Strategy

The Holding Pen.


Five years ago in this space I wrote about The Illusion of Inclusion – the already-dysfunctional agency RFP process that gave digital sellers a false sense of progress and scuttled their sales activity before it could do any good.  Five years later the contours of the problem have shifted, but its impact is even worse.

In the scores of sales workshops and interviews I conduct, I still hear about well-intentioned sales teams pitching clients and conceiving ideas only to then get told We’ll be sending out RFPs in a few weeks.  More unfortunate still are the reps and organizations whose sole intent is to get a spot on that ill-fated RFP list.  In the intervening five years – as programmatic buying and consolidation have taken root — the number of winners has gotten shorter and the environment has gotten far less hospitable to non-platform publishers and sales orgs.  And participation in the process has gotten far more costly:  today’s RFP submission may include outside talent, events, technology, design, yield and more.  And all in service of a process in which you may never have had a chance.

Every sales leader wants a team that’s more proactive and strategic – a team that controls its own destiny.  But how to get there?  A sales workshop with Doug Weaver and Upstream Group is easier and more cost-effective than you might imagine.  Reach out to us today to discuss what you want for your team.  The consult is free.

Those whose offerings lean more into programmatic inventory, data and ad tech services may think none of this applies to you.  But it does.  We’re going to be looking at new vendors in Q1 and we’ll including you in that bake-off is just one example of you being effectively told to take a number.  The truth is we are all working harder to get the consideration of buying organizations that are operating short-handed and who don’t necessarily have the full confidence and commitment of their clients.  Being deferred or shuttled into an RFP process with dozens of competitors is professional quicksand.

What to do?

  • Have a clear business or marketing objective at the center of your proactive proposals and ideas.
  • Understand the client’s calendar and use important dates and time periods as leverage.
  • Qualify the decision makers you call on before you call on them, and then again at the close of each sales call.
  • Make it abundantly clear to your salespeople that getting on the RFP is not a victory; define the goals for every client or agency meeting very specifically.
  • Look hard at the time and resources you’re committing to answering RFPs; the creative talent and resources you’re expending would be better used in smart, proactive approaches to customers.
  • Be ambitious and unreasonable. If you’re only trying displace the weakest vendor on the list or just get a chance to show your stuff, there’s no room for you anymore.  Go big or don’t go at all.

We’ve been talking about the demise of the RFP for over a decade. Yet it survives.  And it’s become the holding pen for sellers, technologies and ideas that should instead be getting active, urgent consideration.  Accepting its failed promise is the worst strategic decision any of us can make.


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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

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.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by boostr. If you’ve uttered the words, ‘I don’t trust the data in my CRM,’ you’re not alone. The #’s are never right, split adjusting is a nightmare, and the pipeline is never accurate. boostr was built to show you your forecast for any time period, immediately. Request a demo at www.boostr.com or email success@boostr.com to speak to an expert. 

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.