Strategy

The New Normal?


Understanding our business by following the recent headlines about digital publishers is like learning civics by binge-watching cable news.  Yes, there are real issues and struggles. But there is also a fair bit of handwaving, amplification and ginned-up drama.

Yes, it’s awful if your job was eliminated in your company’s recent RIF.  Yes, it sucks if the company’s recent pivot and reorg means you’re now doing a job you don’t like quite as much.  And yes, it’s lousy that your firm has gotten a big haircut in its valuation.

But no, this is not the beginning of the end.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: video units are being sold at an average of 6x higher CPMs than display ($8.46 vs $1.26), while PMPs for video are 2.5x higher than Open Auction ($16.86 vs $6.93).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

It will sound simplistic and reductive, but having spent a full quarter of a century in digital media has given me some perspective on our latest crisis of confidence.  And since perspective seems to be in short supply just now, let me share.

Hegemony is Not Forever.  We were once assured that winner in digital advertising was Netscape.  (I’ll pause while you look it up.)  Since then we’ve seen Infoseek, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and others come and go.  Consolidation is a fact of life – it has always been thus – but it’s also cyclical.  The biggest guys dominate everything for a while, and then the smaller, more specialized players make a comeback.

Don’t Think You Know.  Don’t compare your insides to everybody else’s outsides.  As we struggle with our own company’s glitches and limitations, we tend to romanticize the workings and success of others.  Having spent time in the backyards of close to 700 companies over the years, I can tell you that everybody has weeds and brown spots.

It’s About the Marketer, Stupid!  Put away your 2×2 competitive matrix and lose your copy of the latest analyst reports.  Obsessively pouring over The Racing Form won’t make your horse run any faster.  If you’re going to obsess, stay tightly focused on marketers and their immediate business problems.  There are audiences they can’t connect with and stories they can’t tell.  They’re confused and anxious and need your help.  Put your energy on them:  it’s their money.

People Matter.  Sure, great technology might win you some deals and make your company more valuable to investors and acquirers.  But the dirty little secret is that smart people paying attention to a quality process still matter.  A lot. Our customers are working with the lowest headcounts and brain-counts they’ve ever experienced.  Care enough and focus on the right things and you’ll earn far more than a spot on the plan… you’ll become an in-sourced department and you’ll be bulletproof.

Default to Action.   Every one of us has a finite amount of attention and energy.  Spend it worrying about your competitors or watching stock prices and industry headlines and see where it gets you.  Expect nothing…blame no one…do something.  You can’t control the outcome but you can control your own behavior and choices.  And feel great about the work you do…every day.


You, But Strategic.


Somewhere out there this morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. She’s staring at a number – her sales goal for the next several months. Her company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

Her managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell her to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell her how.

STAQ is proudly underwriting this week’s Drift.  STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks provides insights into programmatic performance compared to the broader marketplace.  This week’s insight: while January 2019 CPMs are down 11% year over year, don’t necessarily fret. Overall revenue is up 17%, with impressions up 26% (US only, open auction, excluding Facebook).  Join STAQ’s Industry Benchmarks today.

Here’s how:

Triage. What are the factors that make one prospect more likely than another to become a customer? Are they cranking up spending this quarter? Do you have even one ‘truth teller’ at the agency or client who could give you the straight story? Do their preferred metrics and buying style align at all with your offerings? Have they been a customer before? If you answer yes to all or most of these questions, these are your focus accounts – your A’s. If you answer all or mostly “no” then it’s a C account; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

Decide What You Control. It’s easy to waste time lamenting what you don’t have, what a competitor might be doing, or how bad the decision making is at the agency. Instead, inventory those things you can control. They are: (1) your intent – are you really out to do a great job for the customer? (2) Your POV on the customer’s business situation – not just what you know but what you think is important; (3) the agenda for your meetings – a good answer for “why are we here today?” (Hint: if it’s about ‘updating’ the customer, ‘introducing them’ to your product or ‘learning more’ about their challenges, you will lose); (4) the quality of your recommendation; stop with the big capabilities deck; nobody cares. Decide what combination of products and services will help this client at this moment in time. If you tell ‘em everything, you’re telling ‘em nothing.

Start in the Middle. In between the CMO and the media planning team, there are a lot of people who can help you: account owners at the agency… strategic planning… group VPs… functional specialists at the client. Put away your pitch for a while and start teeing up honest conversations and email exchanges with these people.

Ask Better Questions. Ask questions customers can say “no” to. Will you buy from me? Do we have your commitment? Do we really have a chance here? Hope is too often the opposite of clarity. What you want to constantly be asking is Where do we really stand?and What can we do to keep moving forward?

Stop Waiting. If things are not closing because you’re constantly waiting on something – a product feature, a call back, a change in the budgeting process – then you’re not making a difference.  You can wait till things calm down, till you get through your inbox, till the weather changes. Or you can simply act. Take chances, try one new thing each day. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

It may turn out that the one you’ve been waiting for is you.

This post was originally published in 2015.


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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

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.