve gotten to work with thousands of digital sellers and managers over the past 21 years.  And I can guess why your team MVP is winning the award.  It’s for very different reasons than you might have awarded the prize ten or fifteen years ago.

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: The 300×250 dominates as mobile continues to grow. The ad unit’s share of mobile revenue increased to 59% in 2019, while its share of revenue on desktop dropped to 19%.  Join STAQ Industry Benchmarks.

In 2004 your MVP was probably a lone wolf… a rainmaker with a Rolodex, charm and boundary issues.  It was a wide open, upwardly mobile time in the business.  The name of the game was revenue.  Full stop. Just get the deals… put numbers on the board…prove the concept… satisfy the investors or the markets. You didn’t have a separate rule book for your MVP, but you might as well have.  Don’t worry about profit or sustainability… you make the numbers, we’ll make the business.

By 2009 the world had changed, and you judged MVP 2.0 by a different measure.  He or she was a part of the system… could work the machine, whether that machine was a trading desk or the RFP rhythms of an agency media team.  While MVP 1.0 knew which ears to bend, 2.0 knew which buttons to push.  If digital selling was a game, she’d have been the one who bothered to read the inside of the box.  Don’t worry what the machine is actually producing… run it well and make it work in our favor.

Ten years later we live in yet another very different era.  Clients are demanding real outcomes with real customers based on real data.  Digital media and marketing are exponentially more complex and layered, and sales success is more interdependent than ever before.  MVP 3.0 gets the award today because she’s able to lead others to excellence.  He can sit at the middle of a project and organize, inspire and reward those around him.  She makes her teammates better even as she navigates them toward success for the client – a client who has infinitely more choices but is likely to be spending more with fewer vendors.  Don’t just make the numbers…make them work for the client and for us.  Margin matters and so do our people.  Make them both better.

On April 4th at the 212NYC Gala at the Edison Ballroom on Times Square, I’ll be presenting the third annual Weaver Awards for Digital Sales Excellence.  One award will go to a manager and the other to an individual contributor who are defining excellence in the New York market.  If there’s someone on your team who improves the lives and the success of those around them – someone who moves your whole organization that much closer to excellence – please take the time to nominate him or her today.  (Then be sure to tell him or her that you did!)  We’ll take nominations through Tuesday March 19th and will contact and interview finalists shortly after.

There’s an MVP 3.0 on your team.  There are scores of them at work in our industry every day.  Thanks for taking the time to recognize yours and showing our peers what excellence looks like.

Tickets and company sponsorships are still available for the 212NYC Gala.  Whether you are attending or not, you’re free to nominate a colleague for recognition. 


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.


Tear Down This Wall!


At yesterday’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Chairman/CEO Randall Rothenberg doubled down (again) on the direct brand economy and how it’s flipping marketing models and gutting sacred cows of publisher strategy.  There was a ton of great information and examples, but there was one subtle point (Play #5 in the IAB’s new DTC Playbook: “How to Build a 21st Century Brand, Part Two”) that really grabbed my attention:

For Disruptors, branding must perform – and vice versa.

STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace. This week’s insight: CPMs are down YOY from escalating impression volume. Are publishers increasing ads per page? Is more direct converting to programmatic?  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today and get these details.

This really spoke to me.  For all of the 35 years that I’ve been in media and 25 I’ve spent in digital, we’ve labored under the artificial and counterproductive divide between brand and performance advertising.  To performance advertisers (we were told), media was just so much raw material to be processed in getting to the number.  And brand advertisers (we were told) only cared about reach and audience and shooting beautiful commercials and visuals.

Now (we are told) the wall is coming down.  And disruptor/DTC brands are the ones holding the sledgehammer.  The myth that your solution must be either brand– or performance-focused has finally been exposed.   The answer to branding or performance is now – simply – yes.

In the same IAB Playbook (Play #3) we learn that Storytelling gets more acquisitions more cheaply.  Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) actually gets better in high quality, story-focused environments like podcasts.  It’s become clear that hybrid approaches – blending authentic storytelling, high engagement environments, and real performance – are the hottest vehicles on the lot.

But like William Gibson famously wrote, The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.

We can still screw this up.  We can retreat to the brain-dead, self-defeating apology tour of attribution and discounting. We can focus on the wrong metrics. We can choose to serve the status quo of the advertising business instead of embracing directly the complex, nuanced needs of a new generation of marketers.

If we only do what we’ve always done, we’ll only ever have what we’ve already got.  There’s a new beginning taking shape.  The wall that’s always stood between brand and performance has been breached.

As media sellers, I suggest we confidently walk through it.