The New Normal?


Understanding our business by following the recent headlines about digital publishers is like learning civics by binge-watching cable news.  Yes, there are real issues and struggles. But there is also a fair bit of handwaving, amplification and ginned-up drama.

Yes, it’s awful if your job was eliminated in your company’s recent RIF.  Yes, it sucks if the company’s recent pivot and reorg means you’re now doing a job you don’t like quite as much.  And yes, it’s lousy that your firm has gotten a big haircut in its valuation.

But no, this is not the beginning of the end.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: video units are being sold at an average of 6x higher CPMs than display ($8.46 vs $1.26), while PMPs for video are 2.5x higher than Open Auction ($16.86 vs $6.93).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

It will sound simplistic and reductive, but having spent a full quarter of a century in digital media has given me some perspective on our latest crisis of confidence.  And since perspective seems to be in short supply just now, let me share.

Hegemony is Not Forever.  We were once assured that winner in digital advertising was Netscape.  (I’ll pause while you look it up.)  Since then we’ve seen Infoseek, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and others come and go.  Consolidation is a fact of life – it has always been thus – but it’s also cyclical.  The biggest guys dominate everything for a while, and then the smaller, more specialized players make a comeback.

Don’t Think You Know.  Don’t compare your insides to everybody else’s outsides.  As we struggle with our own company’s glitches and limitations, we tend to romanticize the workings and success of others.  Having spent time in the backyards of close to 700 companies over the years, I can tell you that everybody has weeds and brown spots.

It’s About the Marketer, Stupid!  Put away your 2×2 competitive matrix and lose your copy of the latest analyst reports.  Obsessively pouring over The Racing Form won’t make your horse run any faster.  If you’re going to obsess, stay tightly focused on marketers and their immediate business problems.  There are audiences they can’t connect with and stories they can’t tell.  They’re confused and anxious and need your help.  Put your energy on them:  it’s their money.

People Matter.  Sure, great technology might win you some deals and make your company more valuable to investors and acquirers.  But the dirty little secret is that smart people paying attention to a quality process still matter.  A lot. Our customers are working with the lowest headcounts and brain-counts they’ve ever experienced.  Care enough and focus on the right things and you’ll earn far more than a spot on the plan… you’ll become an in-sourced department and you’ll be bulletproof.

Default to Action.   Every one of us has a finite amount of attention and energy.  Spend it worrying about your competitors or watching stock prices and industry headlines and see where it gets you.  Expect nothing…blame no one…do something.  You can’t control the outcome but you can control your own behavior and choices.  And feel great about the work you do…every day.


You, But Strategic.


Somewhere out there this morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. She’s staring at a number – her sales goal for the next several months. Her company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

Her managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell her to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell her how.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: while January 2019 CPMs are down 11% year over year, don’t necessarily fret. Overall revenue is up 17%, with impressions up 26% (US only, open auction, excluding Facebook).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

Here’s how:

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. If you answer all or mostly “no” then it’s a C account; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) Your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand?and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

This post was originally published in 2015.


Own It.


Whether you sell digital media advertising, online marketing programs, multichannel marketing or a sophisticated ad tech solution, one thing’s for sure:  there’s not an action, a word or a minute to waste.  Welcome to the age of intentional selling.

Living intentionally has been a long-held concept in self-help programs and books.  It means getting in really close touch with why you’re doing what you’re doing, choosing what you’re choosing.  It’s past time for those of us in this industry – and likely many others – to bring intentionality to the strategy and practice of sales.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by STAQ. STAQ’s Industry Benchmarking allows CPM comparisons against industry average by partner, deal type, creative, device, etc., through anonymized programmatic data sets across scores of publishers. Weekly Insight: CPMs for Mobile surpassed Desktop for the first time ever last week (US Open Auction Display): $1.15 vs $1.13. Join STAQ Industry Benchmarking.

Consider this: Never have so many had to communicate so much complexity to buyers who’ve had so little attention and so many filters and roadblocks at their disposal. If you’re selling in our world you feel it every day: the unreturned emails and calls; the sure-thing deals that slipped away; the in-person enthusiasm followed by radio silence; the ambivalence and uncertainty in your pipeline. It’s not you… it’s the world we live and sell in today. But the solution? Yeah, that’s you. Own it.

Being intentional in your sales career isn’t impossible, but it does take discipline. Here are a few keys to help you start selling intentionally right now.

Kill Your Sacred Cows. There are a thousand tropes and maxims sales people believe and act on every day. I must go all out on every RFP every time or I might not get another one… We’ve got to take them through the general presentation so they know who we are… Let’s get everybody in a room together and work things out. Being intentional means questioning – and often rejecting – conventional wisdom.  All the statements above will lead to needless detours, delays, false positives and extra work for your team. Which you’ll never know unless you consider alternatives.

Keep it Small and Honest. I’ve said in this space before that small meetings are always better than big meetings. And it’s still true. So many reps bounce between disinterested lunch-and-learns and way-too-inclusive RFPs.  The third way is to lean into small, one-on-one talks with key customers, sometimes on the phone.  And when you’re in one of these meetings, talk about what matters. Be honest and vulnerable.  Demonstrate to the customer that you want their business and ask them for commitment.

Lead with Needs. The ultimate hallmark of intentionality is to be obsessive about solving client business and marketing problems. First. It means not wasting a meeting or a call to find out what’s going on with them. It means having a point of view… a hypothesis… an educated guess about what’s ailing the customer and how you can help them feel better. You only get one chance to start an email, a conversation, a meeting or a relationship. Start it well.

Own It. Ask yourself why you’re there and have a good answer. Like I’m in this to really try to make a difference for this client… to help them succeed. That’s what owning your own intent sounds like. And if that’s the voice in your head, you’ll be just fine.


Face to Face, 2.0.


Sellers in our industry are tasked with explaining detailed technology, benefits and programs, and subsequently persuading the customer to act.  Each believes that — if only I could get the meeting! – he or she could make the case and make the sale.

Maybe.  Except you’re probably not going to get the meeting.  And you’re almost certainly not going to get it in time.

If you’re a qualified media sales leader or manager, reach out to us today to secure your company’s season pass to the 2019 Seller Forum Series.  Side-by-side with other industry leaders, you’ll hear from key customers, anticipate market behavior, and solve real management problems.

Consider that clients and buyers have fewer available hours on the calendar and less administrative and staff support than ever before.  They’re looking for fewer face-to-face meetings and can erect barriers to contact more easily than ever before.  And the average client is getting literally dozens of requests for an hour of your time every day.

Some sellers continue to bank on getting that hour in the office.  Others give up altogether and do nothing but transact by email.  But there’s a third option:  the well-planned phone meeting.  Scheduling a call with a tight, focused purpose puts less pressure on the client’s calendar, is more easily scheduled or rescheduled sooner than a face-to-face might be.  For reps who are trying to shorten the sales cycle this means fewer I can’t make the meeting but I’ll see you in 3 months moments.

But there’s also a powerful hidden benefit to the phone:  intimacy.

Structure and execute your phone meeting properly (more on that below) and you can use the phone call and supporting visuals the way a storyteller uses a podcast.  Here’s how.

  • Have Something Clear to Solve For. If the client won’t take a meeting just to be talked at, they’re not going to take a phone call either if that’s all you’ve got.  The incremental audience or enhanced ability to tell a crucial brand story will give your call purpose.
  • Share a Screen. Rather than a complicated video conference, choose instead to be looking at the same slides and images that your customer is.  A common point of reference can be more productive and less awkward for everyone involved.
  • Get to the Point and Keep Your Promises. If you asked for 20 minutes, then get down to business right away.  No glad handing early in the call.  Pace yourself and end on time.
  • Short and Simple. Two or three slides or diagrams is the most you should ever hope to convey in a phone conference.  Make sure they’re about the customer and the opportunity.
  • Ask for What You Want. If you can’t ask a question with a strong verb (recommend, approve, budget, etc.) then you’re not going to move the ball.  By respecting the client’s time and intelligence, you have the right to ask for clarity on where you stand.  Do it.  Listen to the answers and engage around them…that’s where the selling happens.

Don’t think of phone calls as just stepping-stones to in person meetings.  Nor are they something you’re settling for.  They’re a smart, effective tool that can speed up your sales cycle and help you compete in a time-starved world.


1,816 Sellers.


In 2018, I got the opportunity to work directly with 1,816 digital ad sellers in company specific workshops.  If you shared one of those rooms with me, here are five things I’d like you to remember as you get started on 2019.

Win the Middle.  While your competitors are wasting weeks chasing down media planners or betting the house on that meeting at CES with the CMO, you stay focused on the translators – those higher-level strategy, investment and account leads at agencies and their operational counterparts (media, shopper marketing, promotion, etc.) at clients.  Motivating just one to become a champion for your value proposition can make or break a quarter – or even a year.

If you’re a qualified media sales leader or manager, reach out to us today to secure your company’s season pass to the 2019 Seller Forum Series.  Side-by-side with other industry leaders, you’ll hear from key customers, anticipate market behavior, and solve real management problems.

It’s Not About What You Sell… It’s About What You Solve.  Uniquely.  What’s the non-obvious problem that your company is uniquely qualified to solve for this customer?  Being a solution seller doesn’t just mean calling your products solutions.  If you want access and opportunity, they begin with the identification of a solvable business or marketing problem.

Know Exactly What You Want and Ask for It.   Great meetings are the comfort of the weak seller.  If your goal is just to have a terrific meeting, you’ll reap nothing but pipeline ambiguity.  Here’s the trick:  write out your closing question – what you’ll ask this specific customer to do – before you go in.  If you can’t include real verb – recommend, approve, budget, introduce – then you don’t really know what you want.

Stay… Just a Little Bit Longer.  The real selling begins – and the real information flows — near the end of the conversation.  But only if you’re still there to hear it.  Ask another question… qualify… inspect.  Find out about other decision makers.  Learn more about how the budgeting process works.  Ask the customer how he/she personally feels about what you offer.

Write for the Small Screen.  If she’s spent even a dollar online, your customer is getting dozens of inbound emails every day from you and your competitors, and you all want just a few minutes of her time.  As a result, your potential client is filtering and disposing of emails on her phone.  Lose the long, brilliant emails and start writing the smart subject lines and strong opening sentences (e.g. I’m writing you because…) that will make sense on the small screen.  If she doesn’t swipe right, nothing else matters.

If you’re one of the 1,816, I’d love to hear what else you found memorable and helpful during our time together.  Click the black comment icon above or email me.  And here’s wishing you an amazing and intentional start to a successful year.