The Drift

The Drift

Better than the Market.

Perhaps you’re freshly back from Cannes or already have a half dozen industry conferences behind you this year. In those environments you’re trying to make the market better for your sales team: Frictionless buying, data standards, uniform measurement and making sure your offerings fit in with the most recent agency/holding company data/buying mousetraps. Over time, if you’re successful, demand will improve: the market will get better, and budgets will grow.

But there remains an unanswered question: how will your team be better than the market?

In the dozens of sales team workshops and scores of manager coaching calls I’ve done this year, I consistently hear they cut the budget, they’re only buying lower funnel, and they’re not buying our category right now. I’ve heard economic trends, oil prices and even crop yield as justifications for missing numbers. Seller energy is spent on lobbying for new accounts or smaller numbers, because the market just won’t allow them to sell what’s expected.

Completely unreasonable goals and unreasonable management are, of course not OK. But questioning the premise above is quite reasonable. Selling is about the strategies, efforts and execution to be better than the rest of the market.

Some ideas:

6-6-12: Every seller should have a strong six-week agenda for competing for already-budgeted campaigns. But she should also spend time every day on her six-month agenda: how she’ll proactively drive unique demand for your products and services. And some time every week on the structural and long-range stuff that will play out over 12 months with key accounts.

Diversification: If you only ever talk to investment and media – on the agency or client side – you’ll only ever discuss price/value and features. Brand, strategy, planning, centers-of-excellence, shopper marketing, regional and local spending… these are the seedbeds for incremental demand, ideation and budgets.

Depth: Don’t go to the people noted above with the same case you bring to the investment team. Learn something about the customer’s calendar and what geography they need to support. What are they doing in local broadcast? What new products or line extensions are they launching? Who is their chief competitor? If your only expertise and knowledge are about the ad sales business, you are a sitting duck.

Diagnosis: Always have a solvable customer problem at the top of every customer conversation, every meeting, every time. In our foundational sales training program, Leading with Needs, we call this the diagnosis, and it challenges us to make it about them, not just the stuff we have to sell.

The next time a seller says They’re not buying us or The budget parameters have changed, I hope you’ll ask, So what’s your plan? Where else do you plan to look? Who else can we approach on the business? Or What else might you try?

If you’re collectively unsure where to start, I know a group that can be of help.

More Posts

The Other Side.

Yesterday at 3:26 pm, on the shore of Lake Champlain staring at the dark side of the moon during totality, I found something truly worthy to share. What kept repeating in my head was. "Tell them to start looking at it from the other side." On this side of one's career, there’s a certain clarity about what has ultimately mattered, what and who have withstood the tests of time and circumstance.

Beware of Ghosts!

Once your would-be customer has vanished into the mist, it may be too late to do anything about it. They’ve likely disappeared because they either weren’t serious about your offer in the first place, or for some reason no longer are. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get closure. And it certainly doesn’t mean you couldn’t have prevented this from happening in the first place.

Top of Mind.

To be a seller is to advance a sale, not to go through safe, predictable motions. To visit a customer only hoping to be Top of Mind for some future hypothetical buy is to suffer the subtle bigotry of low expectations.

The Pivot to Leadership.

If there’s too much anxiety, disappointment, disconnection, blame and short-term thinking within your sales organization – or within your own personal sales career – you’re not alone. But the answer isn’t better management or oversight or organization. It’s leadership. From everyone.

Changing of the Guard.

Will you end up seeing any interim revenue If you form a proactive "bridge plan" for a key account in transition? Will these steps rescue your original buy? Can’t say. But the choice between proactive service and worried helplessness ought to be an easy call. Treat this current disruption as just one chapter in the relationship – as an opportunity to serve – and you’ll be making its foundation stronger. And how can that be a bad idea?

Mind the Gap. Save the Quarter.

You can get anxious about the gap in your quarter. Or you can get busy. You won’t always close the gap, but how you go about it will always make you a better and more complete seller.

Our Friend Nick.

Perhaps there’s a friend in your life who shows up for you; not just with a kind thought or a supportive word, but ready to work. He’s someone you know will keep showing up, keep serving and doing for others, but he’ll do it with such humility and grace that … well, you might not completely appreciate him fully until the day he’s not there. For me that friend was Nick Johnson. And that day was today.

Complexity is the Enemy.

Too often, we not only ignore the implications of complexity, we actively conjure it up. We share dazzling flow charts and demos, packed with cylinders and data sources and lightning bolts. Terabytes of this and nanoseconds of that. We let our geek flags fly… and unintended consequences follow. It highlights what we know vs. what they don’t. It makes the customer feel unprepared, under-resourced. Complexity is the petri dish where doubt grows.

Attention Neutrality.

Want attention? Then pay more than your share. Do the work up front to really understand those on the other side of the screen. Engage in pre-meeting communication and planning to really align with their needs. Greet people when they show up. Have a second question to ask and really care about the answer. I’m going to work to be Attention Neutral going forward: for all I get, I’ll try to put back that much and more. I won’t just listen as much as I talk; I’ll care as much as I want to be cared about.

Working the Core.

In my career I’ve seen about eight of these economic pullbacks, six of them in the digital era. No one can say exactly how long, precisely how deep, or specifically which companies come out better. But I’m confident in offering one blanket prediction and one bit of universal advice.

12 for 2023.

We here at Upstream appreciate the hard job you do. May a look at this list give you the extra lift you need in a moment of challenge.

The C in C-Suite.

Most of us show up for our hard-to-book C-Suite interactions with an agenda that’s far too junior and tactical, and we get swiftly delegated or – worse – ignored. It's because we don’t fully realize what the C in C-Suite stands for.