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.

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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.

Whole Selling.

If you’re in sales today, there’s a simple three-word phrase that you might consider tattooing onto your forearm: Finish the Job!

Unless yours is the most transactional commodity-for-price type of selling (in which case you have an entirely different set of problems), you are finding that getting the customer to “yes” may actually be the easiest, most straightforward part of the job. Bringing the deal to fruition, fulfilling the terms and ultimately recognizing the revenue… now that’s another story.

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The name of the game is co-dependence.  To realize success in today’s increasingly complex, high-touch program and platform sales, the seller depends on finance, legal, account management and creative services.  As this side of the business and the predictable tension and friction grow exponentially, weak sellers acclimate themselves to a culture of blame:  “I sold it, but (at-fault department here) didn’t do their job!”

No more.  Motivating, empowering and rewarding other team members for supporting your deals is the new definition of your job.  Don’t think it should be this way?  There is no should:  there is only must.  Great sellers have always realized this and behaved accordingly.  They are the ones who other team members gladly stay late for.  The ones who inspire and share credit are the ones who win.  It’s not even close.  This is not just what defines excellence:  it’s what survival and relevance look like in 2017.

Maybe there’s someone on your New York team who embodies this definition?  Along with the New York area’s premier digital marketing organization, I’m very proud to announce the 212NYC Weaver Award for Digital Sales Excellence.  If you’re a sales leader or manager in digital media, ad tech or services, you can nominate your special team member for special recognition by his or her industry peers.  I’ll be participating in the judging myself, and we’ll recognize the top three finishers at the 212NYC Winter Gala on Wednesday March 22nd in New York.

Sales excellence isn’t what it used to be.  And it doesn’t just happen.  It’s high time we started calling out the deeper qualities of the great seller…qualities that are driving a renaissance in our business and our profession.  It’s time to celebrate the best of the best among us.

The Half-Baked Pizza.

Half Baked PizzaLast week I said that sales was not performance art, and that we should instead focus on creating great shared sales experiences with our customers.  Stop focusing on your presentation and instead on how our meeting is going.  And as you engineer your next great shared sales experience, may I suggest what you’ll want to serve?

Skip the elegant meal laid out with care and garnish.  Instead, bring a half-baked pizza.

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In the name of service and professional appearance, marketing and sales people all over our industry spend thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing beautifully-detailed Keynote and PowerPoint presentations and binding together gorgeous handout booklets as “leave-behinds.”  The fonts are all consistent, the graphics crisp, and the ideas and executions and numbers are all exquisitely explained.  This sumptuous spread is laid on the customer’s table with great anticipation and optimism.  Then something curious happens:

Nothing.  The fully-finished, fully illustrated idea not only doesn’t sell; the customer doesn’t even get particularly engaged in the meeting. So what the hell happened here?  And how could it have gone better?

This seller has suffered the unintended consequence of over-presentation.  By crafting it all into a finished presentation, she’s sent the customer a subtle but unmistakable message:  Look what we built… it’s all done and we think it’s perfect…you can either buy it or not buy it, but it will never truly be yours.   Customers don’t want shrink wrapped packages: they want participation.  Don’t feed them a meal; take them to a cooking class.

For years I’ve used the metaphor of the half-baked pizza.  Show up with a pie that’s not fully cooked and a bag of ingredients.  Let the customer add a little pepperoni here, a few peppers there, maybe a little extra cheese.  When you let your customer into the creation process just a little, they feel a sense of ownership that can turn an ambivalent buyer into an intensively loyal advocate.

So stop beating up your marketing team because you don’t think you have enough slides.  Bring in a blueprint, some wire frames.  Show your customer a rough sketch of the house you’d like to build with them and let them move a couple of walls.  You just might be amazed at how much more house they’re willing to buy.