The Dirty Secret of Sales.

The fact that you chose to start reading this post supports my premise:  People love secrets and shortcuts.  The dirtier the better.  That there’s a technique, phrase or trick out there that would make the whole sales thing fall into place is a seductive idea.   Indeed, sellers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on books, videos and seminars in search of this particular grail over the last several decades.

But after selling for my entire adult life and being a voice-in-the-ear for sellers in the digital marketing business for the last 20 years, I’m here to give away “the secret” – such as it is.  Here goes.

Discipline, grit and hard work.  Lots of it.

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Disappointed?  I get it.  But true is true.  Being a good seller is like playing good defense on the basketball court.  While only a select few can soar above the rim or hit more than half of their three-point shots, anyone can play good defense.  And, if fully committed, anyone can be a good seller.

Discipline, grit, hard work.

Good sellers have a strong sense of discipline.  They make lists, they stay organized.  They respect the clock and the calendar.  They know when three days have passed since the last contact.  Good sellers embrace process and pipeline.  They develop positive habits.

Good sellers have grit.  They stay in each conversation a little longer than is comfortable.  They go and find one more name on an account…then they go find another one after that.  They inspect their own work and progress.  If prospects are elusive, they don’t assume the door is closed; they assume it’s worth knocking again.   They don’t fall apart in the face of criticism or rejection.  They don’t fear falling down; they obsess about getting up again.

Good sellers work hard.  Great salespeople aren’t born that way.  They are forged by labor.  They get up a little earlier and stay a little later….not to be seen, to achieve.  They always believe there’s one more thing that can be done to help a deal close.  They take the time to properly thank their customers and their team members.  They do homework.  They go to see the customer, they visit the factory, they take the extra trip. Having estimated what it will take to succeed, they do 50% more.

Is this what it takes to be in sales?  No. It’s what it takes if you want to be good at it and deserve the business you get.   All of it – every single word – is fully in your control.

And not for nothing…it’s the same secret to success at everything else in life.

Six Questions: Wenda Harris Millard

Six Questions with WendaWenda has been my client, collaborator and friend for nearly 20 years, and is one of the most connected and influential people in the world of digital media, marketing and technology.  As President and COO of MediaLink, she advises scores of companies on the nuance and power balance in today’s landscape.  On Tuesday March 4th, she’ll be our keynote interview at The Upstream Seller Forum in New York.

Doug Weaver:  Last year during interactive week you were one of the first industry leaders I heard use the word “fraud.”  How big a problem is this and what can ad sellers and publishers do about it?

Wenda Harris Millard:   Fraud is one of the most serious issues facing digital media and marketing today.  It takes many forms – content theft, suspicious activity, clutter (ad collisions), non-viewable inventory and inappropriate content like hate speech and porn.  In all its forms it devalues digital media.  It’s a big business, not a cottage industry, and it’s harming consumers, content providers and marketers.  Just today the Digital Citizens Alliance published a report on work my MediaLink colleagues and I conducted over the last few months on content theft:  “Good Money Gone Bad:  Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business.”

DW: You led Yahoo! sales during a very good time.  Can the portals of that era – Yahoo!, Aol and MSN – play a critical role in an era dominated by Google, Facebook and Amazon?

WHM:  I believe they can if they focus on primarily on two things:  best-in-class utility offerings and high quality content.  Their roles will be different, but I wouldn’t rule out a comeback for these companies despite how much the competitive landscape has changed.

DW: Tell us three simple qualities that define a great leader in today’s digital landscape.

WHM:  Be curious about everything.  Look outward, not inward.  Never underestimate the consumer or your customer.

DW: Is there a red herring in our world?  What are we spending far too much time talking about?

WHM:  Big data…Enough!  Of course data is critical to almost every aspect of digital media and marketing.  But it’s not the data in and of itself that we should focus on.  It’s the derivative of that data – the insights – that matter. Consumer behavioral insights are what marketers want more than anything else.  Those insights are what should matter most to publishers, agencies, marketers and all the other players across the landscape.

DW: It’s clear that talent continues to be a major issue for our business.  What other industries or backgrounds should we be looking to raid?  We can’t keep going after the same 300 veteran media sellers, can we?

WHM:  As an industry we certainly need to bring in the data scientists, the statistics PhD’s, the mathematicians. We need engineers and product development people who want to build solutions for problems that actually exist – not the self-indulgent ones we’ve spent too much on already.  But looking to other industries for transferrable talent has not historically been part of our media and marketing world.  No, we cannot keep going after the same veteran media sellers; the skill sets we need today are very different than just ten years ago.  The combination of technical proficiency and the ability to read and connect with an audience and tell a great story – well, that’s a highly unusual individual.  But we live in a world of “and” now, not a world of “or.”

DW: Investors have their own way of determining value.  But what creates lasting value for a company in the digital landscape? What will define the companies that are still valuable and vital in 10 or 20 years?

WHM: Four things:  First, talent is everything so hire the very best and constantly trade up.  Second, culture will define your success, so pay attention to what you nurture and celebrate.  Third, being comfortable is dangerous, so constantly challenge everything. And finally, navel-gazing and looking in the mirror for answers is death.  You don’t have the answers; your customers, employees and others do.  Get over yourself!

There are a small handful of seats remaining for The Seller Forum.  If you’re a qualified CRO, EVP, SVP or VP of sales and would like to attend, contact us today.

The Fab Five.

The Fab 5I just read a great Forbes Article on “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM.”   I can tell you without a trace of irony that I LOVE stuff like this.  Considering the number of high-performer, type-A executives in our business, I’m sure I’m not alone.  So I thought I’d pick up on the thread and offer up “5 Things Super Successful Digital People Do All the Time.”

We Pay Attention to Hard Trends.  It’s too easy to get caught up the 24-hour hype cycle and lose sight of what’s real.   Super Successful Digital People measure everything against the hard trends of business and consumer behavior and stick with the practices, technologies and innovations that serve growing markets, logical behaviors.  It’s what helps us keep it real.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by PubMatic. With PubMatic’s platform, publishers have the ability to offer their inventory to over 400 global Demand Partners – ad networks, demand side platforms, ad exchanges, and agency trading desks – and have on demand access to all the software, tools and services they need to realize the full potential of their digital assets.

We Start the Day Proactively.  If you woke up to the alarm on your iPhone or Android and immediately began reading and responding to emails, then you missed the chance to take control of your day.  Most of us start the day in full reaction mode and then never really recover.  SSDPs center themselves first thing with some exercise, non-electronic reading, a bit of fresh air, the creation of a list or even just five quiet minutes of reflection.

We Humanely (and Human-ly) Use email.   Let’s face it:  in less than a generation email has gone from productivity miracle to soul-deadening time-suck.   Effective emails are always short, always personal and always well-considered.  Cover-your-ass CC’s, mindless “me-too” responses, “your name here” sales pitches and messages that are longer than the viewing window are all non-starters.  So let’s stop sending them.  And then let’s start using emails to say things like “Just thinking of you and realizing how long it’s been since we spoke” and “Please answer this one short question….”

We are Present When Speaking to Fellow Humans.  It’s a sad commentary that paying attention has gone from expected to polite to exceptional in just a few years.  So leave the phone in your bag; look into the eyes of the person speaking; ask clarifying questions; care.   A minute or two of an interaction like this is worth more than a day spent in partial engagement and permanent distraction.

We Improve Everything.  Or at least we try to.  SSDPs don’t accept the status quo very well.  But our improvements are not limited to website redesigns or software upgrades.   We aim to improve day-to-day processes, the quality of meetings, the little things we do to make our customers and employees feel special.  If you’re not getting better, then you’re getting worse.  There is no “neutral.”

As you finish reading this you might notice how closely all this “Super Successful Digital” behavior resembles really high quality “Human” behavior.


Help us, Mr. Wizard!

As a kid in 1960s Los Angeles I ended up watching the same show every week. The UCLA men’s basketball team would play even-up with some other college for the first ten minutes of the game. By halftime, they’d have a double digit lead. Then a romp. Game after game, season after season…victories…NCAA Championships. An astonishing ten of them in a twelve year stretch. The ironic part was the guy running the team: dark suit, horn rim glasses, every so often shouting out “goodness gracious sakes alive!” In the middle of the turbulent 60s and 70s, at the apex of the protest movement, in ultra-trendy L.A., the guy in charge looks like…a schoolteacher!

The recent death of this ‘schoolteacher’ – John Wooden, ‘the Wizard of Westwood’ – got me to thinking how much we could use such a schoolteacher in the turbulent 2010s, at the apex of the digital age, in ultra-trendy internet land. A few of Coach Wooden’s greatest bromides for your perusal (I’m sure he’d like nothing better than for us to pass them on to one another):

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
Far too many of us – individuals and companies – focus on what’s missing, what we lack. Winning is about making the most of our strengths.

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” The economic crucible of the past three years was a great time of learning. What did you learn…about you?

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” The great people and great companies don’t over-react to failures and they always adapt. In fact, they celebrate their ability to adapt.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Time management tip: Slow down.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Many people in our business are crippled by the weight of their own knowledge and experience. The only guy who really worries me is the one who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
Question your own process constantly. Much of the sales day is taken up by “stuff we’ve always done” that’s not really making any difference.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
Sustainable, long term success is always built across carefully cultivated team environments. Always. So whenever you think it’s just your own mad skills that are making it all happen, remember that…

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”