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.

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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.

Your Sales Strategy is Fatally Flawed.

All the elements are in place.  You’ve identified the key accounts that you need to land or expand in order to get to your number.  You’ve tallied up the number of deals that need to close per quarter and assigned them each a probability. And you’ve marshaled all the resources you’ll need to get the job done; aligning with other departments and making certain the presentations and demos you’ll need to sway the market are in production.  Your sales strategy is perfect except for one thing.

It won’t work.

Failure is predestined not because of anything you’ve done, but rather because of a flawed assumption at the core of your strategy:  You’ve based it on the principle of inclusion. You started with who’s budgeting for what, when the agency planning teams are going to receive those budgets and how you’ll win your share of each.  It’s all about how you’ll be included in the budgets and plans and buys.  But the game is rigged. The playing field is not level.  This is not a fair fight.

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In addition to the natural consolidation in the market – the rich platforms getting richer – the politics and economics of the agencies themselves come into play.  Never forget that as they spend their clients’ money, they are also running their own businesses…enterprises which are inextricably linked to one another through their parent companies.  The choice of vendors, approaches to buying, pricing models and more are all impacted.  And even if you don’t completely agree with my premise, you still see distribution lists for RFPs getting smaller and smaller.

No, in a time of consolidation, a strategy of inclusion is no longer valid.  You must embrace a strategy of disruption.  From who you call on to how you approach them to your pricing and business models to your range of services, you must disrupt.  Not on a handful of accounts, not once a year…every day.  Pull your team’s focus away from fully formed budgets and planning cycles and push them toward opportunity creation – identification of business and marketing problems and the relentless pursuit of senior customers who care about them.

Disruption means getting there earlier and fighting for senior customer access harder than any of your erstwhile competitors.  It means operating left of budget – letting the customer decide which budgets she’ll draw from or combine to pay for your smart solution.  Disruption means getting out of the media spending business and signing up for the business value creation business.

It’s not easy and it can be daunting.  But it’s the future of digital sales. And there is no long term alternative.

I’m Not Reading Your Email. Here’s Why.

As I work with dozens of sales teams and hundreds of salespeople each year, one thing is consistently clear:  customers aren’t reading their emails, and it’s pissing them off.

You’re frustrated that you took a half hour to bolt together the perfect set of facts.  You’ve tried to personalize it to the customer, conspicuously adding her name at several points in the text.  You even made it a little fun and folksy.  But then….nothing.  Bupkis. Radio silence.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  But before we try to make things better, let’s crawl inside the customer’s head for a minute.

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Not long ago I spoke with a marketer who oversees a lot of ad buying.  He told me that he averages about 225 inbound email messages a day from reps and other vendors who want a piece of his time or attention.  When I asked how he managed all that, his response was simple: “I just pretty much delete the first two from everybody.  Most give up by then.”  Sure, this is a little cold-blooded, but there’s a logic to it.

Frequency.  Experts say it takes an average of 9 quality contacts to make a connection with a customer who doesn’t already know you.  Most reps focus on writing one great email and – if they follow up at all – toss off a bunch of “just making sure you got my email” notes.

Brevity. If they’re reading it at all, your customers are reading email on their phones.  So why are you writing it for a laptop screen?  Imagine the screen of an iPhone as your canvas:  very short messages and questions that get right to the point.  If they have to scroll down, they’ll instead choose to swipe left.  And you’re done.

Scheduling.  As you’re planning out your nine smart, short messages to your customer, be sure you switch out your day-parts.  First thing in the morning one day…afternoon a couple of days later… then maybe right at the end of the day.  And while you’re at it, change channels.  Toss in a Linked In In-Mail message, a voice mail or two (think of them as your radio spots) and maybe even a handwritten note or something else tangible.  A good campaign does not say the same thing the same way at the same time every day.

Lead with Needs.  Your headline and the very first line of your messages matter a lot.  So given that you’ve done your homework (wait…you did, right?), reference your learnings to lead with the customer’s needs…in the headline and in the opening.  Your customer knows you don’t really care how their weekend was.  So try starting with “I’m writing you today because…”  Get to the point.  Respect is the new friendship.

What the aforementioned marketer understood was that a salesperson’s approach to the customer isn’t just a way to start the relationship; it is the start of the relationship.  It’s where you demonstrate to the customer who you are, what you stand for, and how much you care about his business.

Don’t waste that opportunity.

Something Very Real at the IAB.

Something pretty terrific happened yesterday at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting.  Leadership.

There are two moments in particular that I feel are worth calling out; one that I expected and one that I did not.  I fully anticipated IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg’s masterful illumination of the direct brand economy in which unencumbered upstarts like Dollar Shave Club, Glossier and Warby Parker soar at the expense of Gillette, L’Oréal and Lens Crafters.  Along the way he got very specific about the continued growth of these players, how they’ll reshape the businesses of the major corporations that compete with or perhaps acquire them, and how data becomes the new capital of the 21st Century.  R2 closed by committing the IAB toward adapting to and embracing the Direct-to-Consumer ethos.  That was big.

What was less expected was what happened next.  A 150-year-old multi-national marketer took the stage and gave what I considered one of the most important speeches in the history of the advertising business.  First, some background.

Last year at the same conference, Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard famously called out the tainted supply chain that the digital ad business had built over the past decade, a set of institutions and practices that had promulgated fraud, waste, lack of accountability, shady content adjacencies and more. And then he pulled all his company’s money until very specific steps were taken.  Pritchard lit a fuse that sent shock waves of immediate change throughout the business.

Promotional Message:  You don’t have to attend the Seller Forum on March 7th to participate in our Sales Leadership Poll (but you probably should).  Submit your anonymous answers on questions ranging from market conditions to pay packages to GDPR to the number of sales calls you expect your sellers to make each week.  We’ll share the results with you right after the event – even if you’re not there (which you’ll clearly regret – just sayin!)

This year Unilever’s Keith Weed did him one better.  In a well-crafted, visually-arresting presentation, Weed raised the stakes and the temperature.  While our “sleepwalking through the swamp of the digital supply chain” may have once (like in 2017) been seen as an advertising problem, it is now a full-blown social issue.  “Now it’s about how it’s impacting society.”  As the events of the last year have shown, the digital advertising machine has become a dependable financial bulwark for internet trolls, hate speech, misogyny and political destruction.  And Weed’s unambiguous message was that since marketers’ money had fed the beast, only the future use of that money could kill it.

He went on to say that that marketers will be defined and rewarded based on whether they end up on the right side of history on several closely-linked issues.  Yes, the kind of content a brand sponsors and enables is a critical responsibility.  But so is the battling of gender stereotypes in advertising and packaging; so is the protection of children; so is indirect stewardship of the environment; so is the economic treatment of growers and farmers and others in the physical supply chain.  The marketing dollar can either support good or evil in the world, and Weed has committed that Unilever’s dollars will stand for good.

Over a decade ago, Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s, one of the original direct-to-consumer, socially-conscious brands.  Up near my home in Vermont there was a righteous fear that Unilever would change Ben & Jerry’s.  Maybe just the opposite has happened.

Deep State Advertising.

Over the 20+ years I’ve known him, I’ve always thought Rishad Tobaccowala (now with Publicis Groupe) was a national treasure.   He has that rare gift of being able to intellectually surround an issue and then quickly carve it down to its most essential point.  So it was with particular interest that I read his prediction that advertising would decline 30% over the next five years.

He’s right, of course.

The principle reason he cites for this decline is the flight to ad free environments.  “We don’t value (consumers’) time,” he explains, going on to quote the valuation as “less than minimum wage.”  I agree, but for a somewhat more elaborate set of reasons.

Promotional Message:  You don’t have to attend the Seller Forum on March 7th to participate in our Sales Leadership Poll (but you probably should).  Submit your anonymous answers on questions ranging from market conditions to pay packages to GDPR to the number of sales calls you expect your sellers to make each week.  We’ll share the results with you right after the event – even if you’re not there (which you’ll clearly regret – just sayin!)

I think too much of the “advertising industry” is just that:  an industry devoted to advertising… to generating more and more and more of it; to giving each other awards for it; to managing it’s migration into every nook and cranny of life.  If we’re honest we’ll admit that the “advertising industry” has become a self-referential deep state affair, hell-bent on its own survival.

We’ll also admit that many of us have lost sight of the original story-line, the real mission:  that the purpose of our work is not to win the next agency bake-off or secure a bigger share of “the budget.” We’re supposed to be devoted to helping marketers sell products, grow their businesses, build factories and employ workers. Small wonder that marketers have come to see advertising not as a source of growth but as a cost-center.

To paraphrase noted Vermonter and 30th president Calvin Coolidge, “the business of advertising is business.”  Or at least it should be.

Not to sound like too much of a relic, but when I started out at a small ad agency at age 22, part of my training program was delivering beer kegs, shadowing bank tellers and working in a shipping warehouse full of car polish.  It may seem quaint now, but we understood on a visceral level the business our clients were in. And by extension the business we were in.

We’ve lost a little something since then.  I hope we get some of it back.