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.

Suffering? Still Optional.

Suffering Still OptionalLooking through 15 years of Drift archives, and thought this would be a  welcome re-post.  Enjoy.

Everyone who spends time in sales ends up hitting the wall eventually.  Things feel stuck:  prospects don’t seem to be listening and buyers definitely aren’t buying.  The seller feels as if he’s swimming through Jell-O.  It’s at this point that I’m often brought in to work with sales teams.  Perhaps you’re in that place even as you’re reading this?

Any sales situation is really just an extended set of variables:  (1) price, (2) included features and services, (3) decision maker, (4) value rationale and (5) available funds.  It’s pretty much impossible to change an outcome – to unstick an account or a deal – without changing one or more of the variables.

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.

But when facing the wall, far too many frustrated sellers choose struggle over change; under stress, they cling ever more tightly to the familiar moves, the known patterns.  The solution, they irrationally believe, is in simply working harder; putting more of your back into it.  But this makes as much sense as repeating the same English words more loudly and clearly to someone who speaks German or Farsi and expecting them to suddenly comprehend.

OK, so what I’ve written so far is only mostly true.  Sometimes a pressured seller will try to change variables 1 and 2.  Slashing price or throwing armloads of “added value” at the deal might open things up a bit.  But the effect is shallow, temporary, unfulfilling and ultimately unprofitable.  You may convince your company to provide more goods and services for less money, but you’ve also trained your buyer that either (a) your deal wasn’t worth your initial asking price or (b) you’ll go even lower next time.

No, it’s variables 3, 4 and 5 that you really need to change.

(3) Decision Maker:  Whether out of fear or habit, the seller often sticks with the same non-responsive buyer relationship.  Bringing new decision makers into the mix seems hard, and dangerous.  But only by putting in the work and taking the risk does she shift this variable and open the account.

(4) Value Rationale:  Too often we go into the sales discovery process without a strong point of view on the value we deliver and – more importantly – how to measure it.  Instead we simply ask the buyer about their metrics and ROI yardstick and dance to their tune.  But there’s nothing wrong with telling a customer “we’ve both been looking at this the wrong way.”  Heck, I’d argue that you’re doing them a service.

(5) Available Funds:  The dirty little secret is that lack of available budget has never prevented a qualified decision maker from buying something he really wants to buy.  When you hear “our budget’s gone” it means “we just didn’t want your product badly enough.”  Suggest alternative budgets or build an argument for going back to ask for a budget increase.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pressure is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.  And if you’re the one changing the variables in your deals, you’ll suffer a whole lot less.

Strategy, 101.

Strategy 101Somewhere out there, early on a January morning, a seller has already been awake for hours. He’s staring at a number – his sales goal for the next several months. His company has a solid product, not a dominant one.

His managers try to motivate and support, but only being a year or two in management themselves they can tell him to ‘be more strategic’ but can’t really tell him how. 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. All no’s? It’s a C; drop it. Mixed results? It’s a B, so set it aside for work later.

We’ll be hosting the first Seller Forum of 2015 – featuring special video content – on Wednesday night March 11th and Thursday March 12th in New York. If you’re a CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of sales with national, North American or global responsibility, you need to be in that room. We’ll have a heavy focus on all things video this time, with plenty of other great content and discussion around industry news, financial visibility and lots more. Request your invitation today.

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.