Ask the Question.

Ever wonder what mediocrity sounds like? It has the sound of the self-imposed limitation. It’s the stillness of the question that goes unasked, the hypothesis never tested.

They’ll never pay that price. That’s not how the customer wants to buy. Nobody’s doing it that way.

Nobody gets up in the morning and says, Wouldn’t it be great if absolutely nothing happened or changed today? But as we know, actions speak louder than words; sometimes the action is the choice of not acting.

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In our industry, we are constantly challenged to evolve, invent and grow…to imagine whole new courses of behavior and economic models…to hit bigger numbers by selling brand new products and crafting them into entirely new packages and configurations. But in the face of this challenge, many sellers never get out of the gates. Instead they immediately begin negotiating against themselves.

They’ll never pay that price. That’s not how the customer wants to buy. Nobody’s doing it that way.

When I led sales teams many years ago, and when I coach managers and individual contributors today, the advice I give them is shockingly simple.

Ask the question.

Failing to make the sale is acceptable. Failing to ask for the sale, the price or the terms is not. You may be right about how the customer will react, but go out and get me that ‘no.’ The act of making your case and putting an opportunity or a challenge in front of a customer creates a new dynamic and good things can fall out. Perhaps they start to actually negotiate and tell you where their boundaries are. Or maybe you end up finding another opportunity, or another path to the sale.

Ask the question.

George Bernard Shaw said, The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. Sometime in the weeks and months ahead, an unreasonable seller is going to get in your client’s ear and ask a question that seems unreasonable…and create a little bit of the future.

The only question is whether that unreasonable seller will be you.

Seller Forum will be held on Wednesday March 18th, Wednesday July 15th and Tuesday October 27th (New Date) at the Reuters Building on Times Square. If you’re a qualified media sales leader, reach out now for your invitation or to discuss your company’s Season Pass planning. Or visit us at

Nothing Sells Itself.

Next month I’ll be speaking at Programmatic I/O in New York about selling programmatic technology and audiences.  No, selling programmatic isn’t a typo, nor is it a contradiction in terms like jumbo shrimp or amicable divorce.  I believe the seller has an active role in an automated marketplace.  That the role hasn’t been fully realized yet doesn’t make this any less true.

The person who first said this technology (or algorithm or data set) sells itself was clearly not tasked with selling it.  We must believe in our solution, the logic says, and if it’s good all we should need to do is get it plugged in…get the tags up, get the master services agreement signed. The market will respond appropriately and it will provide, we tell ourselves.  But then, too often, it doesn’t.

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This is where the seller makes a difference.  As I’ve previously said in this space, there’s a big difference between selling and simply describing stuff.  So how, then, do technology sellers earn their keep and drive the business forward?

Draw Sharp Contrasts.  Only by understanding the deeper business and audience needs of the client accounts can the seller draw sharp contrasts between the quality and depth of their solution and the rest of the market.  Broad banalities like brand safe and premium don’t get it done.  There’s a lot of crap out there:  if your offering has real value to the advertiser’s business, you have to own that narrative.

Be Radically Curious. Far too many sellers are just happy to be included. They settle for just being in the game, which explains all those non-producing PMP deals and under-producing programmatic streams.  Until something happens, nothing happens. Strong sellers have hard conversations about how things work.  Who do we need additional support from?  How will planning and investment teams express demand?  Any rep who has just one or two points of programmatic contact is vulnerable.  And if you find yourself frequently waiting for stuff to happen, you’re in trouble.

Catalyze Activation. Once a programmatic buyer says yes to a PMP or other automated relationship, their attention and enthusiasm wane noticeably.  Strong sellers push back on what happens next – How do we get set up? Exactly how the money will begin to flow? Who will make the downstream decisions that will affect revenue? – and puts appropriate pressure on the buyer organization to get things going.  Many a promising business relationship ends up stillborn simply because the integration was never prioritized.

Merchandise Your Offering.  Someone once told me that you have to merchandise programmatic inventory and tech.  Indeed.  Just like the person in the supermarket who makes sure their product is at eye-level and supported by in-store signage and coupons, you have to constantly make sure your inventory or solutions are constantly in view of planning and investment teams.  We can’t just be supply sellers…we must also be demand generators.

Nothing sells itself.  And when we count on the technology to do the selling, that’s exactly what we end up with:  Nothing.

Look for me on Monday October 15th at Programmatic I/O in New York.  If you haven’t yet made plans, you can find out more here.

Get Your MacGyver On!

While a pale reboot has recently hit the airwaves, there can only ever be one true MacGyver.

If you were a live, viewing American in the late-80s, you tuned in weekly to watch Richard Dean Anderson (in the title role) save himself – and often Western civilization – from deranged villains and foreign powers.  What was so unique and magnetic about the character was how he beat impossible odds every seven days:  he was an ordinary guy (no super powers) who figured shit out.  Example:

A massive explosive charge is set to blow apart a dam and drown thousands of downstream villagers.  Racing the clock, MacGyver finds himself with nothing but a butane cigarette lighter, a transistor radio, a nylon poncho and an aging truck battery.   Within the allotted 42 minutes, a counter charge would be delivered by improvised parachute and detonated just in time to disable the bomb.  Village saved. Easy-Peasy.

Could you and your sales team stand a little disruption?  Want to take some new looks at seemingly-intractable sales problems?  If you’re a qualified media sales leader, request your invitation to Seller Forum on Wednesday March 7th in New York.  Better yet, sign up for a season’s pass and secure 1 or 2 seats at each of our 2018 Forums.  Go to for more information.

During a half-decade that included Iran-Contra, Black Tuesday and tense relations with a failing Soviet Union, this was soul-food.  Ironically, the MacGyver of 1988 is the perfect man of the year for 2018.

At a time when many in our industry are blaming an array of villains – the Duopoly, automation, consolidation, changing Facebook policies, etc. – for the impossible bind we find ourselves in, we may just all need to start channeling our inner-MacGyvers.  Figure shit out…come up with a solution…expand the possible.  We need to ask ourselves, WWMD?  What would MacGyver Do?

He’d work with the tools on hand.  MacGyver never had all the perfect tools and resources on hand.  He focused on how to use what was immediately available.  Many of us do just the opposite.

He’d work fast.  MacGyver was always conscious of a ticking clock. It gave him a mental clarity that allowed him to dial right into the heart of the problem.  He spent none of his precious time lamenting the situation.

He’d come up with unusual combinations.  MacGyver never picked up just one tool and asked, “Will this work?”  Nope, he was all about how the battery acid and the butane would blend to form a new compound, and how the nylon poncho could be used to parachute the charge to its destination.  Far too many of us think about selling and applying one product at a time.

He’d attack big problems, head on.  MacGyver wasn’t about just finding a way out of the locked room, knocking out a guard and alerting the army.  Nope…nothing incremental in this guy.  From the jump he’d be about finding the biggest, hairiest problem to solve…with the biggest stakes.  Too many of us take tiny swings at marginal issues, expecting that showing a quarter-point of difference will somehow buy us another 15 minutes of consideration from our customer.  It’s a sucker’s game…and MacGyver wouldn’t play it!

Sure, MacGyver was just a TV show.  But still, each of us has a little MacGyver inside.  Maybe this is just the environment where we let him loose.


Write This Down: Part Two

Back on May 9th, I posted part one of my “Write This Down!” series – really just a running list of helpful sayings and ideas that I share with sellers in my workshops.  Today we add to the list.  Enjoy and share.

The Opposite of yes isn’t no.   The opposite of yes is anything other than yes.  Most sellers don’t get this fact.  They hear “we’re waiting on our budget” or “we have a couple more proposals to look at” and they stop selling.  They don’t see these as the objections or brushoffs that they are and fail to qualify them further.   Hence all the ambivalence and murkiness in your pipeline.

The opposite of selling isn’t not selling.  It’s describing.  This idea prompted the biggest response I’ve ever gotten to The Drift.  Somewhere along the line we lost the connection between sales and actually selling stuff.  The goal is to persuade and change the outcome.   But sellers and those who support them seem completely focused on just endlessly describing stuff.

Don’t take no from someone who can’t also tell you yes.  This ancient gem still shines.  It’s particularly poignant in our industry because of all the lower-level gatekeepers whose main purpose seems to be role-preservation.  Sellers either don’t know these bureaucrats can’t green-light projects or are just too frightened of ‘getting in trouble’ to push any boundaries.

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Big decision makers want to make big decisions.  I like to talk to sales teams about the client’s floor of consideration.  We think that by keeping the price minuscule and reassuring everyone that it’s just a test we are making the customer more likely to act.  But serious executives don’t want to take political and business risks to spend $50-100K.  Risk aversion only works with those who probably don’t want to buy from you anyway.

Work backward from the cost of the unsolved problem.  The core of the media sale is to stack up enough units of value – pre-rolls, banners, videos, full page takeovers, impressions, etc. – to justify a price tag.  But it’s not about that anymore. As I like to say, if you want to make a million dollars, go find a $20 million problem to solve. One of the crippling limitations of media thinking is that we never stop to consider what the unsolved problem – or the unrealized opportunity – is really worth.

Stop negotiating against yourself.  Speaking of crippling downsides…  Experience is a great teacher in our business.  Unfortunately it tends to teach limitations.  Show me 10 “experienced digital sellers” and I’ll bet you that eight of them know exactly why every new idea won’t work….why the customer won’t pay that price….and why there’s really, actually no way out.

Don’t sell or manage to what’s in the other person’s head.  Managers and sellers alike seem fixated on changing belief and getting others fully on board.  We talk of evangelism and winning others over.   But this just leads to endless cycles of guessing.  Instead, focus on discrete behaviors.  A client either agrees to recommend (that’s a verb) a buy or not; a seller either books a call, or doesn’t.  The sooner you focus on the actions of others the sooner you’ll be fully in touch with reality – and empowered to start changing it.

Whole Selling.

If you’re in sales today, there’s a simple three-word phrase that you might consider tattooing onto your forearm: Finish the Job!

Unless yours is the most transactional commodity-for-price type of selling (in which case you have an entirely different set of problems), you are finding that getting the customer to “yes” may actually be the easiest, most straightforward part of the job. Bringing the deal to fruition, fulfilling the terms and ultimately recognizing the revenue… now that’s another story.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux, the Salesforce DMP.  Krux drives more valuable content, commerce, and advertising experiences for the world’s leading marketers and media companies. Clients include Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, JetBlue, Kellogg, L’Oréal, Meredith Corporation, NewsCorp, the BBC, and Peugeot Citroen. Learn more at

The name of the game is co-dependence.  To realize success in today’s increasingly complex, high-touch program and platform sales, the seller depends on finance, legal, account management and creative services.  As this side of the business and the predictable tension and friction grow exponentially, weak sellers acclimate themselves to a culture of blame:  “I sold it, but (at-fault department here) didn’t do their job!”

No more.  Motivating, empowering and rewarding other team members for supporting your deals is the new definition of your job.  Don’t think it should be this way?  There is no should:  there is only must.  Great sellers have always realized this and behaved accordingly.  They are the ones who other team members gladly stay late for.  The ones who inspire and share credit are the ones who win.  It’s not even close.  This is not just what defines excellence:  it’s what survival and relevance look like in 2017.

Maybe there’s someone on your New York team who embodies this definition?  Along with the New York area’s premier digital marketing organization, I’m very proud to announce the 212NYC Weaver Award for Digital Sales Excellence.  If you’re a sales leader or manager in digital media, ad tech or services, you can nominate your special team member for special recognition by his or her industry peers.  I’ll be participating in the judging myself, and we’ll recognize the top three finishers at the 212NYC Winter Gala on Wednesday March 22nd in New York.

Sales excellence isn’t what it used to be.  And it doesn’t just happen.  It’s high time we started calling out the deeper qualities of the great seller…qualities that are driving a renaissance in our business and our profession.  It’s time to celebrate the best of the best among us.