All About Urgency.

A consistent thread connects hundreds of workshop discussions I’ve had with sales teams over the past 15 years:  how to generate and foster a sense of urgency in a channel where there are no closing- or air-dates?  It’s a huge issue, to be sure.  Without urgency, deals drift, pricing erodes, pipeline visibility becomes cloudy and your forecasting turns to mush.   The absence of urgency presents itself in many ways; here is one of the most common – and puzzling – scenarios.

You meet with a client directly – or perhaps with someone very senior at the agency.  They express strong interest in “working together” and perhaps are even “very excited” by what you’ve had to say.  In fact, they’re even going to recommend you go and see someone in the buying group. (Let’s call him “Steve.”)  Maybe they’ll even send you on your way with an email referral or introduction.

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Many of us would be delighted by such an outcome – at least initially.  But 95 times out of 100 you either don’t get the Steve meeting scheduled or, if you do, Steve has zero alignment or concern for the idea you’re there to discuss.  What felt like positive progress toward a sales was actually a deft bit of redirection.

The client chose not to stay engaged in the deal.  He chose not keep his hand in.  Why?  No sense of urgency was created.  So what would create that much needed sense of urgency?

Attaching the Idea to Hard Sales Goals: Mostly we speak in the clinical, antiseptic language of advertising, media and digital.  We’re peddling impressions and clicks and the cotton candy of “branding.”  How will your idea actually drive sales, or the incremental outcomes that lead to sales?  Nobody wants to be the one who says “Those incremental sales aren’t important.”

Humanizing It: Along the same lines, instead of “users” or “page views” or impressions, how many actual people will your program speak to?  Where do they live?  How important will they be to the success of this brand in a given market?  Losing interest in the latest complicated digital advertising idea is understandable.  Turning away potential customers?  Not so much.

Putting It On the Clock: What’s the critical launch date of the product?  What holiday will make or break the brand’s profit this year?  How long is their special offer valid?

Weaving it Into the Competitive Dynamic: How often do we talk about the specific competitive advantage our idea will provide over Brand X?  (That being, of course, the brand they truly dislike.)  Will this give them a competitive head start?  Will it help them exploit the competitor’s weakness?

Asking for Personal Commitment: This one sounds overly simple, but when was the last time you “personalized the close?”  When you asked the customer, “I know there’s a lot more to be done, but is this something you want to happen?   Do you think this is a good idea and can you help us make it real?”

It makes no sense getting to higher level decision makers and then leaving satisfied that you had “a positive call.”  The great sellers are the ones who will think deeper about the business, challenge, and remain fearless about pushing the customer a little out of his comfort zone.  And that’s really all urgency is about.

The ABCs of Closing.

I’m fresh out of a really interesting and compelling workshop today in which we spent a good deal of time on an age-old sales topic:  closing.  To the ear of the oh-so-sophisticated and evolved digital media seller, the word may have a rather tinny ring to it.  At worst it evokes the hard-sell used car dealer asking “what would it take to put you in this car today?”  At best, it basks in the retro-afterglow of Alec Baldwin’s classic Glengarry Glen Ross cameo.  (“Third prize is you’re fired.”) But closing is not just relevant in our world, it’s an especially vital survival skill.

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Let’s start with the symptoms and the prognosis.  In digital media, there are no closing dates or air dates.  Most anything that we could run on Tuesday can just as easily run Thursday instead.  While we have the occasional dated content connection, there’s very little that systemically creates urgency.  So it’s just that much easier for buyers to sit on a decision, to let the deal drift, to offer soft, meaningless non-commitments.  Add to that the compounding issue of scale:  thousands of customers x thousands of vendors x billions of impressions = a seller with a forecasting nightmare.

In some respects it’s a self-inflicted wound.  Sellers sometimes don’t even attempt to close, preferring instead the shallow satisfaction of “a really positive meeting.” (Why spoil a perfectly good call by asking a question that might make someone uncomfortable?)  Still others water down their closing questions to the point where they become virtually meaningless. (So is this something you think you might consider somewhere down the road?As I’ve said in a previous post, this often stems from an overcautious desire to preserve “the relationship” at all costs.

But we need to start closing.  Desperately.  So here are a few practical tips to bring this dying all-too-rare practice back into play for you and your team.

A. Know what you want. You can’t close on an ask that’s not fully formed.  What exactly is it that you want this particular customer to do in this particular meeting?
B. Ask something they can say no to. If your ask isn’t something they could reject, then it’s probably too soft and fuzzy.
C. Make it personal. “Jane, is this something you personally want to do?”  “Rich, is this a decision that you personally support?”  Making it about the person across the desk is a great way of blowing away all of the abstraction and white noise.  You will know precisely where you stand.

Managers, you owe it to your company and to your team members to hold their feet to the fire and constantly practice the language of closing.  Your sellers will push back at first: closing will feel alien and mildly uncomfortable.  But who says being a little uncomfortable is a bad idea?  Your comfort zone is a place filled with non-committal, soft support and bad forecasting.

The Truth, Points 1-5.

This post and the one that will follow it on Tuesday are the republication of  “The Truth,” a Drift I wrote back in 2007.   As I’m sensing a desire among many digital and media sellers for a return to the core basics of selling, I’m offering it up again.   Sales managers, nice weekend reading for your team members.  Evergreen.

The Truth about your career in sales (in 10 simple points):

1.  THE OPPOSITE OF YES ISN’T NO.  The opposite of yes is anything except yes. Buyers just don’t say no. To quote Guy Kawasaki, “there’s just no upside to communicating a negative decision.” If you haven’t heard yes; if you haven’t gotten true commitment – and you’re always sure when you do – then you’ve been turned down and you’ve got more work to do. Save hope for things like Middle East peace. It has no place in your forecasting.

2.  FAST IS GOOD, BUT GOOD IS BETTER.  All your digital appliances and constant connectivity are conspiring to make you look stupid. Just because you can respond instantly to every collection of bits that hit your e-mail or crackberry doesn’t mean you should. Some of the smartest things I ever said are things I never said. A minute or one extra reading can make all the difference in the outcome of a deal, the survival of a relationship, your career.

3.  STOP ASKING “GREAT QUESTIONS” AND START BEING INTERESTED.  A sales meeting isn’t the invasion of Normandy. Stop over-thinking and over-planning the conversation. Human beings want to be heard and understood. They want to be appreciated and to feel interesting and wise. The very best salespeople are those who bring a warm curiosity to the meeting. They delight in learning and they listen to understand.

4.  WHEREVER YOU ARE, BE THERE. Sales is a great job, but it can be pretty consuming. When you’re doing it, give it your all. But when you’re not supposed to be doing it – like, say, when you’re with your kids or visiting your aging parents – then let it alone. You don’t lose the spouse and kids because you travel or work long hours; you lose them because even when you’re there you’re not really there. We look back at the 1960s and bemoan a generation of executives who lived at work. Are we the generation who never unplugged?

5.  CLIENTS AREN’T MONOGAMOUS. They don’t even get married. If you’re waiting for a moment when you’ll achieve permanence in a customer relationship, you’re baying at the moon. Your life is going to be more like the one Adam Sandler experienced in “50 First Dates.” Assume you’ve got to keep proving yourself and making them fall in love with you all over again, every single day.

Look for points 6-10 in the next Drift post on Tuesday June 8th.