The Transformers

Online advertising is on an amazing roll right now. The ground really is moving beneath our feet. Major marketers are emotionally and financially committed to interactive marketing. Broadband is washing over us, stimulating new and deeper consumer usage, even as it enables new creative strategies and techniques. Yes, it's a great time to be in our business. This is no bubble; it's an honest-to-goodness sea-change. And there's only one thing that can stop it:


The internet isn't an incremental factor in the development of media and marketing. This is an age of total transformation, and I fear only the guy who wants to do "just a little better." The best people in our industry-clients, agencies and sellers - all have one thing in common: they recognize the opportunity and necessity of transforming businesses in today's environment. Transformation is about more than a new mission statement or a new agency division. It's about rethinking relationships with your customers and vendors. It's about changing the vision and behavior of every person in your organization. And sometimes it's about changing the people.

Transformation may not sound like such a radical concept any more, but all around I still see the forces of incrementalism at work in our business. Customers who see "testing" as a way of life. Agencies that talk about "the big idea" but invariably drop into a defensive crouch and end up playing "not-to-lose." And perhaps worst of all, sellers who aim for 15% or 20% increases in their clients' commitment year-over-year. At a time when the entire media and advertising marketplace is in flux (TiVo + Network TV pricing arrogance + Broadband + Accountable Delivery = Massive Change) the small thinker is the enemy within. Show me someone who can't visualize 500% increases in spending on select accounts and I'll show you someone who's underselling the potential of the internet.

But talk is cheap. Transforming your own business by transforming customer relationships is hard work, but there are very real steps you can take today to begin the process.

  • TRIAGE. Regardless of size, no sales organization has unlimited resources, and we all get the same number of ticks on the clock. So it's critically important to choose the customers who you'll work to transform. You're much better off trying to do a LOT more for a FEW customers than you are in trying to do a little more for everyone. Constantly focus team members on the core of customers who have the dollars, the fit and - most importantly - the people that will enable and embrace change. And find ways to relegate small, incremental spenders to a low-touch, low-cost sales and service channel.
  • CALL UP. Decision-making ability is everything. You must constantly push and lead your team into stronger relationships with clients and with the "strategic translators" in the highest levels at ad agencies. Working your way up from the bottom sounds noble, but in today's deconstructed, high-octane marketing environment it's a dead-end strategy.
  • DON'T SERVE, SOLVE. In every conversation with every salesperson about every exchange with every key advertiser, ask the question: "What's the business problem we're helping them solve?" You can be a vendor of advertising products or you can be a strategic, intellectual resource to customers, but it's damn hard to be both. There is a huge, yawning strategy vacuum out there: clients are short-staffed, agencies are dancing as fast as they can. Put yourself in the strategy business and you'll put yourself in a position to win very, very big.
  • HUDDLE. It's not about headcount, it's about braincount. The most successful teams are... teams! The five-minute impromptu brainstorm often does more for transformation than the full-day offsite meeting. If your sales team is filled with cowboys, it's time to start turning them into posses. I've seen first hand the power of sales teams to help each other quickly and effectively generate ideas and solve problems.
  • SUPERSIZE. Transformational sales organizations always ask "How could we make this even better?... How could we do even more for this customer?... How can we blow away expectations?" Ask these questions - consistently, every day - and watch what happens to the caliber of thought and quality of business in just a few weeks.

Transformational organizations aren't always the biggest, richest or best known. But they are always the most disciplined. I'm convinced that any sales organization - given the right people and the right style - can become transformational. And since the only alternative in today's market is to become marginalized, isn't this a great time to start?

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver