4 Better Ways to Sell Technology

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A lot of you guys make your living selling technology in the advertising and marketing technology space. It’s a great and noble occupation, but not for everyone. Our industry moves very fast, and software is always a stutter step behind. We are trying to solve problems for big brands and media companies, and a lot of what we sell sounds pretty much the same as the competition. Even if you truly have the best product, it’s really hard to get people’s attention. When you finally get it, it’s very hard to truly differentiate yourself and your products. In first meetings and big pitches, you have to leave the meeting accomplishing three basics: your potential customer should like you enough to work with you, trust you to do the work, and believe that your company can solve their problem.

In first meetings and big pitches, you have to leave the meeting accomplishing three basics: your potential customer should like you enough to work with you, trust you to do the work, and believe that your company can solve their problem. Like, trust and belief are pretty simple asks—but very hard to establish in meetings.

Does your typical one-hour meeting look like this?

  • Get the monitor set up and internet access established (10 minutes)
  • Go around the room with introductions (5 minutes)
  • Salesperson introduces the meeting and explains why you are there (10 minutes)
  • Salesperson gives the standard “about the company” pitch (15 minutes)
  • Subject matter expert talks about some use cases and benefits (20 minutes)
  • Demo (0 minutes. Oops. No time left for demo).

I have been in many of these meetings as a potential buyer, and I have also presided over quite a few of these meetings. Some are better than others, but for the most part, they are pretty terrible. Here are four things you can change up for your next meeting.

Stop the Slides

Here’s what happens when you deliver a slide presentation. If you show a slide with text on it, your audience will start reading it. In fact, they will finish reading it way before you stop delivering the content, and then they start thinking about what they are going to do for lunch. Maybe you think you’ve built the most perfect slide ever…full of compelling content and gleaming with ideas? Well, perhaps you have but you’ve alienated half of the room; the slide is the perfect level for the folks who already get it, and way too technical for the newbies (or vice versa). The approach here is to use a good headline and a gigantic picture of something interesting. Show a hammer, elephant, or a guy jumping out of a plane. The internet is full of great options. “Why is there a picture of a guy jumping out of a plane?” your prospect wonders. Your potential client will listen to you until he figures it out.

Grab a Marker

In the technology space, we sell a lot of complicated stuff, and we have a lot of ‘splaining to do in meetings, to borrow the popular Desi Arnaz phrase. Many of our potential customers don’t really know how the Internet works, and that’s okay. A 23-year old media planner at an agency isn’t immediately required to grok the differences between data integration types, but they still have influence over considerable budget dollars. What they need is some education, and that’s where your friend the whiteboard comes in. Why do mediocre actors salvage their careers on the stage? Because it’s harder. You have to know your material, deliver your lines, and there’s nowhere to hide. People respect that, and they will respect you when you close your laptop, pick up a dry erase marker and start explaining what your technology does, why it’s different, and how it will solve a problem. Plus, the element of theater is fun. People know exactly what you are going to say when you deliver a slide, so you will likely be judged on your delivery and the cut of your suit. Pick up a marker, and you will be judged by the size of your brain.

Show, Don’t Tell

Similar to the educational nature of whiteboarding, there is magic in a good software demo. After explaining all of the wonderful problems you are going to solve over 40 minutes, you will likely have a highly skeptical audience. Every other vendor has rolled in and also promised to solve the age-old “right person, right message, right time” conundrum, and you are just the latest in the pack. Whenever there is an opportunity to go into the software and demonstrate exactly what you are talking about, you should take it. “Did you ask about my integration with Amazon? Great, let me pull that up in our UI and show you exactly what to do.” As an industry, we also seem to suffer from using solutions engineers as a crutch. Guess what? If you need a highly technical person to walk through a few screens, then your client just found out that you have a product that only his most technical people can use. That’s a gigantic loser. If you sell software, you should be capable of giving a basic UI demo.

 Tell Stories

People are people, and they communicate best with storytelling. You don’t need to be a latter-day Walt Disney at your next meeting, but you do have to be able to tell a story similar to this: “Ron from Big Company has the same exact problem you guys are having. We worked with Ron and his team for 18 months and figured out exactly how to solve it. Ron is now an SVP. Hey, we should get you out to lunch with Ron, and he can tell you all about it.”

An old boss used to tell me that a sale needs to get your client “paid or made” We can certainly help people get paid by saving the money through efficiency, and “make” their careers with a successful implementation. People love to hear that similar people are having the same issues, and they don’t want to feel left behind. By golly, if this was good enough for Ron at Big Company it’s good enough for me. A good story should be realistic, inspire, differentiate your technology—but also be referenceable.

Because they will call Ron.

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Why Most of Today’s DMPs are Lousy

8022_sucklessHow Granular Data Collection and a Robust Second-Party Data Strategy Changes the Game

The world’s largest marketers and media companies have strongly embraced data management technology to provide personalization for customers that demand Amazon-like experiences. As a single, smart hub for all of their owned data (CRM, email, etc)—and acquired data, such as 3rd party demographic data —DMPs go a long way towards building a sustainable, modern marketing strategy that accounts for massively fragmented digital audiences.

The good news is most enterprises have taken a technological leap of faith, and embraced a data strategy to help them navigate our digital future. The bad news is, the systems they are using today are deeply flawed and do not produce optimal audience segmentation.  

A Little DMP History

Ten years ago, a great thing called the data management platform (DMP) started to power big publishers. These companies wanted to shift power away from ad networks (upon whom the publishers relied to monetize their sites) and give publishers the power to create relevant audiences directly for advertisers. By simply placing a bit of javascript in the header of their websites, DMPs could build audience segments using web cookies, turning the average $2 CPM news reader into a $15 CPM “auto-intender.” By understanding what people read, and the content of those pages,  DMPs could sort people in large audience “segments” and make them available for targeting. Now, instead of handing over 50% of their revenue to ad networks, publishers could pay a monthly licensing fee to a DMP and retain the lion’s share of their digital advertising dollars by creating their own segmented audiences to sell directly to advertisers.

Marketers were slower to embrace DMP technology, and they quickly grasped the opportunity too. Now, instead of depending on ad networks to aggregate reach for them, they started to assemble their own first-party data asset—overlapping their known users with publishers’ segments, and buying access to those more relevant audiences. The more cookies, mobile IDs, and other addressable keys they could collect, the bigger their potential reach. Since most marketers had relatively small amounts of their own data, they supplemented with 3rd-party data—segments of “intenders” from providers like Datalogix, Nielsen, and Acxiom.

The two primary use cases for DMPs have not changed all that much over the years: both sides want to leverage technology to understand their users (analytics) and grow their base of addressable IDs (reach). Put simply, “who are these people interacting with my brand, and how can I find more of them?” DMPs seem really efficient at tackling those basic use cases, until you find out that they were doing it the wrong way the whole time.

What’s the Problem?

To dig a bit deeper, the way first-generation DMPs go about analyzing and expanding audiences is through mapping cookies to a predetermined taxonomy, based on user behavior and context. For example, if my 17-year-old son is browsing an article on the cool new Ferrari online, he would be identified as an “auto intender” and placed in a bucket of other auto intenders. The system would not store any of the data associated with that browsing session, or additional context. It is enough that the online behavior met a predetermined set of rules for “auto-intender” to place that cookie among several hundred thousand other “auto- intenders.”

The problem with a fixed, taxonomy-based collection methodology is just that—it is fixed, and based on a rigid set of rules for data collection. Taxonomy results are stored (“cookie 123 equals auto-intender”)—not the underlying data itself. That is called “schema-on-write,” an approach that writes taxonomy results to an existing table when the data is collected. That was fine for the days when data collection was desktop-based and the costs of data storage were sky-high, but it fails in a mobile world where artificial intelligence systems crave truly granular, attribute-level data collected from all consumer interactions to power machine learning.

There is another way to do this. It’s called “schema-on-read,” which is the opposite of schema-on-write. In these types of systems, all of the underlying data is collected, and the taxonomy result is created upon reading all of the raw data. In this instance, say I collected everything that happened on a popular auto site like Cars.com? I would collect how many pages were viewed, dwell times on ads, all of the clickstream collected in the “build your own” car module, and the data from event pixels that collected how many pictures a user viewed of a particular car model. I would store all of this data so I could look it up later.

Then, if my really smart data science team told me that users who viewed 15 of the 20 car pictures in the photo carousel in one viewing session were 50% more likely to buy a car in the next 30 days than the average user, I would build a segment of such users by “reading” the attribute data I had stored.  This notion—total data storage at the attribute (or “trait”) level, independent of a fixed taxonomy—is called completeness of data. Most DMPs don’t have it.

Why Completeness Matters

Isn’t one auto-intender as good as another, despite how those data were collected? No. Think about the other main uses of DMPs: overlap reporting and indexing. Overlap reporting seeks to overlay an enterprise’s first party data asset with another. This is like taking all the visitors to Ford’s website, and comparing that audience to every user on a non-endemic site, like the Wall Street Journal. Every auto marketer would love to understand which high-income WSJ readers were interested in their latest model. But, how can they understand the real intent of users if they are just tagged as “auto intenders?” How did the publisher come to that conclusion? What signals contributed to having that those users qualify as “intenders” in the first place? How long ago did they engage with an auto article? Was it a story about a horrific traffic crash, or an article on the hottest new model? Without completeness, these “auto intenders” become very vague. Without all of the attributes stored, Ford cannot put their data science team to work to better understand their true intent.

Indexing, the other prominent use case, scores user IDs based on their similarity to a baseline population. For example, a popular women’s publisher like Meredith might have an index score of 150 against a segment of “active moms.” Another way of saying this is that indexing helps understand the “momness” of those women, based on similarity to the  overall population. Index scoring is the way marketers have been buying audience data for the last 20 years. If I can get good reach with an index score above 100 at a good price, then I’m buying those segments all day long. Most of this index-based buying happens with 3rd-party data providers who have been collecting the data in the same flawed way for years. What’s the ultimate source of truth for such indexing? What data underlies the scoring in the first place? The fact is, it is impossible to validate these relevancy scores with the granular, attribute-level data being available to analyze.

Therefore, it is entirely fair to say that most DMPs have excellent intentions, but lack the infrastructure to perform 100% of the most important things DMPs are meant to do: understand IDs, and grow them through overlap analysis and indexing. If the underlying data has been improperly collected (or not there at all), then any type of audience profiling by any means is fundamentally flawed.

Whoops.

What to do?

To be fair, most DMPs were architected during a time when it was unnecessary to collect data through a schema-on-read methodology—and extremely costly. Today’s unrelenting shift to AI-driven marketing necessitates this approach to data collection and storage, and older systems are tooling up to compete. If you want to create a consumer data platform (“CDP”), the hottest new buzzword in marketing, you need to collect data in this way. So, the industry is moving there quickly. That said, many marketers are still stuck in the 1990s. Older DMPs are somewhat like the technology mullet of marketing—businesslike in the front, with something awkward and hideous hidden behind.

Beyond licensing a modern, schema-on-read system for data management so marketers can collect their own data in a granular way, there is another way to do things like indexing and overlap analysis well: license data from other data owners who have collected their data in such a way. This means going well beyond leveraging commoditized third-party data, and looking at the world of second-party data. Done correctly, real audience planning starts with collecting your own data effectively and extends to leveraging similarly collected data from others—second party data that is transparent, exclusive, and unique.

Five Principles of Modern Marketing

Every marketer and media company these days is trying to unlock the secret to personalization. Everyone wants to be the next Amazon, anticipating customer wants and desires and delivering real-time customization.

Actually, everyone might need to be an Amazon going forward; Harris Interactive and others tell us that getting customer experience wrong means up to 80% of customers will leave your brand and try another – and it takes seven times more money to reacquire that customer than it did initially.

How important is personalization? In a recent study, 75% marketers of marketers said that there’s no such thing as too much personalization for different audiences, and 94% know that delivering personalized content is important to reaching their audiences.

People want and expect personalization and convenience today, and brands and publishers that cannot deliver it will suffer similar fates. However, beyond advanced technology, what do you need to believe to make this transformation happen? What are the core principles a company needs to adhere to, in order to have a shot at transforming themselves into customer-centric enterprises?

Here are five:

Put People First

It’s a rusty old saw but, like any cliché, it’s fundamentally true. For years, we have taken a very channel-specific view of engagement, thinking in terms of mobile, display, social and video. But those are channels, apps and browsers. Browsers don’t buy anything; people do.

A people-centric viewpoint is critical to being a modern marketer. True people-based marketing needs to extend beyond advertising and start to include things like sales, service and ecommerce interactions – every touchpoint people have with brands.

People – customers and consumers – must reside at the center of everything, and the systems of engagement we use to touch them must be tertiary. This makes the challenges of identity resolution the new basis of competition going forward.

Collect Everything, Measure Everything

A true commitment to personalized marketing means that you have to understand people. For many years, we have assigned outsized importance to small scraps of digital exhaust such as clicks, views and likes as signals of brand engagement and intent. Mostly, they’ve lived in isolation, never informing a holistic view of people and their wants and desires.

Now we can collect more of this data and do so in real time. Modern enterprises need to become more obsessive about valuing data. Every scrap of data becomes a small stitch in a rich tapestry that forms a view of the customer.

We laughed at the “data is the new oil” hyperbole a few years back – simply because nobody had a way to store and extract real value from the sea of digital ephemera. Today is vastly different because we have both the technology and processes to ingest signals at scale – and use artificial intelligence to refine them into gold. Businesses that let valuable data fall to the floor without measuring them might already be dead, but they just don’t know it yet.

Be A Retailer

A lot of brands aren’t as lucky as popular hotel booking sites. To book a room, you need to sign up with your email. Once you become a user, the company collects data on where you like to go, how often you travel, how much you pay for a room and even what kind of mattress you prefer. Any brand would kill for that kind of one-to-one relationship with a customer.

Global CPG brands touch billions of lives every day, yet often have to pay other companies to learn how their marketing spend affected sales efforts. Brands must start to own customer relationships and create one-to-one experiences with buyers. We are seeing the first step with things like Dash buttons and voice ordering, though still through a partner, but we will see this extend even further as brands change their entire business models to start to own the retail relationship with people. The key pivot point will come when brands actually value people data as an asset on their balance sheets.

See The World Dynamically

The ubiquity of data has led to an explosion of microsegmentation. I know marketers and publishers that can define a potential customer to 20 individual attributes. But people can go from a “Long Island soccer mom” on Monday to an “EDM music lover” on Friday night. Today’s segmentation is very much static – and very ineffective for a dynamic world where things change all the time.

To get the “right message, right place, right time” dynamic right, we need to understand things like location, weather, time of day and context – and make those dynamic signals part of how we segment audiences. To be successful, marketers and media companies must commit to thinking of customers as the dynamic and vibrant people they are and enable the ability to collect and activate real-time data into their segmentation models.

Think Like A Technologist

Finally, to create the change described above requires a commitment to understanding technology. You can’t do “people data” without truly understanding data management technology. You can’t measure everything without technology that can parse every signal. To be a retailer, you have to give customers a reason to buy directly from you. Thinking about customers dynamically requires real-time systems of collection and activation.

But technology and the people to run it are expensive investments, often taking months and years to show ROI, and the technology changes at the velocity of Moore’s Law. It’s a big commitment to change from diaper manufacturer to marketing technologist, but we are starting to understand that it is the change required to survive an era where people are in control.

Some say that it wasn’t streaming media technology that killed Blockbuster, but the fact that people hated their onerous late fees. It was probably both of those things. Tomorrow’s Blockbusters will be the companies that cannot apply these principles of modern, personalized marketing – or do not want to make the large investments to do so.

[This article originally appeared in AdExchanger on 8/7/2017.]

DMPs are Dead. Long Live DMPs.

 

King

Much like latter day King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, today’s ubiquitous data management platforms will eventually die as an independent buying category but live on in the greater consciousness. And karate. 

Gartner’s Marty Kihn recently made an argument that ad tech and mar tech would not come together, contrary to what he had predicted a few years ago. When Marty speaks about ad tech, people listen.

 

Like many people, when I read the headline, I thought to myself, “That makes no sense!” But those who read the article more closely understand that the disciplines of ad tech and mar tech will certainly be bound closer together as systems align – but the business models are totally incompatible.

Advertising technology and the ecosystem that supports it, both from a commercial business model perspective (percentage of media spend billed in arrears) and the strong influence of agencies in the execution process, has meant that the alignment with software-as-a-service (SaaS) marketing technology is not just an engineering problem to solve.

Marketing leaders and brands need to change the way they do their P&L and budgeting and reevaluate business process flows both internally and with outside entities such as agencies to ensure that even if the technology may be right, the execution needs to be optimal to achieve the desired results.

There are also plenty of technical hurdles to overcome to truly integrate mar tech and ad tech – most notably, finding a way to let personally identifiable information and anonymous data flow from system to system securely. While those technical problems may be overcome through great software engineering, the business model challenge is a more significant hurdle.

I remember getting some advice from AdExchanger contributor Eric Picard when we worked together some years ago. I was working at a company that had a booming ad tech business with lots of customers and a great run rate, operating on the typical ad network/agency percentage-of-spend model.

At the time, we were facing competition from every angle and getting disrupted quickly. Eric’s suggestion was to transform the company to a platform business, license our technology for a fixed monthly fee and begin to build more predictable revenues and a dedicated customer base. That would have meant parting ways with our customers who would not want to pay us licensing fees and rebuilding the business from scratch.

Not an easy decision, but one we should have taken at the time. Eric was 100% right, but transforming a “run rate” revenue ad tech business into a SaaS business takes a lot of guts, and most investors and management didn’t sign up for that in the first place.

This is a long way of saying that Marty is right. There are tons of ad tech businesses that simply cannot transform themselves into marketing software stacks, simply because it requires complete change – from a structural financial perspective (different business model) and a people perspective (different sales skills required).

[This post appeared in AdExchanger on 5/9/2017]

What is the future of DMPs?

In the 1989 film “Back to the Future II,” Marty McFly traveled to Oct. 21, 2015, a future with flying cars, auto-drying clothes, and shoes that lace automatically. Sadly, none of these things happened. 

What is the future of data management platforms? This is a question I get asked a lot.

The short answer is that DMPs are now part of larger marketing stacks, and brands realize that harnessing their data is a top priority in order to deliver more efficient marketing.

This is a fast-moving trend in which companies are licensing large enterprise stacks and using systems integrators to manage all marketing—not just online advertising.

As detailed in Ad Age (Marketing clouds loom), the days of turning to an agency trade desk or demand side platform (DSP) to manage the “digital” portions of advertising are fading rapidly as marketers are intent on having technology that covers more than just advertising.

Building consumer data platforms

A few years ago, a good “stack” might have been a connected DMP, DSP and ad server. A really good stack would feature a viewability vendor and start a dynamic creative optimization (DCO). The focus then was on optimizing for the world of programmatic buying and getting the most out of digital advertising as consumers’ attention shifted online, to mobile and social, rather than television.

Fast forward a few years, and the conversations we are having with marketers are vastly different. As reported in AdExchanger, more than 40% of enterprise marketers license a DMP, and another 20% will do so within the next 12 months. DMP owners and those in the market for one are increasingly talking about more than just optimizing digital ads. They want to know how to put email marketing, customer service and commerce data inside their systems. They also want data to flow from their systems to their own data lakes.

Many are undertaking the process of building internal consumer data platforms (CDPs), which can house all of their first-party data assets—both known and pseudonymous user data.

We are moving beyond ad tech. Quickly.

Today, when those in the market are considering licensing a “DMP” they are often thinking about “data management” more broadly. Yes, they need a DMP for its identity infrastructure, ability to connect to dozens of different execution systems and its analytical capabilities. But they also need a DMP to align with the systems they use to manage their CRM data, email data, commerce systems, and marketing automation tools.

Data-driven marketing no longer lives in isolation. After I acquire a “luxury sedan intender” online, I want to retarget her—but I also want to show her a red sedan on my website, e-mail her an offer to come to the dealership, serve her an SMS message when she gets within range of the dealership to give her a test drive incentive, and capture her e-mail address when she signs up to talk to a salesperson. All of that needs to work together.

Personalization demands adtech and martech come together

We live in a world that demands Netflix and Amazon-like instant gratification at all times. It’s nearly inconceivable to a Millennial or Generation Z if a brand somehow forgets that they are a loyal customer because they have so many choices and different brands that they can switch to when they have a bad experience.

This is a world that requires adtech and martech to come together to provide personalized experiences—not simply to create more advertising lift, but as the price of admission for customer loyalty.

So, when I am asked, what is the future of DMPs, I say that the idea of licensing something called a “DMP” will not exist in a few years.

DMPs will be completely integrated into larger stacks that offer a layer of data management (for both known and unknown data) for the “right person;” an orchestration layer of connected execution systems that seek to answer the “right message, right time” quandary; and an artificial intelligence layer, which is the brains of the operation trying to figure out how to stitch billions of individual data points together to put it all together in real time.

DMPs will never be the same, but only in the sense that they are so important that tomorrow’s enterprise marketing stacks cannot survive without integrating them completely, and deeply.

[This post was originally published 11 May, 2017 by Chris O’Hara in Econsultancy blog]