The world has already changed. The scientists have invented, the consumers have decided, the marketers are voting with their checkbooks. It’s only us – those who sell and buy advertising – who cling to anachronistic systems and practices.

Reading that first paragraph you may think I missed the programmatic decade. I didn’t.

Programmatic automation of commodity media buying was the asteroid that struck our genteel, structured world, forever changing the climate for agencies and publishers alike. But a dozen years after the big programmatic strike, most agencies and publishers still have the automation walled off and operating in its own island ecosystem. Meanwhile, the principal members of the tribe – the expensive sellers, buyers, creatives, account managers and others – have resisted the kind of radical species adaptation that the altered world demands.

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For one thing, we still – for the most part – rely on the anachronistic rhythms of a rapidly disappearing business. Languid planning cycles, RFPs, campaigns and annual upfronts were relevant in a world of closing dates, air dates, a fixed number of media providers and a predictable pool of available inventory. Today, everything that’s standard, known or predictable is transacted by machines – or soon will be.

Challenged to now manage more strategic and complicated marketing services – content creation, influencers, content marketing, events – many media shops have simply gone back to the much-maligned RFP. And while simultaneously railing against it, many publishers build their entire strategy – a strategy of waiting and responding – around this archaic system. Add to this our collective failure of imagination about how to integrate programmatic and high-touch solutions into harmonious programs. It’s not a pretty picture.

To radically adapt our professions as buyers and sellers would be to abandon the campaign mentality and embrace a perpetual cycle of problem solving and iteration. It would lead us to dismiss the illusion of budget stability and the silos and swim lanes it fosters. It would drive us to create and commit to new processes and structures for operating in what’s now a mostly-unstructured world. Our professional lives will be spent proactively, left of budget and in service to marketers, the products they sell, and the customers they serve.

Adaptation is hard. But extinction is permanent.

We are currently booking a limited number of team workshops for late Q4 and Q1 2020. To discuss what you might want for your team, reach out to us today. The consult is free.


Objection! Objection!

Technologies and publishing models change.  But sales objections are forever.  And this post from December 2014 is evergreen.

Objection ObjectionA couple of years ago in this space, I wrote about objections that we hear from buyers. More accurately, the post was about the statements that sound sort of like objections that we hear from non-buyers – those who have no intention of doing business with us, and who frankly just don’t want to face another option or have another conversation. I call these Scarecrow Objections.

This morning I want to add another bit of language to the canon: Objection of Interest. I’ve just started using this term in sales workshops and it’s proving valuable. An Objection of Interest is a (1) legitimate question or issue that’s (2) raised by a customer genuinely interested in a commercial relationship with you and (3) has the authority and means to advance the deal.   An Objection of Interest is like the bridge to a sale: if you can cross this, we can continue down the path together.

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The Scarecrow Objection, on the other hand, is not a bridge at all. It’s a parachute that allows a disinterested or non-qualified buyer to eject from the conversation. They’re not going to volunteer the fact that they’re not really interested: why would they? So they ask us rote questions about minute differences in technology or policy. Or they tell us they need a case study to prove a point. And sometimes they simply put us off with vague promises of later consideration – an RFP which leads nowhere, a buying cycle that never materializes.

My advice is to measure any objection or issue you hear from a potential customer against the 1-2-3 test outlined above. If you think it fails to meet two of the three standards (or if it does not meet the second one alone) then you’re looking at a Scarecrow Objection.   Do not waste time and energy uncovering facts or chasing down details and case studies: those are hours of your life you’ll never get back. Instead, simply qualify the objection: “If we could successfully solve that issue, would you then make the recommendation to fully invest with us?” On rare occasions, you’ll transform a Scarecrow into a legitimate Objection of Interest and create a new opportunity to sell. More often your “buyer” will show her true colors and the conversation will melt into a puddle of non-commitment.  I hope these ideas help you avoid the costly, pointless exercise of debating with a Scarecrow.

Suffering is Optional.

Man Sitting In ValleyEveryone who spends time in sales ends up hitting the wall eventually.  Things feel stuck:  prospects don’t seem to be listening and buyers definitely aren’t buying.  The seller feels as if he’s swimming through Jell-O.  It’s at this point that I’m often brought in to work with sales teams.  Perhaps you’re in that place even as you’re reading this?

Any sales situation is really just an extended set of variables:  (1) price, (2) included features and services, (3) decision maker, (4) value rationale and (5) available funds.  It’s pretty much impossible to change an outcome – to unstick an account or a deal – without changing one or more of the variables.

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But when facing the wall, far too many frustrated sellers choose struggle over change; under stress, they cling ever more tightly to the familiar moves, the known patterns.  The solution, they irrationally believe, is in simply working harder; putting more of your back into it.  But this makes as much sense as repeating the same English words more loudly and clearly to someone who speaks German or Farsi and expecting them to suddenly comprehend.

OK, so what I’ve written so far is only mostly true.  Sometimes a pressured seller will try to change variables 1 and 2.  Slashing price or throwing armloads of “added value” at the deal might open things up a bit.  But the effect is shallow, temporary, unfulfilling and ultimately unprofitable.  You may convince your company to provide more goods and services for less money, but you’ve also trained your buyer that either (a) your deal wasn’t worth your initial asking price or (b) you’ll go even lower next time.

No, it’s variables 3, 4 and 5 that you really need to change.

(3) Decision Maker:  Whether out of fear or habit, the seller often sticks with the same non-responsive buyer relationship.  Bringing new decision makers into the mix seems hard, and dangerous.  But only by putting in the work and taking the risk does she shift this variable and open the account.

(4) Value Rationale:  Too often we go into the sales discovery process without a strong point of view on the value we deliver and – more importantly – how to measure it.  Instead we simply ask the buyer about their metrics and ROI yardstick and dance to their tune.  But there’s nothing wrong with telling a customer “we’ve both been looking at this the wrong way.”  Heck, I’d argue that you’re doing them a service.

(5) Available Funds:  The dirty little secret is that lack of available budget has never prevented a qualified decision maker from buying something he really wants to buy.  When you hear “our budget’s gone” it means “we just didn’t want your product badly enough.”  Suggest alternative budgets or build an argument for going back to ask for a budget increase.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pressure is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.  And if you’re the one changing the variables in your deals, you’ll suffer a whole lot less.