Seller Forum

Road Trip 2019

As each year ends and we plan for the next, we try to start with an idea – a belief, actually – that will inform our work going forward:  Seller Forum discussions, The Drift, workshops, coaching conversations…everything.  So with one of our final posts of 2018, I want to be clear about what we believe here at Upstream Group.

We believe that the future for publishers and agencies is diversified.  Anybody relying on one product or one channel can start numbering their days.

We believe that marketers have finally chosen to believe their media agencies.  You’ve been telling them media is a commodity for 15 years and now they’re on board.  Media is a cost center now…we know the rest.

We believe there is no silver bullet.  Only more bullets.

We believe that it’s all strategy now.  Those who focus only on execution and tactics are the unskilled labor force of the next 20 years.

But we also believe that those who believe strategy is about a future that’s months or years away will fail.  We believe the immediate future will be won by those who can live well in the moment.

We believe that pivoting is not just for companies.  It’s one of the most critical personal skills any of us can possess.

We believe that success in our business is not a destination.  It’s an endless journey, a perpetual road trip.  Stop building your dream home and start thinking about what you’ll have room for in your car.  Those who keep moving, changing and experiencing will define success.

We believe that any good road trip depends on knowing the terrain, packing the right cargo, keeping the right fuel in the tank and choosing your passengers well.

It’s with these beliefs in mind that we are devoting our entire 2019 Seller Forum series to one single theme: “On the Road:  Marketing Navigation in a World of Perpetual Change.”  Though we’ll work to deliver a great standalone experience at each Forum, we’re thinking in terms of stages in the same uninterrupted journey.  Part One: Departure on March 6th… Part Two: Acceleration on June 5th… and Part Three: A New Gear on October 23rd.

Maybe you and your company have been part of the Seller Forum community in 2018 or for many years before that.  Maybe you’ve never experienced it.  But if you’re a qualified sales leader who wants to invest in yourself and your most valuable team members – your most critical passengers – we’d love to have you in the car with us.

Reach out to us if you’d like to know more or go to

We look forward to riding with you.

The Next Big Thing.

As most of you are seeing this post for the first time, I’m behind closed doors with a group of six-dozen digital sales leaders talking about something crucial – innovation – in a very non-standard way.

In our industry, we tend to think of innovation almost exclusively in terms of technology:  it’s always about a new algorithm or bidding engine or streaming solution that’s going to change everything.   It’s a natural conclusion, since we’ve all been brought up on the fable of two guys in a garage or a dorm room tinkering away at world-altering technology.  Jobs, Brin, Page, Gates – these make up our pantheon of digital change.  But there are two major problems with this narrative.  First, it disempowers the rest of us…we end up as hapless pawns on a chessboard that’s always on the verge of being overturned.  Rather than being agents of our own fortune, we accept helpless victimization.  The second problem with this fixation on “the next big thing” is that it’s not even true.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

One of our speakers at today’s Seller Forum is Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of “The Innovation Biome.” In his book, Mehta challenges the myth head on.  The next big thing is usually NOT a thing at all.  It can be a policy shift, an approach to pricing, or even just a change in a process inside your company.  In addition to not being things that one needs to invent, these examples also have one more quality in common:  they are eminently controllable by the sales leader and other executives in the company.

  • Amazon didn’t have to invent anything to offer free shipping and tie it to your Prime Membership.
  • Airlines didn’t have to invent new technology in order to create frequent flier programs.
  • Google didn’t invent search; only a radically different way to buy it.

Embracing this new narrative democratizes innovation.  It’s no longer a thing that 95% of the company waits around for (or fears), and it doesn’t only happen during formal brainstorms or executive retreats.

By simply questioning our assumptions, asking “How might we” and breaking down and examining our own processes, we can yield extraordinary results.

  • Can your team adopt a new pricing model for your services or inventory?
  • Can you offer free services alongside your core offerings to justify your premium price?
  • Can you reorganize the ways in which your teams work on client problems to deliver superior results?
  • Can you fundamentally change the approach toward meetings – both team meetings and one-on-ones – to build innovation and experimentation into your culture?

The answer to all these questions is yes.  How frequently, though, does our first answer end up being no?  Perhaps a better first response to most all of our business and revenue questions should be Yes…and….

The next big thing just might be you.

The Client Will See You Now…

The Client Will See You NowOne of the most anticipated and important conversations we’ll be having at the Seller Forum this week will feature marketers from three nationally prominent brands. (Since the Forum is a closed-door, no-press meeting, only those in attendance will hear from these marketers first-hand.) What I want to talk about in today’s post is why top marketers would come to meet with a roomful of sales leaders – because they are the same reasons why they might be likely to open to door to your company. But only if you’re truly ready.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

Let’s start with the reasons why clients have historically not been willing to meet with sellers. Truth be told, our view of client interaction has been fairly unsophisticated. After arguing our case with the agency media planning team – the lower court – we’d try and appeal to the client – the appellate court – to overturn the verdict, essentially asking the client to involve herself in a media planning decision that’s below her paygrade and beneath her agenda. A client – or even someone at a very senior level at an agency – doesn’t care whether one media or tech vendor ends up on a media plan or not. By trying to get them involved in this tussle, you bring them a brand new problem instead of solving an existing one.

So why would a client see you today? And why is today different than days past? Three words sum it up: Data…Creativity….Authenticity.

Data is so pervasive that it can seem like a commodity. But real, valuable, first-party data – and the ability to put it to work for the marketer – are in short supply. Marketers are viewing data through a very sophisticated lens: It’s bigger than advertising, bleeding over into CRM, retailer relationships, localization and more. The marketer will have a smart, future oriented conversation about data with you.

Creativity, also, is scarcer than you think. Sure there are modern day Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons toiling at work stations in agencies. But many of our companies are creating brand new palettes that agency creatives barely recognize. And ‘creativity’ in digital media today has as much to do with anthropology as it does with art. Media companies are simply closer to the behavior of the consumer than either the brand or its agency.

Authenticity is probably the one quality marketers crave above any other. Authenticity is what helps break through the veil of indifference and inattention and makes a brand or product genuinely matter to a consumer. The web is “an embarrassment of niches,” where consumers feel passionate and connected.   I don’t care if you call it content marketing, native, enhanced sponsorship or something else; the challenge is to bring their brand and your user experience together in a way to confers authenticity.

Digital has freed the captive genie from a bottle called “advertising.” Those willing to similarly free their imaginations and agendas from the same bottle will find a willing and open conversation with the marketer.  Just don’t try to fake it.


Six Questions for Tom Deierlein.

Six Questions for Tom Deierlein Nine years ago today, Captain Tom Deierlein was shot by a sniper in a Baghdad slum. His life since that day has been a remarkable story of service, leadership and transformation.Tom will speak at next month’s Seller Forum about creating your own personal leadership philosophy.

1. You think it’s important not just to believe in a leadership philosophy but to actually write it down.  Why?

People have in their heads how they want to lead but articulating this is tricky.  When you write it down on a page or two, it causes you to really, really think through how you want to lead…to think through values, priorities, and expectations. It immediately leads to a healthy discussion about how best to work together and — critically — in times of crisis it will guide your actions.

2. You’ve been in leadership positions in both the internet ad/tech world and the military.  Is there a common thread for great leadership?

I think that leadership is leadership.  I find myself guided by the 11 principles I was taught 30 years ago when I was a 17-year-old cadet.  It might be a high school student athlete who is captain of her soccer team, a Marine leading a team in combat, or a first time manager at an ad agency. The principles are the same.  I feel it breaks down into three major areas:

  1. Values and character:  People want a leader they trust and who makes the right choices regardless of consequences.
  2. Concern for your people: Genuine concern and desire to help them be their absolute best personally and professionally.
  3. Decisions:   Willingness to make decisions –including the hard ones — and be held accountable for them.

Technically there is a fourth:  Results.  Without success the other three don’t matter.

If you lead a national or regional digital media sales organization request your invitation to the Fall Seller Forum – “Leadership is Not Optional” — or call us at 802.985.2500 for more details. Two thirds of our available spots are already taken, so save yours today.

3. Can you give a short statement that tells us the difference between leadership and management?

I guess I’m one of those people who believe management is about things (process, operations, technology) and leadership is about people.

4. They say that adversity doesn’t build character, but rather reveals it.  You were shot by a sniper in Sadr City, Iraq in 2006 and spent most of a year recovering and rebuilding at Walter Reed.  What did that experience reveal to you about Tom Deierlein?

I spent 8 months in the hospital first in recovery and then rehab.  That gave me a lot of time for reflection and self-analysis. Not that I was an ogre before, but I decided to be a better person.  I decided to be more selfless and help others. To slow down and enjoy life more – let fewer things bother me.  As a joke, I call this ‘Tom 2.0.’ Whenever I slip back into undesired behaviors or attitudes I call it ‘Tom 1.0 creeping back in.’

5. Through the TD Foundation, you’ve made your story about more than your own struggles and successes.  You’ve tapped into something bigger and more important.  That seems like a good leadership lesson right there, doesn’t it?

Whenever you talk to anyone about charity and helping others I think you find they get as much out of it as those they help.  It is like fuel for the soul.  People that help others are actually happier in general.

6. Someone reading this post is struggling to unite their team and get them to perform at a whole new level.  What one piece of advice do you offer?

I just finished a great book on this topic called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”  But if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to set shared goals, communicate those goals, and then publicly reward behaviors that demonstrate teamwork and cooperation to get these goals accomplished.

The Unmanaged.

UnmanagedLast month 55 sales leaders joined us at the top of the Hearst building for the final Upstream Seller Forum of 2014. Since the session focused on leadership, we thought it would be a good idea to bring the voice of the front-line seller into the room. So along with our friends at Seller Crowd, we broadly distributed a questionnaire to find out how digital sellers feel about the quality of the leadership and management they get. Close to 600 sellers responded, and a good many more added color commentary via the Seller Crowd site.

If you’re the leader of a sales organization, or if you manage even one or two sellers personally, you should pay close attention to the results.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by comScore. For media sellers, comScore helps demonstrate the quality of their inventory in traditional and programmatic environments as well as provide tools for internal pricing and packaging. VIDEO and display environments benefit from detailed information about demographics, viewability and non-human traffic.

The short questionnaire was designed to get a pulse on levels of engagement, empowerment and support that sellers feel. It also factored in distance (are you the home office with your manager or alone in a branch territory?), levels of motivation and empathy (do they feel like their manager really understands their challenges?) Here are just a few of the results:

  • Across the entire population (589 Sellers) only 28% say they feel consistently engaged with their jobs and companies; an equal percentage say they rarely if ever feel engaged. For the remaining 44%, engagement comes and goes. This group represents the huge opportunity for managers.
  • We asked sellers to rate quality of the management they receive on a five point scale from “Exceptionally Well” to “Not at all.” 58% of respondents said they were being managed either “modestly but inconsistently,” “poorly” or “not at all.” Coffee to go with your wake-up call?
  • One might ask whether and how managers can make a difference. Looking more deeply at the “unmanaged” 58%, engagement with their companies was virtually nonexistent. Just 3% felt very engaged, while “rarely if ever engaged” jumped to nearly 50% of this group.

Seller Crowd seeded a few of these findings on its message board and sought comments. Here are a few of the things sellers told us there:

  • Managers too often wasted the precious time in team meetings or 1:1 meetings with seller just going over what was already in Salesforce. Why use potential engagement and creative time to go over numbers, which are better and more accurately recorded digitally?
  • Sellers reject “micromanagement” but not because they don’t need help. The busywork of over-reporting crushes them, and they don’t like not feeling trusted. But they welcome the manager who will help them “break the numbers down” and engage with them on strategy to open doors and land business. What are you doing as a manager that’s more important than this?
  • Do meetings with your sellers frequently get bumped in favor of something more critical? Yeah, they hate that. It makes them feel unimportant, disengaged and disconnected.

As we head into the Thanksgiving week, let’s be thankful for the trust sellers give us and their willingness to learn from us. And as we head into the new year, maybe we all commit to filling ‘the digital sales management gap.’