sales

Don’t Speak!


Quiet down now. Don’t speak, just for a little bit. Let the moment marinate.

Most of us in sales are running over-programmed sales calls in which every pause, every quiet second, is something to be filled and patched over like so many cracks in a leaky boat. We believe that there is just so much to say and explain that to waste even a second means perhaps missing the one point or feature that might create the magic moment. But it’s a fool’s errand: the magic moments were there all along… we just talked over them.

Those empty seconds of silence are actually filled with anticipation, consideration, curiosity. They are the wellsprings of customer collaboration and commitment to the idea. But as the seller you have to do more than just listen.  You have to program these white space moments into your sales calls.

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In the sales workshops I conduct for media and technology sellers, the problems to be solved are always remarkably similar: the seller has far too much information and detail to share; the buyer is far too jaded, distracted and evasive; the marketplace is confusing and filled with far too many competitors; the time together is brief and fleeting.

Too many managers – and sales trainers – give the shallow admonition to “do your homework” and “listen more than you talk.”  But that means little to the seller. What she really needs is a plan… a plan to provoke and manage those quiet moments of consideration and commitment. That’s what I try to provide, and there are just five parts to the plan.

  1. First, show the customer a slide that tells them a few things you’ve learned about their business, their situation, their needs, their competitors. Ask them what they think is most important on this slide and what else you might have missed. Then shut up and listen fully.
  2. Next, show them a slide or page that clearly (and briefly) outlines the problem you hope to solve for them. Ask them how much this issue means to them and what else is critical to talk about. Then shut up and listen fully.
  3. Before talking about your solution, show them a page that makes a handful of promises about the standards and practices your company will employ in solving the problem for them. Ask if these are important considerations and what else they value. Then shut up and listen fully.
  4. Now talk about your potential solutions. Stop the conversation at several points and invite some silence by asking “How do you feel about this? … What would you do here?” At each point, shut up and listen fully.
  5. Finally, ask the customer for a commitment: If we can deliver this will you approve $X budget for it? This may be the most important silence of all. Shut up and let your customer fill the void.

This is what programming the silence looks like. At each step in the process you are provoking a thoughtful response from the customer. The opposite of talking isn’t just listening. It’s being in the moment. And it works.

I first posted this idea in 2016. Is it still just as relevant to you and your team? A customized, collaborative sales strategy workshop is easier and more cost-effective than you might think. Visit upstreamgroup.com/workshops or reach out directly to learn more.


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.

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.

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.