MVP 3.0

Who’s the MVP on your sales team?  And more importantly, why?

Through Upstream Group, I’ve gotten to work with thousands of digital sellers and managers over the past 21 years.  And I can guess why your team MVP is winning the award.  It’s for very different reasons than you might have awarded the prize ten or fifteen years ago.

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In 2004 your MVP was probably a lone wolf… a rainmaker with a Rolodex, charm and boundary issues.  It was a wide open, upwardly mobile time in the business.  The name of the game was revenue.  Full stop. Just get the deals… put numbers on the board…prove the concept… satisfy the investors or the markets. You didn’t have a separate rule book for your MVP, but you might as well have.  Don’t worry about profit or sustainability… you make the numbers, we’ll make the business.

By 2009 the world had changed, and you judged MVP 2.0 by a different measure.  He or she was a part of the system… could work the machine, whether that machine was a trading desk or the RFP rhythms of an agency media team.  While MVP 1.0 knew which ears to bend, 2.0 knew which buttons to push.  If digital selling was a game, she’d have been the one who bothered to read the inside of the box.  Don’t worry what the machine is actually producing… run it well and make it work in our favor.

Ten years later we live in yet another very different era.  Clients are demanding real outcomes with real customers based on real data.  Digital media and marketing are exponentially more complex and layered, and sales success is more interdependent than ever before.  MVP 3.0 gets the award today because she’s able to lead others to excellence.  He can sit at the middle of a project and organize, inspire and reward those around him.  She makes her teammates better even as she navigates them toward success for the client – a client who has infinitely more choices but is likely to be spending more with fewer vendors.  Don’t just make the numbers…make them work for the client and for us.  Margin matters and so do our people.  Make them both better.

On April 4th at the 212NYC Gala at the Edison Ballroom on Times Square, I’ll be presenting the third annual Weaver Awards for Digital Sales Excellence.  One award will go to a manager and the other to an individual contributor who are defining excellence in the New York market.  If there’s someone on your team who improves the lives and the success of those around them – someone who moves your whole organization that much closer to excellence – please take the time to nominate him or her today.  (Then be sure to tell him or her that you did!)  We’ll take nominations through Tuesday March 19th and will contact and interview finalists shortly after.

There’s an MVP 3.0 on your team.  There are scores of them at work in our industry every day.  Thanks for taking the time to recognize yours and showing our peers what excellence looks like.

Tickets and company sponsorships are still available for the 212NYC Gala.  Whether you are attending or not, you’re free to nominate a colleague for recognition. 

The Dirty Secret of Sales.

The fact that you chose to start reading this post supports my premise:  People love secrets and shortcuts.  The dirtier the better.  That there’s a technique, phrase or trick out there that would make the whole sales thing fall into place is a seductive idea.   Indeed, sellers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on books, videos and seminars in search of this particular grail over the last several decades.

But after selling for my entire adult life and being a voice-in-the-ear for sellers in the digital marketing business for the last 20 years, I’m here to give away “the secret” – such as it is.  Here goes.

Discipline, grit and hard work.  Lots of it.

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Disappointed?  I get it.  But true is true.  Being a good seller is like playing good defense on the basketball court.  While only a select few can soar above the rim or hit more than half of their three-point shots, anyone can play good defense.  And, if fully committed, anyone can be a good seller.

Discipline, grit, hard work.

Good sellers have a strong sense of discipline.  They make lists, they stay organized.  They respect the clock and the calendar.  They know when three days have passed since the last contact.  Good sellers embrace process and pipeline.  They develop positive habits.

Good sellers have grit.  They stay in each conversation a little longer than is comfortable.  They go and find one more name on an account…then they go find another one after that.  They inspect their own work and progress.  If prospects are elusive, they don’t assume the door is closed; they assume it’s worth knocking again.   They don’t fall apart in the face of criticism or rejection.  They don’t fear falling down; they obsess about getting up again.

Good sellers work hard.  Great salespeople aren’t born that way.  They are forged by labor.  They get up a little earlier and stay a little later….not to be seen, to achieve.  They always believe there’s one more thing that can be done to help a deal close.  They take the time to properly thank their customers and their team members.  They do homework.  They go to see the customer, they visit the factory, they take the extra trip. Having estimated what it will take to succeed, they do 50% more.

Is this what it takes to be in sales?  No. It’s what it takes if you want to be good at it and deserve the business you get.   All of it – every single word – is fully in your control.

And not for nothing…it’s the same secret to success at everything else in life.

Summer is for Managers (Part II)

Enjoy the second in our series of manager focused posts. Because nothing says summer like management theory!

Everybody wants to talk about great leaders these days. But this management stuff is pretty hard work!  Many business-people don’t seriously distinguish between leadership and management, but they should. As Marcus Buckingham says in The One Thing You Need to Know, “Leaders play checkers; managers play chess.” In checkers, every piece moves exactly the same; there’s one leadership message that applies to everyone in the company. In chess, every piece has its own quirky individual moves; management is about how you move and plan for the individual.

Over the past weeks I’ve conducted sales workshops for a dozen digital sales organizations, working closely with leaders and managers to “make it all stick” for their teams. It always comes down to what the managers do; what they commit to and how they hold their sellers accountable. So  let’s look at what managers do.

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Managers Break It All Down: When leaders and companies inspire with soaring missions and motivational gems it can actually have an adverse effect on some sellers. “I see where the company is going, but I just don’t see how I can get there.” The good manager sees the delta between grand vision and troubled reality and helps the seller navigate it, piece by piece. Which accounts have the best odds? Where will you spend your time? Who are the right people? The good manager understands that talented sellers often need help building a plan.

Managers Keep Track of Actions: In The Heart of the Game, Thomas Boswell points out that great baseball managers never obsess about the final score, which is after all just an outcome. Instead, they obsess about the interim actions and decisions that would have subtly changed the course of the game:  the base-running error in the second inning; the missed cutoff man in the sixth; swinging at the first pitch against a tiring starter. They focus on how the game was played, which is ultimately controllable. It’s the same with sales managers. Watch, discuss, correct and reward the behaviors that will lead to sales. If you don’t, you might be cluelessly celebrating hollow victories, lucky breaks.

Managers Remember:  It’s not sexy, but truly great managers are the institutional memories of their organizations. They remember what they’ve asked their team members to do and when; they remember the narrative of key deals; they remember the behavioral promises of those they manage. It’s one of the reasons great managers commit to CRM systems and consistent reporting; and it’s the reason why so many instinctive, “lone wolf” sales superstars end up making lousy managers. If you’re a great manager, your organization and process management are what frees your sellers to play a much bigger game for their customers, and for your company.

Once you’ve looked this over, share it with the people on your team. It might be the key to unlocking a productive new relationship with those you manage.

The Four P’s of Excellence.

The Four P's of ExcellenceWe naturally exalt success. Another great quarter…another deal won…achieving one more big number after another. But even as we congratulate one another on ‘crushing it,’ we can’t see that it’s crushing us. Success can be thrilling, but in the end it taxes and burns out and disempowers the sellers and organizations we count on.

On Sunday I spoke at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting about what might help our industry achieve the next $50 billion in marketer spending. I focused on creating cultures of sales excellence, and I broke it down to the four characteristics those cultures must include. We all know the four P’s of marketing – price, place, product and promotion; I’m suggesting the four P’s of digital sales excellence:

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Process. Every one of our companies has detailed processes for engineering, workflow, finance and more. But we cling to the idea that sales is somehow different; that just getting in front of the customer and talking is enough. It’s not. Process makes average sellers productive and helps great sellers soar. If you don’t have a uniform process and order to the way your people sell, you are handicapping them.

Practice. I’ve written about this concept before. Culturally, we are an industry that focuses almost exclusively on the games, and almost never on the practices. Sales managers are not patiently walking reps through the structure and content of client conversations in advance. The worst place to hone your skill is in front of the client. It’s what we do when the crowd’s not watching that matters most.

Pathos. This is the Greek word for ‘emotion’ and it’s missing from far too many of our client discussions. Embracing pathos means that we’re speaking to the important business situation facing our customers: the missing customer, the encroaching competitor, the ticking clock. Without an urgent business narrative, our products and stories have no immediacy or weight.

Point-of-View. Culturally, we are all very client centric. We ask our customers what they need and we fill out their RFPs. But in the name or service, we’ve become servants. As sales organizations, we’ve got to start taking positions. What we think and what we want for the customer are the beginning of account leadership. And in wide open era of digital marketing that’s ahead, our customers very much want to be led. If we don’t’ accept the challenge, someone else will.

Process. Practice. Pathos. Point-of-View. Simple, elegant and critical. I believe 2016 must be the year of digital sales excellence if we are ever to approach the levels of success that are ours for the earning.

Showing Up for Practice.

Showing Up for PracticeLook hard at the stories of truly great athletes and you find that raw talent accounts for only a few pages. And while we all remember the big moments in crowded stadiums and arenas, it’s invariably what those athletes do in empty gyms that matters most. Great athletes show up for practice…and they show up big.

The work ethic of legends is legendary. Kobe Bryant shooting 200 free throws….after the game is over. Peyton Manning arriving at the facility to watch film at 5:30 in the morning. There are just a few of the truly great, while there are tens of thousands who are ‘just talented’ and who just want the ball. So what does any of this have to do with you, your sales team and the year you’ll be having in 2016? Plenty.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Independent research has named the Krux DMP industry leader in strategy, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Krux helps marketers, publishers, and agencies deliver more valuable consumer experiences, growing revenue and deepening engagement. More than 160 clients rely on Krux worldwide, achieving 10x or higher ROI. Download the report today to learn more.

This year, I’m on a mission, and the mission is all about excellence. I want 2016 to be the year that our industry stops lurching from deal-to-deal, quarter-to-quarter and crisis-to-crisis and commits itself to the pursuit of excellence.   I believe this process begins with us recommitting ourselves and our teams to the concept of practice; to the quiet work and preparation the client never sees but always feels and buys into.

There’s just one thing standing in the way of our sales teams showing up for practice. Most of us don’t hold practices.

As a manager, examine your own day-to-day interaction with your sellers. Are you patiently asking them questions to see how well prepared they are for important client meetings? Are you giving them regular advice and guidance on where they’re spending time? Do you do mock sales calls together? Have you had a seller practice her closing question on you? From my experience, the answer to most of these questions is no. Our focus as managers tends to be entirely on the games and not on the practices. We use our group meetings to ‘walk through the numbers’ and maybe ask a few questions about what’s already transpired. We critique last week’s plays instead of practicing the ones that will help us win next week.

A strong, consistent practice culture is a necessary precursor for excellence. It will keep the great athletes on your sales team engaged and connected with your company and it will lift your mid-level talent to do exceptional things.

But it always starts with the manager. Are you holding practice this week?