sales

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.


Your Sales Strategy is Fatally Flawed.


All the elements are in place.  You’ve identified the key accounts that you need to land or expand in order to get to your number.  You’ve tallied up the number of deals that need to close per quarter and assigned them each a probability. And you’ve marshaled all the resources you’ll need to get the job done; aligning with other departments and making certain the presentations and demos you’ll need to sway the market are in production.  Your sales strategy is perfect except for one thing.

It won’t work.

Failure is predestined not because of anything you’ve done, but rather because of a flawed assumption at the core of your strategy:  You’ve based it on the principle of inclusion. You started with who’s budgeting for what, when the agency planning teams are going to receive those budgets and how you’ll win your share of each.  It’s all about how you’ll be included in the budgets and plans and buys.  But the game is rigged. The playing field is not level.  This is not a fair fight.

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In addition to the natural consolidation in the market – the rich platforms getting richer – the politics and economics of the agencies themselves come into play.  Never forget that as they spend their clients’ money, they are also running their own businesses…enterprises which are inextricably linked to one another through their parent companies.  The choice of vendors, approaches to buying, pricing models and more are all impacted.  And even if you don’t completely agree with my premise, you still see distribution lists for RFPs getting smaller and smaller.

No, in a time of consolidation, a strategy of inclusion is no longer valid.  You must embrace a strategy of disruption.  From who you call on to how you approach them to your pricing and business models to your range of services, you must disrupt.  Not on a handful of accounts, not once a year…every day.  Pull your team’s focus away from fully formed budgets and planning cycles and push them toward opportunity creation – identification of business and marketing problems and the relentless pursuit of senior customers who care about them.

Disruption means getting there earlier and fighting for senior customer access harder than any of your erstwhile competitors.  It means operating left of budget – letting the customer decide which budgets she’ll draw from or combine to pay for your smart solution.  Disruption means getting out of the media spending business and signing up for the business value creation business.

It’s not easy and it can be daunting.  But it’s the future of digital sales. And there is no long term alternative.


Sales Christmas.


As this is the last Drift of 2017, I want to use it to thank and appreciate the sellers in our industry; the women and men who put themselves on the line every day and who monetize all the great digital content and services that the other 99-plus percent of the world take for granted.  I also want to send along a few gifts – sales ideas and insights I’ve shared with salespeople like you in workshops throughout the year.

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Don’t Tell Me What You Sell, Tell Me What You Solve.  The era of the product describer armed with his dense PowerPoint and techie demo are over. You will succeed because you obsess over the client’s business and marketing problems and start every note, every meeting, every sentence with them.

Presence is Power.  We all live in a multi-screen world of perpetual distraction.  Your customers and co-workers feel alienated, unheard and ignored.  You will be amazed at how much your full, undivided attention and empathy can do.  Once they feel truly seen and heard, most of your job is done.

People Always Buy the Same Thing.  A Better Future.  It’s always been true.  Don’t tell me about your tech or content.  Tell me how my life will be different when we are working together.  And then work hard to live the promises you make.

Action Forms Around a Point of View.  Many sellers are afraid to take a position, to commit, to adopt and defend an opinion in the presence of the customer.  So they wait and see what the customer thinks and then change their own colors to fit the moment.  In doing so they leave their most powerful tool on the shelf.  Your informed point of view is fuel to the client relationship.  Bring it.

You Get Delegated to the People You Sound Like.  In our comfort zones we all speak the local language of tech and media arithmetic.  And we rarely realize that senior customers don’t speak those tongues at all.  So they send us to the people who might understand what we’re saying.  Commoditization ensues.

Do the Math.  Then Show Your Work.  When we estimate the actual size and cost of our customer’s marketing and business problems, something magic happens.  Don’t tell me you can help me be more efficient:  tell me how much money you think I’m losing every month I don’t work with you to fix my problem.  I’m not going to ding you if your math is off.  Show me your work and I’ll help you adjust your numbers.  I’ll also appreciate your vision and lean into our relationship.

#deserveit.  Nothing more needs to be said.

Live and Work in the Present.  The past is all nostalgia and regret.  The future is all hope and anxiety.  None of it does you any good.  The best sellers – the best people – are the ones who stay focused on what’s right in front of them.  If you get sideways or lose your bearings, sit down and make a list of what you’ll accomplish in the next few hours.  Win today.  Be happy today.  Do it often enough and you will build a truly great life.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a wonderful 2018 to all of you. We never stop thinking about you and send you our very best wishes for health, hope and happiness.


Do the Math. Make the Sale.


“I was told there’d be no math.”  ~ Ethan Hawke as Troy, “Reality Bites.”

Like it or not, there’s math.  And if you want to make the sale, you’re going to have to dust off the calculator.

When I work with teams of sellers in sales strategy workshops, I introduce them to a tactical tool called The Teaching Challenge.  Inspired by the great conceptual work of Dixon and Adamson in The Challenger Sale, it’s really just a very clear statement – preferably written and shared early in the sales call – that answers the question “So why are we here today?”  The answer should challenge the customer’s assumptions and summon up and re-frame an urgent business problem.  This then creates a meaningful path to your solution.

I’ve come to discover that the best Teaching Challenges almost always revolve around numbers.  When reps take the time to do the math – even if the math is questioned by the customer – it almost always creates the urgency and focus that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

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But very few sellers do the math.  Instead, they throw out meaningless generalities like “we’ll help you reach more millennial moms” or “we can help make your media plan more efficient.”  How many more millennial moms?  In what period of time?  What’s their economic value to my brand?  How much more efficient will you help me become?  How much money will I save this quarter?  If I’m the customer, I may not necessarily expect you to have all the answers.  But I at least want to know you asked the right questions.

But isn’t impossible to find these answers?  If your standard is immutable truth, then perhaps. But that’s not where the bar should be set.  Each of us can approach our customer with a working hypothesis about the scope and cost of her unsolved problem or unrealized opportunity.

Old, traditional approach:  “Young urban men are really important to your brand, and we’ll help you reach a lot more of them.”

After doing the math:  “We’re estimating that there will be 2.5 million urban, millennial men actively searching online for a product like yours in the next 6 weeks. Every 5% of that active market you win means $3 million in sales.  You’ve got a window of opportunity to get to these customers with a proactive strategy before your competitor, brand X, does.  We have the core capabilities to help you with that strategy.  Can I tell you how?”

Many reps avoid specifics because they worry too much about the downside of being wrong.  But it’s better to be specific and wrong than it is to be accurate and meaningless. Your hypothesis need only be credible, and you need only to be able to show your work.

So take a shot.  Do the math.  Bring your customer to the whiteboard to work on the problem with you and you’re halfway home.


Go to Their House.


At the very beginning of my sales career I had to deliver a lot of bad news. My first ad sales job – back in the mid-80s – was at a small, specialty automotive magazine that was critical to many of its advertisers. I didn’t know when I took the job that the magazine was in financial trouble and that I’d have to tell many of our longtime advertisers that they’d face an immediate 60% rate increase.

As a 25-year-old ad sales newbie, I can say I was categorically unprepared for the shitstorm that ensued.  Heck, I don’t think I’d be prepared for it even now. Advertisers yelled, they threatened and more than a few pulled out of the magazine. We were snubbed at trade shows and our calls often went unanswered and unreturned.

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Fast-forward 12 months. Virtually all of the advertisers on my list returned to the fold. Some even increased their spending with us. Over dinner at a barbecue joint in northern Mississippi near the factory-headquarters of one of these comeback advertisers, I asked him how we got “from there to here.” How exactly did we overcome all the bad feelings, disappointment and rancor to get to such a good place? His answer was immediate, simple, and one that I remember to this day.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he explained in his gruffly-distinguished Southern accent. “You came to our house. That matters a lot to us.”

He went on to explain that very few of the salespeople they spent money with had ever taken the time to visit their headquarters, to walk the factory floor and see how their stuff was made. “They’ll call me on the phone when it’s time to renew and they’ll shake my hand at the trade show, but they don’t come here.” During the dark period when they weren’t running ads with us, I’d made two trips to Northern Mississippi and was now making a third.

Despite all the technology and the instantaneous communication, people are still people.  They take pride in where they work, where they build things. And they know when they’re being respected and treated like a valued customer. Often, there is no next best thing to being there. You just have to go.

Carry this principle a little further… to the internal constituencies at your own company that you need so badly to execute and activate the programs you sell. Have you “gone to their house” lately? Most sellers don’t ever go and sit at the desks of the people they depend on every day. You send them email when you need something, you have a beer with them at the sales meeting, but you don’t go there.

Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. Be the one who came to their house. You’ll find, as I did 30 years ago, that it makes you exceptional.