Soft Power.


At the final Seller Forum of 2018, we’ll grapple with a fundamental truth about digital sales success:  As a sales leader you depend on many departments and people that you don’t control.  Whether they directly report to sales or not, the loosely confederated disciplines of account management, operations, creative services, marketing and research can seem – at best – like a thoughtful bureaucracy.  At worst, a self-defeating mob.

So how then do some sales teams enjoy the services of highly-motivated, high-functioning partner departments while others don’t?  Unified reporting structure? Better leadership in those departments? Superior recruiting and hiring practices? Maybe in part.  But the real difference is made through soft power.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Soft power is a term usually associated with international diplomacy – what we do when we’re not sending in the military. It’s how we foster relationships and advance policy goals.  It’s no less real in the business world.  When the sales team is frustrated by the policies or practices of a group or department they rely on, rather than circle the wagons and indulge in blame and outrage, great leaders look inward and ask a crucial question:  What can we do to motivate them to work better with us?  It boils down to a handful of controllable qualities:

Empathy.  Sales people rarely say Tell me about your job.  Instead, we’re always the group that needs something right now… an exception, a better price, faster delivery.  The first manifestation of soft power is empathy.  Once someone feels heard and understood lots of good things can happen.

Early Access. The universal lament of partner departments is not knowing what’s coming until it’s too late.  Talking at all about what’s coming – or even what may be coming – will be a dramatic improvement.  When sellers complain about knowing nothing themselves about client needs till the last minute, this indicates a whole different problem.

Qualify the Work.  Bad sales teams blindly and indifferently hand over every RFP and request as soon as it comes in. Good sales teams make judgments about which part of the request is most urgent and important.  Great sales teams actually triage the requests.  Your AMs and ops people know the difference between an RFP that’s MVP or DOA.  Do you?

Collaboration.  Another thing that salespeople rarely say is So how would you recommend we get this done? Every interaction needn’t become a brainstorm but assigning even a little control – a voice – to those you depend on is good business.  To feel truly involved is to feel truly invested.  And invested people act like owners.

In the long run, soft power works.  And it’s completely controllable.  If you’re not leveraging it, ask yourself…why not?

 If you’re a qualified sales leader and would like to attend the Seller Forum on Wednesday October 17th in New York, request your invitation now.  Seating will be limited.


The Interview That Doesn’t Suck.


If human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people?  And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up?  Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts.  But I’ve never met a topic that I couldn’t try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you’re focusing on all the wrong things.  But please, let me elaborate…

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Interviews are Not about Fact-finding:  Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter.  Then leave the candidate’s resume in your desk.  Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (“…so you worked at AOL?”)  You’re wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate’s Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company:  what would not have happened if you hadn’t been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer:  how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage conflict with someone in your organization:  were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values:  The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for.  But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don’t ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that’s not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what’s a trend or behavior that you’d bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers:  (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to.  Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw.  First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn’t get bigger, it gets worse.  Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say “neutral” or “nothing to add.”

This is Not a Democracy:  Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you’ll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate.  No edge, nothing strong, nothing special.  Agree ahead of time who “owns” the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint:  who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent:  There’s one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires:  Do you want to work here?  Of course it’s probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they’re really into you – of if you’re just “one of their safety schools.”

  • We’re not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only “yes or no” question I’ve suggested.

I’ll be eager to hear how your next interview goes.  Happy hiring.

This post originally ran in 2014.  Unfortunately too many interviews still suck.


Frenemies: A Review.


It’s not often that I’ve used this space to review or comment on business books.  But the blend of industry perspective and salacious beach reading found in Ken Auletta’s Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else) is irresistible.

Auletta, longtime communication columnist for The New Yorker and author of Three Blind Mice and The Highwaymen, attempts to frame the collapse of the modern advertising business over the past two decades of technological displacement, radical shifts in media consumption and the shape-shifting and land-grabbing by technology platforms, consulting firms and media owners – the aforementioned Frenemies.

I say he attempts it because Frenemies is ambitious but flawed.  It’s also absolutely indispensable.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

What makes the book so readable is also what limits its perspective.  Auletta anchors his narrative on a handful of big personalities – then-WPP head Martin Sorrell; GroupM architect Irwin Gotlieb; R/GA founder Bob Greenberg; Facebook sales chief Carolyn Everson; and most heavily — and controversially – on MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan. (Full disclosure: My company Upstream Group has featured MediaLink executives at our events, and I have spoken at a MediaLink internal meeting.)  Reviewers have called Frenemies “DOA:  Dated on Arrival” because Sorrell was pushed out at WPP prior to publication.  But to me a bigger issue is that Auletta relies on the Great Men school of history; in a search for the modern-day heirs to Burnett, Bernbach and Lois, he tells his story through mostly older white men (Full disclosure: I am one.)  Everson, in her mid-40s with two decades of business experience as the book was written, is too often described as mentee and protégé.  While the featured subjects are noteworthy, none seem to really fill the shoes.  Or perhaps that’s just the point: advertising companies no longer have people’s names on the door.

What the book does extremely well – and what makes it required reading for younger executives in our industry – is to conjure up the disarray and displacement of today’s advertising establishment.  You get a clear picture of the absolute free-fall that holding companies and agencies are experiencing.  It’s a story of recrimination, confusion and customer abandonment that many in the industry have failed to see fully even as they’ve lived through it.  Like the proverbial frog in the pot, they’ve not fully felt the heat as it’s gradually increased.

This displacement and disarray prepares the ground for Kassan, who with no small amount of help from President and COO Wenda Harris Millard, has made MediaLink the glue in the fractured, fragmented world of media, marketing and communication.  Kassan gets far more ink in Frenemies than any of the other protagonists, and in its pages – as in the industry – we find MediaLink at the center of every meeting and the heart of every deal.  If Frenemies comes across as Kassan’s biography, it’s not an uncritical one:  Auletta presents him as a mashup of Chicago’s Billy Flynn and Tom Hagen from The Godfather.  But perhaps the prominence of a character like Kassan  – a fixer in a broken world – speaks volumes about the state of advertising today.

Perhaps that’s the point.

 


Death by the Half-Hour.


OK, so maybe it’s not actually one endless internal meeting that’s consuming your entire business day, draining your company’s resources and crushing the spirits of those around you.  But it can sure feel that way.

In most of the companies I work for, meeting culture is out of control.  Unnecessary meetings are needlessly scheduled, badly planned and horribly executed.  Instead of providing clarity and moving critical initiatives forward, meeting culture creates even more confusion and uncertainty.  Its principal outcome is more meetings.  As a public service, here are a few rules and questions to help you end the madness of meeting culture and make the meetings you do end up holding productive and empowering.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Do We Even Need a Meeting?  The best meetings are sometimes the ones we don’t have at all.  Many of your meetings are automatic:  the weekly update, the kickoff meeting for the project and so on.  Before hitting send on that calendar invite, ask the question:  can we accomplish what we need to do without bringing everyone into the same physical or virtual space?  You’ll be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Don’t Use Meetings to Convey Factual Information.  If you can write it down briefly and clearly, don’t call a meeting to tell people the exact same stuff.  And here’s a tip:  if they won’t read your emails, they’re probably not going to really hear you in the meeting either.  The problem may be your own.

Answer “Why?” With a Verb.  Always ask “why are we having this meeting” (especially for the automatic ones) and challenge yourself to answer with an action verb.  Meetings should be about doing stuff.  Deciding.  Planning.  Prioritizing.  Choosing.  If the point of your meeting is to get everybody together or make sure everybody understands, then you’re setting up a pointless gathering.

Does It Have to Be a Half-Hour?  And Do We Need to Sit Down?  We always assume half-hour blocks for meetings, and we always book conference rooms.  A ten-minute stand up meeting can force clarity and action you won’t get around a conference table.

No Electronics.  If you simply have everyone leave their phones and laptops behind (or put them in a basket upon entering the meeting) you’ll have shorter, more productive meetings and breed a culture of respect and attention.  Knowing that no one else in the meeting is accessing their devices actually creates a sense of calm resignation.

No Hop-Ons.  There are almost always too many people in the meeting, and the reason they are there is too often political or based on fear of missing out.  Keep meetings as small and tight as possible.  And don’t be afraid to invite yourself to not attend a few of them.  You’ll be delighted by the new time you find on your own calendar.

This Drift was originally posted in May 2016.  For other ideas on how to reform your culture and recharge your organization, join us for The Seller Forum on Wednesday March 17th at the Viacom Building in New York. 


One Tiny Change.


If swapping out just a single word in your vocabulary would create enormous positive change in you and those around you – massively shift attitudes and perspective for the better – would you do it?  It will take discipline and consistency to normalize the new word, and it will feel awkward at first.  So…would you make the change?

You just need to start using the word for in place of other prepositions like in and to.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

For example, when composing your team or company mission, you might be tempted to write something like “Our goal is to be the best digital marketing company in the world.”  This may sound positive, but inherently it says there is a contest out there that we will win…we will be recognized…. we will be respected.  Being the best in the world….is about you.

But with one tiny change, your goal becomes being the best digital marketing company for the world.  It becomes about them.  It morphs from self-aggrandizement and recognition to generosity and service.

All day long, sales teams and the in-house marketing, technology and client service folks who support them focus on building and delivering the things that we can sell to the customer.  Small wonder that so many sellers feel a sense of creeping unease in their customer relationships; who wants to be thought of as a seller when selling seems to mean taking?

With the same tiny language change, we turn the whole thing around.  Instead of selling to the customer, we’re selling for the customer…. building for the customer… creating for the customer.  The relationship is no longer a transaction we hope to win, no longer a beauty contest in which we hope to end up with the crown.  It becomes about the work.  About deserving the client’s trust, respect and – ultimately — their investment.

In an age of ubiquitous video and visual overkill, this focus on words may seem dated. But words matter.  And in the culture you’re aiming to create and the career you are aspiring to enjoy, your words will either work against you…or they will work for you.

This Drift was inspired by my good friend Charlie Thomas, legendary seller and digital sales executive who has always been a great source of inspiration and ideas.