This sentence is so eloquently blunt because it delivers a truth many are feeling, but few have the courage to share aloud. Upon hearing these words directly and in private last week, I deleted the column I was working on and started this one.
This is a big problem for digital publishing companies and digital sales departments functioning inside traditional publishing brands. Before you say, “nope, not us, we’re part of the 5%,” recognize that doesn’t matter. Even if by chance you are, your efforts are drowning in the wake of the 95%.
This is a problem “we” need to own, not refute. This erosion of trust online buyers have for online sales people is the undercurrent driving the tide to programmatic spending.
So how did it get this bad? One problem has been there from the very beginning.
I joined the online publishing business in 1999, coming from traditional print ad sales. I sold ad space for the Washington Post-owned Newsweek, and the New York Times-owned Tennis magazine, before I joined what would be known as IGN.com.
I recognized immediately that things ran differently at a dot-com. Some of the differences were exhilarating, but others struck me as unprofessional.
Back when I worked at Newsweek, our manager, Lee Jones, conducted a weekly sales meeting at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays. Among the agenda items, someone in the group who had been assigned to report on the key editorial differences between Newsweek and Time for that week’s issue would share their insights, and then an active group discussion ensued. Even if you weren’t the one presenting, everyone in the room had to be prepared, which meant Monday nights were spent reading both Newsweek and Time cover-to-cover.
Forget the preparation the sales team went through every week in order to speak with authenticity and confidence about the attraction our audience had for our product. Forget that even if we had had smartphones back then, no one in that room would have dared to look at them during this meeting. What I could never imagine, however, was showing up late to the meeting. No one ever did.
When I started working at a dot-com, I was introduced to a blatant disregard for punctuality. Internal meetings never started when they were slated to begin. It became some perverse badge of honor, as if being late to a meeting meant you were busy and important.
I believe this lack of respect for being on time for internal meetings conditioned us to be late for meetings with buyers -- something I witnessed then and still hear about today. I'm afraid that being late has permeated the digital sales DNA.
We often connect broken trust with a significant event like cheating or lying, which is then followed by an immediate and dramatic dissolution of the involved parties. The reality, however, is that trust is built on small perceived agreements; when one party fails to uphold them, the other party loses trust. Trust is lost over time in these subtle ways, leaving a relationship intact but dysfunctional, like an unhappily married couple who should have divorced but have stayed together. That’s what the relationship between online sellers and buyers feels like today.
Being late can’t be the only reason why buyers have lost trust, but it’s a symptom of the problem being called out -- and let’s be honest, it’s embarrassing and should be eradicated. There is nothing more arrogant than being late. There is no acceptable excuse. Everything that caused your delayed arrival was in your hands.
Here is a trick to never being late again: Tell yourself that your meeting start time is 15 minutes before the actual start time, and then plan to show up five minutes early for that. So now, even when you are running 10 minutes “late,” you are still 10 minutes early. Being early is so important because it allows you to breathe and be more present. Running late has the opposite effect.
Are there other changes a digital sales team can make to ensure trust is built and not lost? Of course. For example, do exactly what you told a buyer you said would do -- or, never promise something you can’t be sure you can deliver.
I'm sure you can add to this list, and I would recommend having a sales meeting focused on how to tighten up or change your team’s approach with buyers to gain back their trust. I would recommend you start that meeting on time.
This headline points out a real problem. The time to fix it is running out.