Things No Customer Has Ever Said.

I’ve often threatened to write a book filled with “Things No Customer Has Ever Said.”  In honor of this final short week of summer, here’s a short look at what might be on the first few pages. 

“I just wish there had been more PowerPoint.”

“That was great!  Could you play that sizzle video one more time?”

“So, you’re really that much bigger than your competitors?  Who knew!”

“Wait…don’t leave yet.  I haven’t really committed to anything.”

“Forget what I paid last time…let’s start fresh.”

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“Would you look at all those logos!  Wow, if those companies are buying from you then I’d better get on board too, right?”

“Oh absolutely!  Bring a whole bunch of your managers to the meeting.  It’ll be so much more productive that way.”

“Wait…you mean you’re the leading company in your space?  Heck, I had no idea!  That changes everything!”

“You know, we’re just talking way too much about our issues. This is feeling a little too much about us.”

“Hey Jenny…call everyone in here please.  This guy brought in his general presentation and I don’t want anyone to miss it.”

“I’m sorry, but there just weren’t enough acronyms and buzzwords in this for me.”

“Are you sure those are all the products you have?  I’ve got more time.”

“Would you mind flipping back to that slide with the map of all your offices?  I forgot whether your APAC headquarters was in Singapore or Hong Kong.”

“I’m actually just telling you that we’re waiting on direction.  You actually don’t have a chance in hell to get this but I just hate when things get awkward.”

“I was confused but those cylinders, arrows and triangles really sorted things out for me.  Thanks!”

“Tell me more about your founder!  He sounds like a fascinating guy!”

“You’re launching a new site?  Well by all means come on over!”

“You say your CEO is in town?  Shoot, that hardly ever happens!  Of course I’ll make time on the calendar.”

“Wait…that’s it?  It’s over already?  Are you sure you don’t have a couple more slides?”

We’ve just released the working agenda for our final Seller Forum of 2018.  If you’re a qualified digital media sales leader and would like to attend, request your invitation today.  There are just 12 seats remaining.

20 Years.

This particular New Year’s Day was a special one for me.  It marked the 20th anniversary of the incorporation and launch of our company – Upstream Group. Some of you reading this may know us only as publishers of The Drift, but we’ve also led sales and management workshops for several hundred digital companies over the past two decades, and continue to produce The Seller Forum, a peer-to-peer gathering of digital sales leaders.  We also played an early role in helping Rick Parkhill launch the first iMedia events, launched and ran the “Upstream Habitat” program for two years, and have been close to several great companies and leaders during their primes.  All in all, a pretty great run so far.

But you don’t spend time reading this or any other blog for nostalgia or self-congratulation.  So that will be enough of that.  I’d like to spend the rest of this post on a part of the past 20 years that many of you as readers and customers don’t see.  The part about running a small business.  Specifically, I want to give away some of the ideas – often stumbled upon – that have allowed us to flourish over such a sustained period.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by Digital Remedy, a digital marketing and technology solutions partner to publishers, advertisers, and influencers. Digital Remedy delivers performance-based and cross-channel solutions to increase monetization and operations potential of any organization while exceeding standard KPIs. Visit Digital Remedy to learn more.

Know Who You Serve.  We’ve always been super clear on this point. Our customer is the head of sales at the publisher, ad technology or data company.  Period.  Many businesses try to hedge their bets and keep all their options open, only to lose focus and belief.  With so much else uncertain, getting this one right early really helps.

Find a Repeatable Unit of Value to Deliver.   Early on, when your company is small and new, you’ll feel the pressure to chase all kinds of projects and contort your business to meet the latest needs of each new client.  Having one repeatable service you can offer quickly – in our case it’s been the sales team workshop – anchors your business financially and gives you something you can continue to get better at over time.  It also helps…

Make it Easy for Customers to Work with You.  When someone says “We should find a way to work together,” your response shouldn’t require more than a few words.  Having straightforward products and services and consistent pricing helps you two ways:  you quickly qualify and start business relationships with customers, and then – with the commitment settled – you can immediately begin to individualize and personalize your service.

Sweat the Details.  Your weakest moment can define your company in the eyes of a customer.  So be relentless about your execution, not just in your core product or service but on unsexy stuff like billing and logistics.  They will always remember how they felt about working with you.

Hire Well and Trust Quickly.  I’ve had to work on both of these. Especially when you have a small team, ask prospective employees process questions – get them to talk about how they’d solve a problem or overcome an obstacle.  Hire grit.  Then once you’ve brought someone on, trust them with more than you’re really comfortable.  They’ll either delight or disappoint you:  either way, you’ll have your answer.

Don’t Be Incremental.  Embrace big ideas and take big swings.  Approach each project and customer like you’re in a position to really change the world for them.  Great business relationships aren’t built on “one percent better.”  You will be defined by your ambition for your customers, and lack of that ambition means you will be forgotten.

If our small business has made a difference in your business or your life during the past 20 years, feel free to share a comment. Just click on the little grey envelope at the top of the post.  Thanks for reading, and here’s to starting the next 20!

The first Seller Forum of 2018 is happening Wednesday March 7th in New York.  If you’re a qualified digital media sales leader, request your invitation today.  Or go to to learn more.  

What Did You Bring Me?

What Did You Bring MeIt’s rare that I’m asked to re-post a specific Drift.  Who am I to argue?

The next time you’re preparing for a meeting with a prospective customer (polishing the slides, queuing up the sizzle reel, practicing the demo and making sure all the “partner logos” are up to date) force yourself to stop and switch customers.  Instead of the 36-year-old product manager or the 40-year-old group planning director, I want you to pretend you’re meeting with a five-year-old.

This is not to say that customers are childish or somehow incapable of digesting important, detailed information.  No, this is actually not about them at all.  It’s about you and how you’re over preparing and ultimately overshooting your target.

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For those who have not yet had an up-close and personal relationship with a five-year-old (or whose memory of that relationship may now be clouded by intervening years) let me describe:  this is the human being in its most essential, most honest incarnation.  There’s relatively little depth or contemplation, and even less empathy.  As she should, she cares about her own needs, her own self-preservation.  Before you arrive, she’s probably not thinking much about you at all, and a few minutes after you’re gone she’ll have mentally and emotionally moved on.  Now I want you to consider your next sales call as if you’ll be meeting with this five-year-old.  How would you prepare differently?  Which assumptions would you leave behind?  How much faster would you get to the point?

Inside every human – every one of your customers – there’s a five-year-old, complete with all the fidgeting, self-involvement and impatience.  Preparing to speak to that primal creature means getting to the important stuff really fast…connecting emotionally….being clear.  As an assist, here are three questions that most five-year-olds like to ask, reinterpreted to help you prepare for better customer calls:

“What did you bring me?”  They’re not thinking about helping you out or what kind of day you’re having.  “What’s in it for me?” is the order of the day.  So… bring them something.  No, not a sweatshirt or US Open tickets.  Right away, first thing, hand them an agenda or a set of insights that specifically about them.  Talk about anything else first – your company history, other successful customer relationships – and you’re just spouting “boring grown-up stuff I don’t care about.”

“Where are we going?” Five-year-olds – and customers – want to know what’s next so they can get excited about it.  So describe the future:  What’s it going to be like when you’re working together?  How will things be better?  Bring the “shared destination” to life.

“When are we going to get there?”  Customers and five-year-olds are both impatient beings. Imagining them asking you this question every 3-5 minutes (as children do) will keep you honest, brief and relevant every step of the way.  It’s easy to assume you have more time and attention than you really do.  Sticking with that assumption too long will be fatal to your sales efforts.