Notes from DPS 2011

Going Beyond Content and Delivering Value in a Multi-Platform World

Deer Valley, UT – If there is one thing I learned after spending several days at Digital Publishing Summit 2011, is that the people in this industry really love what they do. It’s not easy walking past world class spring skiing in what is arguably the United States’ best ski area, and enter a dim conference room to listen to a speech on “Auto-nomous Data Management,” but every session played to an SRO crowd of media and technology executives. The crowd was a veritable who’s-who of the “Digital Display Advertising Landscape” (LUMA) map, so I suppose you could argue that these guys got where they are today by skipping lots of fun, and building advertising and media technology instead.

Among the highly informative (albeit sometimes sales-y) content at the conference, there were some gems to be had. So, here is DPS 2011, organized by quote:

“Value is shifting from those that produce the content, to those that deliver the experience of consuming it.” – Saul Berman, IBM

Saul Berman’s keynote address touched upon the disruption happening in our space, but even the overhyped keyword “disruption” doesn’t touch upon the true chaos happening as publishers learn how to navigate the through all the new social media, exchange-based sales, and various technology partnering opportunities out there. Do you make Facebook Connect your friend (as Kristine Shine from PopSugar Media does), to drive new unique visits, and build your audience? According to Shine, for her organization, the call was to “go all in” with Facebook. For others, like Todd Sawicki, CRO of Cheezburger, Facebook can kill publications by migrating all of their native traffic (like message board comments) to their environment, without returning the favor.

So, for publishers, the challenge is not just continuing to produce quality content, but to make it for a multi platform world, where consumers are just as likely to value the way they are consuming it. That means having a multi-platform approach—and a multi-revenue approach as well. Why does a full song from iTunes cost $0.99, but a 10-second sliver of that song, sold as a ringtone, cost $3.00? In that case, it is the application of content in a clever way that adds value, a nice use case for anyone monetizing content in an experiential way.

“Media will be sold like pork bellies” – Frank Addante, Rubicon Project

There was quite a bit of discussion around pricing at the conference, and the founder and CEO of the Rubicon Project was not wrong in insisting that, without significant changes, media would indeed be as commoditized as the humble pork belly. Unfortunately, this trend has already happened. Addante was right to highlight the unfortunate fact that the same article in the NY Times commands a $20CPM in print as opposed to $2CPM online. That value gap, Addante argues, can be closed by “realizing the true value of digital experiences.” Rubicon would like to see one big gigantic “open market” that enables the industry to expand the digital advertising pie from $40b to $400b with full participation, but the details were cloudy. If that market concept involves having publishers suddenly not to sell their entire remnant inventory into an exchange, then maybe we can avoid the pork bellies fate.  Addante may be on to something, however. What the industry needs is one trusted third party aggregate high quality inventory, and create value around it, but that battle is in its very nascent stages.

That being said, a good bit of the conversation was around pricing. Both Saul Berman and Tim Cadogan of OpenX deployed the airline pricing scenario, to argue for dynamic pricing models. For Cadogan, three levels of inventory equate to three levels of seating: Exclusive (first class), Premium Guaranteed (business class), and Non-Guaranteed (coach). Just as airlines frequently change the configuration of their seating to account for their routes, seasonality, and passenger mix, so must the industry dynamically price inventory, based on its placement and value. The OpenX Enterprise server hopes to achieve that by putting guaranteed and real time exchange inventory into the same platform, and use smart decisioning  technology to maximize yields. A very smart idea.

For Berman, it was not only about “having 5 different passengers, paying five different prices,” but also about exploring entirely new revenue models, like Apple did in “switching the razor blade model” with the iPhone (expensive “razor,” cheap “blades”). Publishers must go beyond monetizing their content through advertising, and start looking at generating revenue from the larger  “marketing” bucket. Right now, that is called “selling apps.”

“Premium brands need to be associated with premium content” — Eric Klotz, Pubmatic

Truer words have never been spoken. Klotz explored some recent survey data which asked publishers and advertisers how the way they are buying media is shifting. The results were fairly predictable: more and more budget is finding it’s way into real-time bidding environments, as brand and direct marketers seek new ways to target their desired audiences. That’s nothing new. What is changing rapidly, however, is that all marketers are demanding more placement control, increased transparency, and brand safety. Brands want the same direct connections with publishers they have enjoyed with guaranteed buying, with the ease and cost efficiency of exchange-based buying. The takeaway? If you are a publisher, and not looking at building private exchange connections with your demand side partners, you are in trouble.

That sentiment was hinted at in a panel called “Selling in a Cluttered Market.” For Jonas Abney of Hachette Filipacchi, “general content gets beaten by specific content every time.” Marketers are looking for laser-focused, topical content that captures user intent, rather than more generalized content. Moreoever, today’s advertising sale is more educational than ever. For panelists like AdMeld CEO Michael Barrett and PubMatic’s Andrew Rutledge, a sales force cannot simply have media experience–they have to know the ecosystem, and be prepared to add value by educating clients. For Whitepages VP of Sales Craig Paris, it is simple math: Agencies get 100+ unique sales calls a month, from an increasing amount of new technology and media companies. Unless you differentiate yourself, you are not going to win business. “Thirty percent of your day should be spent reading the industry trades so you can have credibility, and provide insights to your customers.”

“Nielsen says people visit 2.9 sites a day, and one of them is Facebook” — Greg Rogers, Pictela

Last minute speaker Greg Rogers of Pictela provided some insights on how premium advertising units (specifically the new IAB 300×1050 “Project Devil” unit from AOL) can drive user engagement. If the above quote is true, it means that brands have to find a way to engage the user more deeply on the the sites they visit every day, and that way is through interactive units. Rogers has data that points to “dramatic” CPM increases from premium RM units, and makes a case for replacing three 300×250 units with the single 300×1050 “devil” slot. Patch and Huffpo have seen great results, and advertisers are getting good engagement, and plenty of reporting. Highly premium, brand-safe, engaging advertising…sounds like something from the past called “premium guaranteed.” I bet PopSugar’s Shine would agree. She has built a virtual in-house agency to build premium campaigns for her customers, and demands “150% control over every ad unit on the page.”

“Cookie Targeting Doesn’t Scale” — Michael Hannon, Aperture

Sort of a dark horse moment for me was Michael Hannon’s first slide, which threw down the gauntlet on cookie targeting. All the energy in the space for the last several years has been about  targeting using 3rd party data . But what if it doesn’t work? This is the 900 lb. elephant in the Ecosystem. Not only have many marketers had difficulties achieving significant scale when overlaying data on top of exchange buys, but the legislative tsunami of “Do Not Track” threatens to reduce that scale even further. Hannon makes an elegant argument for real audience measurement, and doing so in a cookie-less way.

That leads me to a great conversation led by Alan Chapell, a lawyer specializing in just these types of issues. In a room full of ad publishing and ad technology executives that depend on using data to identify target audiences, there was a great deal of confusion regarding how our industry is getting on top of what may be a very severe problem. More direction from the IAB in the form of specific self-regulatory principles and mandates is needed, and needed fast. For Chapell, inaction may cause the “privacy disaster, which enables Google, AT&T, and Facebook to own all the data,”  leaving the rest of the industry on the side.

[This article originally appeared in Adotas on 4/4/11]

SalesRants 15: Death of a Salesman

A look back on the life of a dyed-in-the-wool sales guy who put family above financial gain

Recently, my wife’s grandfather passed away. He was a great man, and a true gentleman in every sense of the word. As the patriarch of a large Italian family, Santo fathered five children, had nine grandchildren, and a few dozen great-grandchildren. They were all at my mother-in-law Vera’s house after the funeral, eating trays of mediocre eggplant parmiagiana (a sad reminder of how good his wife Vera’s legendary cooking was) and trying not to cry. At 88 years old, Santo lived a great life. “What a run,” everyone was saying, and it was true. The 30-odd family members gathered at the house — a veritable football team of direct descendants and in-laws were Santo’s living legacy. I kept thinking how amazing it was that he had created this.

Since all of my grandparents had passed on a dozen years before I met Santo for the first time, I naturally adopted him as my surrogate grandfather. I don’t know if it was something we had in common (a decent sized beer belly, and a love of Italian food), or just his natural way with people, but Santo put me at ease the moment we met twelve years ago. He was instantly concerned that I was getting enough to eat, and made it clear to Vera, in a very gentlemanly but insistent way, that I was to be wanting for nothing while I was in his house. That night the dish was crab sauce, a special red sauce made with fresh hunks of blue crab, slowly simmered and laid over a fat hollow noodle. So abundant was the spread on the table that I made the rookie mistake of eating my fill, not realizing that the pasta was merely the first course. When the pot roast, vegetables, and the mighty braciole came out, I was surprised — and frightened. I was sitting within Santo’s view and somehow, I felt I was being judged on my appetite. Despite my discomfiture, I managed to put down several thick slices of pot roast.

 

It’s funny. My natural grandfather was also a real gentleman — very quiet and reserved, and certainly well loved and respected by his family and friends. He, too, had the requisite beer belly and a twinkle in his eye. His family ended up distant and conflicted, though. Santo’s family is tighter than a drum. I don’t know if it’s the difference between growing up Italian and Irish, but the family Santo created seemed to have a power in it that defied division. Maybe he was the one keeping it together all the time. More likely, it was (and still is) his silent force — a feeling that if you did something wrong, he would hear about it, and feel differently about you. Santo was somebody you would never want to disappoint.

Santo was a salesman, by the way. He owned his own sewing machine company, and he sold industrial sewing equipment to the factories in New York. He always referred to them as “machines.” He would be telling a story about some guy he knew back in the 60’s, and I would ask him how he knew the guy. “I used to sell him machines,” he would say. Somehow, that explained everything.

If growing up in East New York ever hurt his prospects, I never heard it from Santo. The part of Brooklyn where Santo grew up was a vibrant neighborhood, populated with tons of interesting characters, and lots of friends and family. In hearing the tales of the old days, Santo would always — and I mean always — begin the story by referencing the car he was driving. He had pictures of most of them, and after a while you could pinpoint the decade by knowing whether he was driving the Chrysler or the Buick at the time. He did a lot of driving, and sold a lot of machines.

I never heard Santo tell a specific sales story. The sales aspect was always kind of a given — just a small part of his identity and persona.

It’s funny, but even with fifty years of sales under his belt, I never heard Santo tell a specific sales story. Sure, it may have involved him “going over to Jersey to deliver a machine,” but usually the story was around a flat tire, or some kind of trouble he managed to land in while on the road. The sales aspect was always kind of a given — just a small part of his identity and persona. I don’t know how many machines Santo ultimately sold and delivered in his life, but it must have been a lot. He provided well for his family, and kept them close. Especially Vera. Until the very end, their relationship had a level of fiery passion that would put a Shakespearian romance to shame. Just a few weeks ago, Vera unceremoniously dismissed a part time nurse whose medical ministrations to Santo seemed too flirtatious. Did they fight? Yes, to the very end. It was proof that their passion for each other never dimmed, even after 50-plus years of marriage.

Salesmen are usually judged by their numbers. Some successful ones like to have the most cars, biggest houses and boats, and largest bank accounts. Santo was financially successful, but I know he got more pleasure counting grandchildren than money. I guess it’s the difference between making a killing and making a living.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 9/13/2006]

SalesRants 14: Pigeon Feed

Swat ’em away, but they’ll still keep coming — those ‘pigeons’ of corporations that can’t stop flocking to consultants’ birdseed

Remember that television commercial featuring the two consultants talking to a corporate guy? It went something this like this:

Consultants: First you need to optimize your sales force using a state-of-the-art CRM tool, align your marketing message across multiple media to drive your quarterly goals, and implement a company-wide monitoring system to insure message optimization across multiple business units, resulting in huge gains across multiple metrics. This plan is sure to turn your business around.

Corporate Guy: Great! When can you start doing it?

Consultants: [Break down in gales of laughter]. We don’t actually do anything… we just tell you how to do it! [They dissolve in paroxysms of malevolent laughter].

Anyway, you get the drift. Despite the almost universal reckoning that corporate consultants do little more than sell glorified PowerPoint presentations full of the latest business jargon, companies such as my beloved Big Media Company continue to employ them. Let me introduce you to the very best consulting scam ever invented, one that Big Media Company fell for hook, line and sinker.

 

Scarily enough, it’s called “SPIN Selling.” “SPIN,” of course, is an acronym. Let me save you $500,000 and give you the S.P.I.N. Selling overview in a nutshell: First, find out what people want before you try and sell them something. Then, tailor your sales pitch to address their needs. Sounds simple, right?

Instead of barging into some agency, breaking out your media kit, and telling your customer your circulation, readership, and what special issues you have coming up, why not sit down over a cup of coffee and ask him a bunch of questions. Like: How is your business? (a Situation question); Is the price of paper leading to an increase in your costs? (Problem); Why is it important to solve this problem (Implication); and, If I lowered your rate, would this help you reach more potential customers? (Need/ payoff).

So, you SPIN a customer, slowly walking him through his situation, how it affects his business, and how you — his savior — may solve his problems using whatever it is you happen to be selling. It’s how probably 90 percent of all salesmen and 100 percent of successful ones approach their business. It’s called consultative sales or, put more simply, selling something that people need. What the company that sells the SPIN program offers, however, is more ingenious than anything that’s gone along with products I’ve ever hocked. They take what is a very straightforward and simple sales process (ask questions, provide answers) and pile a bunch of meaningless process and acronyms on top of it, creating a sales pseudoscience that, like Boggle, is “easy to learn, impossible to master.”

Let me tell you how it works (applicable not just to SPIN, but all bullshit media sales consultants and sales consulting in general): The Consultant comes into Big Media Company (the Pigeon) with a long list of corporate stooges who have used their product (IBM, Honeywell, or any Fortune 500 client whose size exceeds that of the Pigeon, and whose CEO is likely to be impressed by). The Consultant says they can increase sales by 20 percent a year using their new patented sale methodology. The Pigeon’s CEO cuts that estimate in half and still figures he’s up a few million net, even after paying the Consultant a healthy $500,000 fee. Soon enough, the Pigeon signs up, and mandates sales training for everyone on staff.

Naturally, since the test is based on the yet-untaught sales principles offered in the coursework, the results are terrible. Pigeon’s people are way behind the curve!

The Consultant comes in for about a month, and trains everyone, 20 at a time, using the same off-the-shelf Powerpoint presentation, with Pigeon’s name sprinkled throughout for that customized look. People are asked to take a test before the training to establish a “baseline” of sales effectiveness. Naturally, since the test is based on the yet-untaught sales principles offered in the coursework, the results are terrible. Pigeon’s people are way behind the curve! Compared to (insert Fortune 500 company’s results here), Big Media Company is a non-player in the 12th percentile!

The training commences, filled with obscure terminology and acronyms designed to turn what is essentially an easy-to-understand concept into something on which you can slap a patent. After the trainings are complete, another test is administered to make sure Pigeon’s salespeople have absorbed the expensive, mandated training. Lo and behold, the results come in, and Consultant has really made an impact! Compared to the initial baseline results, the latest monitoring shows that Pigeon’s staff is really embracing this new sales dynamic! Sadly, however, there is still work to be done. We show that IBM’s salespeople achieved a 15 percent higher result on their post-training assessment, so we recommend a further dose of advanced training (at a discounted rate of $250,000).

You get the gist. By the time Big Media Company — or any other Pigeon — realizes that their sales are about the same as last year, and that Consultant’s package is perhaps better suited to selling something like consulting services, rather than classified advertising, it’s too late.

Moral of story: Never buy something from a salesperson who is full of more shit than you.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/30/2006]

SalesRants 13: Between a Rock and a Sales Guy

When it comes to sticky sales scenarios, no conundrum’s too convoluted for Secret Sales Guy

First off, I want to personally thank all the readers who have written me to make suggestions and tell me how much they enjoy the column. In this round of questions, however, I swap the reader queries with some thorny scenarios I’ve heard fellow salesfolk puzzle over during my two decades in the field. You won’t find insights like these in your corporate handbook or at the next training, so read on for guidance that cuts through the crap advice usually on the media sales menu.

I am the associate publisher of small agricultural magazine that does around $3M a year in display advertising. Print sales are off, so we’re looking to add more banner capabilities to our Web site and hire an online salesperson to sell them. What qualities should I look for in this employee? Also, not being well-versed in matters online myself, can you recommend training for me?

It sounds as though your company has been bitten by the “new media” bug, and is getting ready to flush a shitload of cash down the toilet in the interest of “staying competitive.” As an avid reader of Pig International (and many other obscure controlled circulation trade magazines to which I subscribe just for the hell of it), I can tell you that the new media future in your farmers’ market looks dim for years—if not decades—to come.

The first thing to do, as your magazine’s AP, is set a really high commission plan for your salespeople (to incentivize growth) and, more critically, make sure you’re receiving a healthy override on all sales. The second thing is to discourage your company from hiring a “specialist” to sell this online advertising manure. Just because a guy can differentiate among rich media banner units and delivery systems doesn’t mean he’s worth a $75,000 base. Instead of gifting some nerd with nearly a hundred grand a year, hustle one of your sharper print guys into a Learning Annex course, then throw him some extra dough to make more online sales happen. You’ll wind up giving away half your banners to your best print advertisers as “value added,” anyway.

I’m the sales director for another big media company, managing the sales of three trade magazines, several Web sites, and a few supplements. I’ve been in the job for about three years now, laboring under a boss who is totally unsupportive. In fact, his decisions seem totally unrelated to the business, and I suspect he doesn’t really know what’s up. I’m afraid to go over his head, but I can’t take this situation. What should I do?

Obviously, what you should be doing is trying to get your boss canned, but that’s a complicated and lengthy process fraught with peril. As entertaining as it may be to load your boss up with faulty information and start planting mutinous seeds for a staff-wide revolt, such tactics are probably how your current boss got his job, and he may smell a rat. Remember, your incompetent boss was probably once just a soldier like you: young, hungry, and willing to upset the status quo to “make things happen.” Now he is a fat, corporate pig who’s been feasting for years from the management salary trough—neither willing nor able to snap at the hands that feed him.

If you have a modicum of talent and the willingness to trade your immortal soul for a shot at the bonus pool, you’ll be wind up in the same position someday. If all goes well, you will laugh cynically at this query and realize how naïve you once were. For now, you need to compare your political smarts with those of your boss and examine your situation from the perspective of senior management (i.e., “What’ll happen if we shitcan Mr. Fatcat Manager and replace him with Young Frustrated at a cheaper salary?”). If you can figure out the answer to that question, you’ll know what to do.

I’m thinking of getting into sales myself, but I wonder if it is fulfilling enough. What are your thoughts?

Is driving a brand new BMW 5-Series fulfilling? How about lingering over a $90 bottle of crisp French wine over a dozen oysters at an overpriced Hamptons eatery with a hot date? Or, perhaps, dropping $800 on an accessory sure to go out of style in three months? Are those things fulfilling? Of course they are. They are also the kinds of things that a successful career in sales can bring you.

There are thousands of very spiritually rewarding careers out there that can pay the bills—and some of them can earn you top dollar. However, for the average person without a load of specialized skills or an advanced degree, sales is the fast-track ticket to wealth.

With sales, someone basically sets you up with a computer, phone, desk, health insurance and an expense account, then prays that you can pull in four or five times your salary. The rest is up to you.

Look at me: decent enough education at an exclusive “you didn’t get into Yale, but…”-type Northeastern college, pretty good writing and social skills, and a smattering of business experience culled from a variety of mid-level positions at various publishing companies. Fits neatly into your typical mediabistro.com reader demographic, right? I’m pretty smart, but I’m certainly no genius, and since I opted out of paying another $60,000 for an MBA, my choices are limited: If I aspire to make some “real” money, it’s either sales or starting my own business.

With sales, someone basically sets you up with a computer, phone, desk, health insurance and an expense account, then prays that you can pull in four or five times your salary. The rest is up to you. If you are insanely motivated (by greed, mostly, but that’s okay), then you’ll find a way to move whatever it is you have to sell. Then you can watch the BMWs roll in. It’s a pretty fulfilling life. Make enough dough, and you can assuage your privileged guilt by giving some of it away to charity.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/23/2006]

SalesRants 12: Ask Secret Sales Guy

Answering your questions, Secret Sales Guy spills his own beans for a change, instead of everyone else’s

The “Ask Secret Sales Guy” question box saw its share of action at mediabistro.com’s recent marketing party in New York. Maybe I saw you there, submitting a question to your loyal and dedicated Man on the Inside. Though I received a number of intriguing questions, both at the party and via e-mail, this column has me speaking to the most basic ones.

Who the f*ck are you?
This was, by far, the most popular question. Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to answer. Secret Sales Guy is just another corporate wage slave. A former editor who put down the pen for the ad page, I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to print and online media, and now manage a fairly profitable magazine group focused on consumer electronics. On the personal side, I am the father of two adorable children, and the husband of a cranky, yet cute, wife. I spend about three hours a day commuting from Westchester to go to Big Media Company. I enjoy fishing, writing, smoking, and eating foods heavy in saturated fats.

Considering the question more existentially, I guess you could say that I am a bit of a frustrated writer who turned to sales to support his family, but still yearns to make a respectable living with his pen. This hasn’t happened yet, but I still harbor fantasies of writing the Great American Novel or, perhaps moving to Armenia and taking a crack at the “Great Armenian English-Language Novel” if they don’t happen to have one of those yet. For now, I am grateful to be afforded the ability to offer my observations on the publishing business from an insider’s perspective and hopefully provide insight into the amusing world of advertising sales.

Where do you work?
I work for Big Media Company* here in New York City. Big Media Company began as an obscure family-run textbook publisher and gradually gobbled up enough companies over the years to become a huge, multinational corporation with dozens of offices, thousands of employees, and more bureaucrats than you can shake a stick at. Like all big media companies, mine dabbles in a bit of research, some television, a bunch of magazines and books, and this newfangled thing you may have heard of called the Internet. We are prone to laying employees off, selling portions of our company, and making extremely poor internal business decisions concerning technology.

Like all large media concerns (and many oversized corporations in general), my company operates under the ridiculous belief that we can create “synergy” across the wide range of companies that have been slapped together through decades of acquisition. The idea is that the television company can help drive sales at the magazine company, which can generate data for the research company, who can populate the magazine company with interesting, cutting-edge content, and then we can put everything on the Web and charge people $15.99 a month to be “informed and entertained.” Of course, since everyone at Big Media Company inhabits their own little selfish worlds mandated by our compensation policies, there is really no good reason to share sales, data, or anything else with another division of the company—unless, of course, you can both figure out a way for it to boost your respective bonuses. With the submarket salaries Big Media Company lays out, you sure as hell aren’t going to go to those lengths out of loyalty.

 

Despite this, Big Media Company is a great place to work—especially as a line manager. You make Big Media money, and they’ll humor you with a decent enough salary and bonus package to make sure you only send your resumé out a few times a month, rather than a few times a day. Fuck up, and you are out the door with a pleasant reference and a storage box for your picture of the wife and kids, along with those trade show knickknacks on your standard-issue office bookshelf.

How much do you make?
This was the second-most popular question. As my products’ top sales guy, I have a pretty decent base salary. However, a good part of my compensation comes from commission. Because I am the sales manager, I also get to assign myself several accounts. Naturally, I give myself the largest and most important—and most lucrative. Even better, I get an “override” on all sales that I oversee. Like a pimp, Secret Sales Guy makes money when his crew makes money, providing me with a powerful incentive to make sure my sales team is as happy and productive as possible. Add everything up at the end of the average year, and I’ll probably wind up with about $XXX,000. If I have a knockout year, it could be more. If I worked for a consumer publishing company, rather than the business-focused media company I work for, I would probably be making triple that. Anyway, because I live in New York, the $XXX,000 I make feels more like $50,000. But it’s enough to pay for beer and Skittles. It is also substantially more than I would have been getting if I had accepted the coveted editor-in-chief post at a top-tier trade magazine that was offered to me a decade ago.

What’s your No. 1 tip for making sales?
There is no secret to making sales. The best way to make a sale is to have something that someone wants to buy. If you have something like that and it’s priced exactly right, and the person who wants to purchase it has the money to do so, you will make a sale. It’s that simple. Even if you are a sleazy soft-brained, scumbag with half a community college education, so long as your product meets the aforementioned criteria, you will succeed.

Like you, your customer is a lazy bastard who wants to get the maximum return on the minimum amount of effort. He has already gone through a lot of annoying work and plenty of bad table wine with you.

Of course, most of us don’t have the perfect, reasonably-priced product that just happens to be ready exactly when the customer, money in hand, wants to buy it. Therefore, the key to sales is constantly being around so that when this miracle of circumstance happens, you are standing at the bottom of Cash Hill with your catcher’s mitt on. That translates to calling a lot of people to remind them that you have something to sell, going to a lot of trade shows, and drinking lots of bad table wine with your prospects.

Do this enough, and eventually someone will buy something from you. The beauty of this is that, once that an initial transaction occurs successfully, you may find yourself in for plenty of repeat business. Why? Like you, your customer is a lazy bastard who wants to get the maximum return on the minimum amount of effort. He has already gone through a lot of annoying work and plenty of that bad table wine with you so as to get to the point where he is comfortable enough to buy something, and he doesn’t want to relive that process all over again. Therefore, even if your product is a little worse or slightly pricier than that of your competitor, he will sooner buy it from you than start a whole new relationship and, worse yet, fill out another credit application.

Hang around. Bore yourself to tears at trade shows. Have something to sell. Drink bad table wine. That’s about all there is to it.

Secret Sales Guy is always here for you with his no-bullsh*t policy in effect, so please email with any questions for which you seek a truly honest answer.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/16/2006]

SalesRants 11: In Memoriam: The Three-Martini Lunch

Secret Sales Guy reminisces about a kinder, gentler era, when men used the table talk of business to hunker down over lunch and a cocktail… or three

Life can be incredibly cruel. You are violently birthed, thrust from your mother’s womb into an insecure world, passed through the meat grinder of primary and secondary school education, flung into puberty, tossed into college, and then unleashed—utterly naïve and likely scarred from years spent pursuing an ultimately useless degree—into the world of business. Once your parents kiss you off, you face the unappealing and scary business of marriage and, eventually, rearing children who will eventually face the same daunting journey described above.

The sickest part of it all is that, during the prime of your life, you will devote approximately 40 years of thankless labor to an uncaring corporation just so you can pay your mortgage and eat meat once in a while. Your wife will constantly nag you, as will your kids, once they reach about seven years old. Sure, you may take up a hobby such as golf or stamp-collecting to ease the tension, but you and I both know it: You are statistically bound to live a boring, stressful and annoying life.

“No, no, Secret Salesman,” you may protest. “Surely, life is what you make of it. Life is beautiful—there is love, art, writing, sex!”

Silly, silly media person. You do not hear the truth when it is shouted in your ear, but hear only your own fantastical whispers of hope. Except now—in a modern world where there is a pill to numb every discomfort and a self-help book to aid any perceived ailment—your nonsensical attitude can prevail. But life is a brutal endeavor. Even in this great country, families are starving, people are ravaged by untreatable disease and—worse yet—magazine employees continue to be underpaid and underappreciated. Such is the nature of this modern existence.

But, sit back, while I spin you a tale. There was a time not too long ago, a Golden Era, if you will, when life was better for the media salesman. We call it the 1980s. [I cannot speak of the 70’s or 60’s because, lamentably, I wasn’t in this line of work back then]. Back in the 80’s, there was a tonic—a soothing panacea—for the fear and ennui engendered by modern life.

They called it the Three-Martini Lunch.

You may have heard of it. Back in those Golden Days of media sales, there existed the time-honored tradition of the Three-Martini Lunch (or, as we practitioners like to call it, the TML). An oddly styled and peculiar ceremony, the TML was long heralded as one of the most effective tools in the intrepid media salesman’s bag. Suitable for use on new prospects and haggard clients alike, the TML was a way to spend quality time with a customer and talk a bit of business—all while idling away a good 50 percent of your actual workday. Should a return visit to the office be required after the TML, one was inebriated enough by that point to tolerate the rest of the afternoon. Although labeled with a somewhat misleading moniker—since the cocktail of choice didn’t have to be martinis, nor were participants limited to three of them, for that matter—the TML persisted as a serious business tool from the inception of print media until roughly 1988, when Reagan left office. Setting aside its restorative benefits to the media sales employee, the TML was, and remains, a potent tool for developing business relationships. What you don’t know, however, is that the TML was never merely about drinking.

 

Back in the very early days of the media (think beleaguered Bewitched ad exec Darren Stevens) there was no such thing as the Three-Martini Lunch. It was just lunch. Because men were involved and, incidentally, happened to run the universe at that time (or at least they thought they did), they had the freedom to order what they wanted—be it a glass of tomato juice, a refreshing lager, or an 8-ounce gin martini. Lunch was a time to get together with a trusted colleague or old client, ask him how his family was doing—and really mean it. It was just a couple of guys both facing roughly the same situation and able to commiserate about their jobs, college tuition, the wife, and just about everything else under the sun. It’s what men have done since the dawn of time: They gather over large hunks of blackened meat, knock a few back, and share something deeper and more profound than last night’s Yankees result.

Then when it came time to follow up with a post-lunch phone call, when you went through your Rolodex (since replaced by ACT, Goldmine, or some other equally annoying “CRM” application tool), you didn’t have to check your notes to remember that your client’s wife was named Sally, and he had two boys, a baby girl, and an affinity for power tools. TMLs gave you time to get to know your client—hell, maybe even like him—and share that most intimate of manly moments: an extended workday lunch.

These days, the TML is a thing of the past. On the odd occasion that you do have the time to sit down over a meal with a client or prospect, there are many things to be considered. First, there’s a 50 percent chance that your client/ prospect will be female. This can be beneficial if both you and your client are women, as you’re then likelier to have things in common. However, this puts the male salesman at a disadvantage. One potential wrinkle: Your client may be hot, which puts you immediately in the uncomfortable position of being in a somewhat intimate setting (a nice restaurant), and makes your ham-handed attempts at smalltalk seem (at least in your own mind) like the verbal fumbling of a first date. Due to the discomfort this spawns, talk tends to immediately shift to business, meaning that any chance of developing a strong personal rapport are sunk. There’s no opportunity to bitch about the wife or job (since don’t want to seem bitter or lame), and there’s less of a chance you’ll chat about sports, the conversational glue that holds male friendship together.

If (as a male) you’re fortunate enough to have a lunch meeting with a male colleague, the chance to bond and create a meaningful personal relationship remains exists, but it is still remote. The first moment of brutal, searing discomfort starts when the drink order is taken. As the host, you are obligated to glance at Jim, your client, and say, “What are you having Jim?” Jim, clearly pained, orders a Pellegrino with lime—or, worse yet, a Diet Coke (God forbid he go regular). The drink order takes a lap around the table and results in another sparkling water, and a “water’s fine, thanks.” So you, sitting at one of Manhattan’s better restaurants and about to order a steak that practically screams for a hearty Cabernet or Bordeaux, are stuck. The meal is already ruined.

Then, food ordering commences. Likely, you are sitting with two or three other men, all of whom are dying to have the steak, veal parmigiana, or some other extremely tasty and unhealthy dish (because Lord only knows what’s awaiting you at home tonight). Instead, Customer #1 orders a salad. Not even a Cobb, for Chrissakes. He orders something that, when it finally arrives at the table after 20 intolerable minutes of business conversation, looks like the weeds from my backyard with a Zabar’s gift basket spilled over them.

Be a man and order what you want. You wife is not here and, judging from the looks of you, this could be the first salad you’ve ever ordered in your life.

Come on! Be a man and order what you want. You wife is not here and, judging from the looks of you, this could be the first salad you’ve ever ordered in your life. Face it: You ordered the salad because you are a fat fuck, and you are too embarrassed to order the ribeye smothered in Gruyere. And, you know you want a beer. Yes, you do. How about you buck up, and have two of them? That way we can relax, and everyone doesn’t have to pretend that they are so indispensable that a few mugs of suds could steer the beloved Company off course when you return to your cubicle. Trust me on this—the stock price isn’t taking a hit because some mid-level marketing manager “let his hair down” at lunch and banged a few back with his rep.

You’ve been there, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like the Blackberry phenomena—these days, your identity and self-worth is so tied up in your work, that to be human for a minute may tip someone off to the fact that you’re not the next Jack Welch. Well, you’re not. So relax, order a beer and a big plate of pasta, and forget about work for a few minutes. There’s plenty of time for that when we get back to the office—you know I’m going to be calling you for an ad in a few days, anyway. So for now, why don’t we try being friends, have some red wine over a nice, thick steak, and bitch about our home remodeling projects or the price of gas a little bit—anything but work. That way, when I call you up, it’s a lot less like someone trying to sell you an ad, and a lot more like two guys who happen to work in the trenches together doing a little business.

Waiter, a martini, please—and keep ’em coming!

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/9/2006]

SalesRants 10: The Hardest Sell of Them All

No stranger to the hard sell, Secret Sales Guy still has morals enough to question a rep who trades on her looks to land a big sale.

Pushing the Applecart
When it comes down to it, I really enjoy my profession. I get up in the morning, shower, put on a collared shirt and crack open my Wall Street Journal, secure in the knowledge that I am doing my small part for the American economy. Even on a bad day, some commerce will be transacted. Big Media Company will make a few bucks, an electronics company will sell a few more devices, our beloved and faithful readers will have another issue to peruse at their desks, and I will make a few bucks myself. Happiness all around.

Media sales can be complicated, though. There are existing clients to stay on top of, new business to hustle up, agencies and PR firms that need attention, publishers to please, and salespeople and editors to manage. Every month, a million things have to come together seamlessly so a nice, profitable, ad-filled issue can hit the mail. Invariably, things get complicated between the publication of the month-by-month editorial calendar and the actual time the issue appears in readers’ hands.

But when you get right down to it—where the ink meets that gauzy 70 lb. sheet of magazine paper stock—it’s all about pushing the applecart.

Like the street vendor of old pushing his wares down a busy street, hawking fruit to a newly arrived immigrant population, the media salesman is—at his very core—a simple man. He has products to sell and families to feed. Sometimes, his produce isn’t the freshest on the street, either. But sell it he must, to both longtime customers and new prospects alike. Won’t you please sample my wares? Feel the firmness of my apples today, Mrs. Giancotti. See how the thin veneer of wax I have rubbed into the skin gives them a shine? Won’t you please take six of my apples to your dear mother, as well?

It’s enough to make you puke.

 

When you’re rolling down a trade show aisle, outfitted in your Sunday best and trying unsuccessfully to elicit the name of a marketing manager from some logo-happy, golf shirt-wearing computer salesman, you almost wish you were a street cart vendor. You may not be sporting a Hermè’s tie and $200 loafers, but at least you get the sense that somebody, somewhere out there, wants a fucking apple.

But hunting down new prospects is part of the job, isn’t it? Who the hell’s the new guy at Sony? Well, you had better find out, because you can bet your bottom dollar that No. 2 Industry Magazine already knows. For God’s sake, they’re probably already in his office chatting placement over a macchiato. So you push that applecart, hat humbly in hand, and lurk near Sony’s trade show booth like a loser, waiting for the sales guy to free up so you can ask him who’s in charge of print advertising. That’s the way it’s done.

One mealy apple at a time.

Spreading for a Spread?
Editorial staffers sometimes cross over to the advertising side of publishing (your Secret Sales Guy being a living, breathing example). When they do, it’s not uncommon for them to hear their editorial brethren claim that such a move means they’ve automatically exchanged their upstanding editor’s soul for a commission check. Granted, this journey to the “dark side” doesn’t happen often but, when it does, is the traveler entering previously forbidden territory? Will a former ASME member in good standing trot traverse roads lower than those of his editorial cohorts, set up shop at the bottom of the moral barrel, and start selling like the tramp he’s secretly always been?

In other words: Is there any truth to the notion that sales is a whore’s game?

Personally, I can tell you that I have never traded my integrity for the price of a hefty commission—but, then again, I’ve never had the opportunity to sell an $80,000 page of advertising. I can tell you what Secret Sales Guy has seen over the course of ten years in business media, though. I can relate this story from a recent trade show.

Back in January, I received a surprise phone call from our Midwest representative. An attractive woman in her mid-thirties, Judith* commanded men’s attention for her looks, as well as for her obvious sales prowess and industry knowledge. Giving notice, she told me she was leaving No. 1 Industry Magazine and going to No. 1 Consumer Magazine. It was a major leap and an opportunity to nearly double her salary. Underpaid corporate wage slave that I am, I was simultaneously delighted for her and wracked with jealousy, since I would have sold my mother for that position. Judith’s departure was a tough loss, but what could I do? Big Media Company wasn’t exactly forking it over in terms of salary, and Judith had put in two excellent years —capped by two disappointing raises. Go with God, Judith.

Well, who do I encounter at the first trade show of the year? Not Respected Judith, who men yearned for, since she was more untouchable than a 30 percent discount off our rate card. She’d left the building. Instead, I met up with Saucy Judith, the hard drinking, client-cuddling, giddy slut who, despite her two years at Big Media Company, I had never encountered before…

Was Judith married? Yes. Was her thigh and upper ass now firmly planted in the crotch of the guy who could give her the biggest account of her career? Check.

Watching Judith wrap her legs around Tom Black, the marketing manager of Gigantic Software Company, took me by complete surprise. I had to check the old internal memory banks. Was Judith married? Yes. Was her thigh and upper ass now firmly planted in Tom’s crotch ? Check. What the hell was I seeing? A formerly demure and subtle business media sales representative draping herself all over the biggest customer in the room, trading on her good looks and overly available flanks—the living embodiment of the nightmarish slide into the true dark side of consumer media, where the page rates are big, the custom media projects are bigger, and the sponsorships are biggest of all.

My new Midwest rep and I witnessed all this from the bar in the hotel lounge. According to her, sales were down at No. 1 Consumer Mag, and someone was having a difficult transition going from trade mag to “real” mag. Also, Judith was now surrounded by a bevy of younger (and, frankly, hotter) reps in their twenties, who didn’t shy away from the occasional flirtation—or more—to secure an ad schedule. Life at No. 1 Consumer Mag came with some serious pressure, a big expense account, and plenty of internal competition.

I was now feeling a mix of emotions: sadness, for this once-proud colleague now mired in an ethical hell; fear, because this piranha of the print ad was gnawing on one of our biggest clients; and joy, because in some sick way I loved watching the late-night sales effort that the New Judith was putting out.

“Think Tom’ll get any tonight?” I ask New Midwest Rep.

“Nah,” replied New Midwest Rep, “She’s not giving it up.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

New Midwest Sales Rep, single and quite the looker herself, faced me and smiled. “Because I’m meeting him later tonight,” she said.

We high-fived and turned back to the bartender for another round of vodka-and-Red Bull. Let Judith cozy up to Tom late into the night and pay his bar tab. No. 1 Industry Mag had the inside track on Humongous Software Company, and that’s the way this trade show cookie crumbled. Better luck next time, New—but far from improved—Slutty Judith.

[This post originalyl appeared in MediaBistro, 8/2/2006]