Eight Ideas.

It’s a vacation week, so I’m shooting out a very abbreviated Drift.  For the eighth month, here are eight short ideas.  Happy Summer.

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.  You have no idea what struggles and demons the other person – or the other company – may be confronting.

A customer will always build something bigger with you than he’ll buy from you. Participation equals ownership.  Let them in.

Don’t sell the drill bit.  Sell the hole.  Stop describing your products and start describing your customer’s life with your products.

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No customer has ever said “I just wish there’d been more slides.”   Rethink the nature of your sales calls and how much you really need to “share.”

Own your intent.  If you’re honest with yourself about why you’re making a decision, you’ll almost always make the right one.

Growth starts at the border of your comfort zone.  If you’re not feeling a little weird and uncomfortable, you’re probably just marking time.

Nothing sells itself.  Nothing.  Don’t just be another person who’s out there describing stuff. Your job is to change the outcome…and it’s a noble calling.

Stay…just a little bit longer.  Selling begins just when most reps are packing up to end the call.  The extra question you ask after it all seems done is the one that matters most.

 If you’re a qualified sales leader and would like to attend the Seller Forum on Wednesday October 17th in New York, request your invitation now.  Seating will be limited.

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.

5 Slides.

5 SlidesI’ve been working with clients on a new strategy for engaging clients on sales calls and navigating them through complex programs and offerings.  From introduction to agreement in 5 slides.

If you’re like many digital publishers, ad tech companies or other sales organizations, you’re probably a little intrigued by the idea.  You’ve probably seen first-hand the emotional and human cost of a PowerPoint culture run amok.  Your marketing and product people labor over the perfect company narrative, generating dozens of detailed slides containing heavy images and intricate builds and animations.  Your sales people feel the pressure to show all these slides to customers who not-so-surreptitiously check their phones and look at their watches.  Wasted opportunity follows wasted opportunity. And the worst thing happens:  nothing.

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So here’s the radical idea:  run the entire sales call with 5 simple slides.

Slide 1:  The Phrase Cloud.  This is a technique I’ve been teaching over the last 4-5 years.  Research the client’s business online and put up 5-10 phrases (headlines, blurbs, quotes) that relate to important business and marketing issues they may have in mind.  Your PC doesn’t have to be perfect or even mostly correct.  It just needs to be a credible effort at some homework. Let the client read the slide while you sit quietly.  Then ask them what they found most interesting and valuable.

Slide 2: The Challenge.  Write out a brief statement that answers the question “Why are we here today?”  This is the moment where you clearly call out the unsolved problem you are prepared to tackle for the customer.  Ask them how important they think this issue is and what other detail they’d like to offer.  Listen to what they tell you.

Slide 3: Process and Values.  On this slide are several statements and headlines that detail the process and values your company will employ as you work for the customer.  You’re establishing how it will be to work together before you tell them what they should buy from you.

Slide 4: The Solution Placemat.  This is a simple schematic that visually depicts the elements of your proposed solution.  Screen shots of products, phrases and numbers representing audiences and scope, visuals illustrating thematic ideas.  (If the client’s feedback on slides 1 and 2 changed things, you can simply cross out or add elements to this page.)  This allows the rep to conversationally talk through the different parts of the recommendation without a lengthy trail of slides. (And if something needs immediate elaboration, you can take a detour for an additional slide or trip to the site.)

Slide 5:  The Close.    On this slide the rep notes the initial price estimate and specific ask of the client.  “If we can execute this program and help you solve problem X, will you recommend/budget/green-light $X over the next X months?”  (Tip:  Many sellers are scared to death of such a direct question, but it’s the only way to truly qualify the opportunity — and the decision maker — and shorten the sales cycle.)  Be sure to include both a number and a verb on this slide.

If you’re thinking “but what about my company introduction?” don’t bother.  Your sales people will define themselves and your company much more effectively by getting down to business and solving problems collaboratively with your customers.  These 5 slides may be just the vehicle to let them do so.

Asking Better Questions.

Asking Better QuestionsYou may have started reading this post expecting tips on asking your client better questions at the beginning of your next sales call.  On the contrary, this is about you and your organization asking yourselves better questions before you even think about approaching your next customer.

Back in 2014 I suggested some of the questions the industry should be asking; questions that would help shape a better, richer future for us all. Now I’d like to get more focused on how individual sellers, sales teams and companies should start setting better agendas by framing better questions. First, let’s look at the core issue we have as sellers:  we rush the problem so we can start talking about the solution.  We’re either responding to a simplistic goal — better response rate, higher levels of visibility, improved reach or — God forbid — “branding”  — or we suggest it ourselves.  Like so many of Pavlovian pooches, we just want to recognize the stimulus and then launch into our conditioned response…usually a torrent of facts, figures, statistics, claims and credentials.  It’s time to stop the madness.

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I’m suggesting that we’d all be better off if we calmed down some and asked ourselves a few purposeful — almost existential — questions about how we create value for marketers and what they might really pay us for.  Here are a handful.

What unique or non-obvious problem is our company uniquely qualified to solve for this client?  You’re not going to read about this kind of an issue in the RFP.  This question forces you to be proactive and think about how your strengths align with the client’s needs.

How might we move beyond media and advertising problems and start solving business problems for this client?  Most sellers never get beyond the rudimentary concerns of the media planner, and that’s a shame.  Framing your solutions around business issues makes them more important and urgent…and gives you a seat at the client table.

If this client cancelled 100% of its advertising budget, how might our company still create value for them and earn investment from other budgets?  This is another way to get past the traps associated with “ad-centricity.”  Remember that advertising is seen by clients as a cost center — something to be managed and economized — while marketing is a profit center and a key to growth.

Knowing that your customer has more than enough places to run advertising (and doesn’t need another one), what’s the very best purpose and role our company could play for them?  This question is indeed an existential one:  At a time when ignoring swim lanes is becoming the norm, you don’t want to be the last one sitting politely in your silo waiting for the next budget. If you’re not trying to be more for your customer, you will almost certainly end up being less.

My standing recommendation to creative sellers is to buy a copy of “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas” by Warren Berger.  It will change you.

There are just five seats left for the Seller Forum on June 7th in New York.  If you’re a qualified media sales leader and want to hear from key clients, analyze original research on seller mobility and understand how to retain your best sales people, request your invitation today.

So, Who Do You Compete With…?

So Who Do You Compete WithIteration cripples and marginal thinking kills.  But we still see too many examples of companies and teams who think only about being one feature ahead or one degree better than a perceived competitor.  Blue Ocean Strategy, a business classic, is both antidote and recipe.  Here’s what I wrote about the concept back in 2010.  Perhaps even more relevant now.

The master premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is that in formulating strategies, companies spend far too much time benchmarking the moves of their competitors; defining exactly who is in the competitive set, what they do, how well, and how to do it better or cheaper.  Because of this, most companies end up competing in “Red Oceans” for tiny margins through incremental improvements in performance or reductions in price.  These are called “Red Oceans” because they’re crowded with other fish and the water is quite bloody.  In our business it’s almost impossible to miss this phenomenon playing itself out across ad networks, digital agencies, technology players, data providers and sales organizations.  Massive human capital, creativity and energy is burned away in a dispiriting ‘race to the bottom’ that’s inherent in a Red Ocean World.

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.

Many breakaway successes, on the other hand, employ “Blue Ocean” strategies in which they create whole new market spaces for themselves, spaces where “…competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.”  There are a handful of core principles and strategic moves explored in the book — “Value Innovation,” looking across market boundaries, and creating a ‘New Value Curve’ — and it’s far more detailed in its tactics and examples than just about anything else out there.

And it’s hard to argue with the examples of successful strategies here:  Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, [yellow tail] Australian wine, Bloomberg, NetJets and even the NYPD all employed Blue Ocean strategies and achieved magnificent results.  The best part?  A Blue Ocean Strategy doesn’t rely on a massive influx of funding or new resources:  one of its strengths is that it helps you manage resource tradeoffs to maximize your customer value and zag while all of your former competitors are still zigging.

Think quickly of the three most dominant names in the digital media and entertainment world today and arguably you’ll come up with the same list I do:  Apple, Google, Facebook.  None of them achieved market dominance through benchmarking and iteration, and all created — and dominated — their own Blue Oceans. I’ve got more work to do but I’m convinced these principles can help many other talented companies break out of the Red Oceans that are sapping their value and burning out their best people.