In workshop after workshop, digital sellers ask me variations on the same question: In a marketplace that's so seemingly commoditized and anonymous, how can we fetch a fair price for what we offer the marketer? The answer lies in what I've come to refer to as ROV: Return of Value.
This is not to be confused with ROI -- Return on Investment -- which has become little more than a set of rigid math standards increasingly disconnected from real value. (The brainpower and resources already squandered in years of optimizing click through rates is an intellectual tragedy.) Return of Value isn't an arbitrary set of numbers the rep is handed by the media buyer, but rather a set of challenging business standards the seller sets on his or her own.
In short, Return of Value is the sum total of all the ways in which you reward your customers for doing business with you. It's representative of the ongoing commitment to truly making a difference in the customer's business, and a proxy for determination, hard work, service, attention to detail, generosity and value creation. There are probably dozens (if not hundreds) of ways in which sellers can return value to their clients every day. Here's a starter list:
Selfless Insight: The best sellers are those who constantly and consistently send their customers business insights that are not tied directly to an immediate sale. They go outside their own organizations and industries and seek out these insights, becoming an intellectual agent for their clients.
Analysis: Great sellers also return value by always offering analysis. In a world where we are drowning in "what just happened," they offer the life raft of "here's what it means." Marketers may have a headcount problem, but they have a braincount crisis. Become one of the small handful who are willing to share a point of view and you'll find a seat in their boardrooms.
Predictability: The dirty little secret of the web is that stuff breaks every day, and the whole system is somewhat out of control. You can return value by bringing a predictably excellent level of service to your customers; by taking personal responsibility, advocating for their needs internally and overcommunicating. In our world, "no surprises" is an incredible luxury.
Curating Networks: Returning value can also be about the people you connect. While many salespeople are crippled by their own desire to control the customer relationship and shut out others, the great ones are constantly connecting their customers to one another and to outsiders who can bring value of their own. Be the the driver of a quality network for your best customers.
If you're truly committed to returning value (and both that commitment and its execution are within your own control) and your business and margins are not growing, then its possible you're calling on the wrong customers. Marketers and strategic agency leaders consistently reward those who return value with higher CPMs, frequent access, better information and greater confidence.
And if you're a seller who falls back on "the numbers are the numbers and there's nothing I can do about it" ... well, then you're probably right about that.