Sales in a Pandemic. Did not see that coming!

Four years ago, I moved from agency to sales and at the time and since, a number of agency colleagues asked me about how the cross over was and asked what I had discovered. There is so much to learn in making the move and I have learned a lot along the way and more than just sales. I have solidified my leadership journey further and grown as a human. One thing four years ago I had not considered was how sales would be in a Pandemic where I have not visited the office in close to nine months and seen members of the team in person only once. That was not in the instruction manual.

By this time last year I would have visited every sales team in every country at least three times for varying lengths of time, I would have had client meetings in every country, presented at a number of conferences, attended CES, Cannes and Dmexco at a minimum. I would have eaten my body weight in pasta, Tapas and shit airport sandwiches. I would have taken at least 30 return flights. I would be exhausted but I would be full to the brim of people interaction. If you run a sales team from UK to Dubai, this is what you have to, this is sales.

Instead, I have been in my room, across the corridor staring at my screen, for nine months.

Sales leadership is something that Is heavily influenced by the human interaction. The people interactions are huge, people feed off each other in a very immediate way and momentum comes from those relationships. I have seen teams go up or down very rapidly based on those engagements. Morale is very fluid and so in the last nine months we have all had to adapt dramatically. I want to pause and give a huge shout out to all those sales leaders out there, a selection I have had a chance to talk with and know they are feeling it too!

The Pandemic has been like being in a car, seeing the corner coming but not having a steering wheel to turn, at least in a recession the steering wheel was turning to the team, brainstorming, taking refuge in humour and finding camaraderie of facing something together, maybe a drink, maybe a meal, a fitness class, a pool night, things to break up the relentlessness. This time it has been different and every single one of us in our industry has had to adapt and fast.

I can talk personally that going to countries and walking in the office gives you a chance to chat, speak to different people, learn about people on the fly. You can talk to them directly, you can get the feeedback, questions asked are important to me and in-person time tends to help draw that out. The Hangout/Zoom/Teams set up means that is very hard in a larger group and you get the sense you are broadcasting the whole time, thats my biggest sentiment, you are on broadcast, one way dialogue. It does get better in smaller groups of course but there is still an element of that, especially with people having to keep up with dialogues not in their first language. I think the biggest casualty of Zoomday is we tend to cut out the personal chat, or to a bare minimum and thats where we lose the connections, and spare a thought for all the new people who started in a lock down, we have had many and I have made a point of speaking to them all (ongoing!) and I am amazed at how positive they are and pleased our teams are rallying around them BUT excited for when they get back into the buzz!

So when I look back on this year, what have we changed, how did we do it and how in all this craziness did we win Sales Team of The Year?

  1. Agility: This comes top if the list for me. We all put so much store in strategy, we must have a plan and stick to it, this year was about how do we adapt that plan or indeed throw it out. Everything from how we interact, commission plans, market insights, obviously type of engagement, turn around times, business rules around bookings etc. The pace of adapting was amazing to see. My biggest goal was sharing of ideas/work/ideas across the region, the amount the teams have been inspiring each other has been incredible.
  2. Brand: In sales, what you sell is crucial of course and Spotify Advertising stepped up in the last nine months. A drum beat of insights, updates, analysis (not to mention some big acquisitions and announcements) allowed the team to be active in market, visible and relevant. Turning Pandemic insights into something marketable. Marketing that would have taken weeks was signed off and pushed out fast. Big shout out to our marketing teams.
  3. Offline to Online: Linked to above, the business had to get off its drug of live events, a focus in sales we take for granted, no Cannes, no Dmexco, no Festival of Media, and all the local events, our businesses are tuned to that. The transition to online was amazing to watch – LoveAudio events online were run across the region and drew huge crowds, it was a pleasure to see all those pulled together. A topic for another day, but a lot of pros to these online events.
  4. Team: Yes we would all agree that we are burned out with video calls. However, it was still important to bring people together and build team spirit. I literally cant think of a single thing we would do in person as a team that did not make it onto hangouts! Yoga, fitness, cooking, quizzes, training, drinking, eating, nail bars, hairdressing, concerts, interviews. You get the idea. All of these supplemented with chat groups that never stopped with humour and chat rolling every day – and of course Rak’s music playlists being pumped out every day.
  5. Empathy: Something that I know has been on all my leads minds, how to make sure they can look after their teams and how each member of the team has been looking out for each other. This has been huge and taken a big extra step in how we think about each other. When you are together every day those conversations happen more easily and frequently, so through these incredibly stressful times, taking extra time to think about your colleagues and reach out has been crucial. A big shout to the teams that lead amazing ERGs like Heart and Soul supporting everyone. Has this made us all more empathetic than before, thinking more laterally about the team, I hope so.
  6. Sales skills: I will say that as a sales team we have got better at sales. I am talking about Spotify but I am willing to bet it is beyond us. Sales changed this year. We had to listen to advertiser needs more than ever, we had to be agile in our solutions, we had to adapt what we had to support the brands looking to spend and indeed those who didnt. We had to dig deep into what sectors were benefitting and those that needed time. It has been so tough this year, but I genuinely think we grew as a team and we come out better than we went in as regards sales skills. I have learned a lot personally and when I moved to sales this was not one I had prepped for, but what a learning curve.
  7. Our clients: I think as an industry we came together like never before. The feeling of unity in such difficult times led to some meaningful questions, genuine conversations about life and business. We were all collectively grappling with what was in front of us and helping each other wherever possible. There was an openness to learn from each other, I felt as a sales person that clients wanted to hear what we had to say and apply it to their own challenges. Too often media brands are put in a box and only opened up when there is a very relevant connection. This last nine months has been more about learning collectively and thinking differently. Thank you to all those advertisers and agencies I have worked with this year!
  8. Onboarding: We have had to be really thorough around the process of onboarding and make sure people have a real chance to learn about the business. I think this is a good thing that will stand us in great stead for the future hiring, lock down or not.

There is so much more I could cover, to repeat something above in summary, I just feel like as a person, a team, a business and as an industry we have grown in the last nine months and perhaps some of the new behaviours started in lock down will carry on beyond, when things are more normal. A personal thanks to my whole EMEA sales team who have been amazing these last few months.

So finally, what would I like to see continue in a form of normality, lets call it PV (Post Vaccine)? So from PV1 here are some things I would love to see continue:

  1. Not all client meetings have to be in person – default is ‘does this meeting have to be in person?’
  2. An openness to listen and learn and not pre judge what Media Brands have to say
  3. Purposeful meetings, shorter and more full with challenges and ideas
  4. Events being professionally run to embrace on and offline elements so they are more inclusive
  5. A camaraderie at an Industry level – thinking collectively and in a way we solve things together.
  6. Flexible working, more trust, everyone has proved they can work from home, lets find that balance

So we are coming to the end of this 2020, all 67 months of it (quote from #wrapped2020) and it could not have been harder, but has allowed me to grow, I hope the team as a whole has grown and learned, but there is no substitute, as a human being, to be around other human beings. Noone will persuade me otherwise.

Well done you all. Here is to 2021.

My Shiny new object podcast & Interview with The Drum

A first for me on this blog is a link to a podcast I featured on with Tom Ollerton a few months back.  Here the Drum has a summary of the interview, first published Here

The podcast itself can be found here on Spotify

Spotify’s European sales chief, Marco Bertozzi talks about the latest marketing technology on the Shiny New Object podcast with Tom Ollerton, AI consultant and the former innovation director at We Are Social.

“No-one is going to remember my career” states Marco Bertozzi , VP of Europe Sales at Spotify.

Despite this seemingly self-effacing statement about his career, Bertozzi bubbles with positivity and is powering a mini-movement that celebrates the wonderful parts of our industry in the form of the #LoveAds campaign.

Despite his hippie ideals about adland, Bertozzi is one of the most successful sales guys out there – but getting there wasn’t easy. He confides with the audience that he once sent his pitch team to the client’s office for a pitch whilst simultaneously asking the client to come to the agency for the same pitch. This kind of gaffe would send me into a spiral of self-loathing but Marco seems to draw strength from his miss-steps. He happily chirps that “I’m really good at not worrying about things I can’t do anything about.” He tells us that in the evenings and at the weekend there’s not much he can really do to change anything, so why worry?

However, life isn’t all about work for Marco and he was keen to talk about his love of running – though he warns of doing “junk miles.” where a person repeats their regular exercise and don’t push them self. If this behaviour becomes the norm then it tends to hold back their development.

When asked about how he finds time to run sales at Spotify and keep fit – he insists you have to go to the gym during the working week – forcing people to go at lunchtime is an “archaic model.”

Marco’s shiny new object is “Marketing in a Screenless World” – and he’s on a mission to draw marketers attention away from visual marketing. He claims that “The marketing world is obsessed with video” and tells us of the seismic changes in the industry that Voice Tech and Audio will bring.

I agree with Marco that “People are looking for opportunities not to look at their screens” – with connected speakers, podcasts and audiobooks quietly changing the media landscape. But what is the opportunity for brands in this screenless world? In a word – intimacy. When a consumer is listening to audio on headphones cut through is guaranteed with no distractions. Spotify’s ad suite is taking advantage of this – giving brands the opportunity to make dynamic audio ads that are responsive to the audience in real-time. Snickers used this to powerful effect by spotting when a listener’s music habits took an unusual turn – and served up an ad that called this behaviour out.

If you get the chance to meet Marco then I urge that you do. Or of course, you can just listen to this podcast on Spotify.

Kaizen supercharged.

Here is how many messages started post the Publicis announcement. ‘Wow some big changes down at Publicis! Hope everything is OK??’ Interesting that people start with concern, lovely as that is, it gets me thinking about change and how it is perceived.

As regards our restructure, the first thing that strikes me about the amazing journey that Maurice has kicked off is that people have started talking about Publicis and not SMG, ZO etc. Very quickly the marketplace is referring to Publicis and to me that’s a positive, because it shows that this is not one agency, one country or discipline reorganising itself or ‘shifting the deck chairs around’ as one journo put it, this is a wholesale restructure and purposefully so. The spirit of Kaizen or in other words continuous improvement, does not do it justice. This is Kaizen supercharged, a reimagining the like of which the industry has not seen.

Disruption is something many talk about at length, it forms part of every presentation but in almost all circumstances the disruption is one company doing it to another. There are few examples of where a company disrupts itself. Apple is the highest profile example of one who has, but there not many others and thats what is so exciting about the Publicis strategy. Publicis have recognised that the world has been disrupted by technology, people are disrupting the industry with this technology and the advertisers in particular who are looking to their partners and partnerships are asking for change. The trouble is many are not listening.

Publicis is listening and Maurice has taken steps that are unheard of in a group of this size, tens of thousands of employees across all disciplines being  aligned to the benefit of the advertisers, importantly being encouraged to embrace change and have a different dialogue with our advertisers. A dialogue not driven by silos, P&Ls and other self made boundaries. Of course there are challenges with this but the momentum in the business is tangible. At its heart is is reviewing relationships with a fresh set of eyes and thinking to themselves, how could we do this differently? We hope that for our advertisers this becomes an exciting opportunity.

Change.

As someone who started out in digital, a founder of programmatic media in an agency group, part of a few iterations of VivaKi restructures, change has been part of my DNA and for sure will focus heavily in my memoirs!  It creates opportunity for those who go with it, it’s a mindset that where one embraces it, supports it, good things come, perhaps not today, next month, but they come. As someone who mentors at UCL and loves doing the speakers for schools programme, my number one piece of advice is to embrace change as it will keep coming!

Publicis Groupe is a huge group, it contains so many smart people and Maurice has unleashed those talented people from top to bottom, the dialogue can be different both internally and with our clients and I am seeing it happen already. It can be destabilising for some but its empowering for many and the next 12 months are going to see great things for the Groupe as we start to socialise the plans with clients, as the strategy lights up, we will see the emails saying ‘wow! Great win.’ The news that Asda chose a Publicis duo of media and creative seems to be a huge validation of the plan, even if we are at the earliest stages of that plan.

My own role is changing and we are excited about the fact that we are creating a single Publics performance operation, Performics. I am confident that we will see great things both from Performics and the wider Publicis Media and I look forward to my part in that! As Bowie once said ch-ch-changes..

 

 

 

Technology : Blurring work and home life

I am sure there is a name for us, those people who have traversed the pre and post Internet eras. It is with great amusement that I see the reactions of young people in my business when I tell them that when I started out in my career there was no internet or email. It is quite something that in my career of 18 years we have gone from no internet or email at work and lets face it limited mobile phone usage to the Apple watch.

So what impact has that had on our lives? We have imperceptibly been on a technology creep around work that has blurred the lines between work and home, work and family and without being able to identify when or how it started. It got me thinking about the new starters who are immediately looking to get a phone or blackberry/iPhone and how that is probably where it all started – status. It started with status and the attainment of that position coming with a phone (no email) and or laptop which of course has now moved towards almost universal connectivity for all.

Even when we had blackberries there appeared to still be boundaries around holidays and out of hours, there was a start and finish to the day but that has disappeared now. We are all working night and day now, we work as our children swing or slide, we work as we take that long drive or wait at the airport to go on holiday. Emails come and go at all hours, and the all hours really does become all hours as we work in an ever more global marketplace. Our colleagues scattered all over the world each either at work or at home, sending that odd email. So that got me thinking about whether we are all living far more stressful lives than those of the 80s or the 90s. No escape, no off switch. When you went on holiday back then, that was it, you were off, and you could relax, no expectation, no ‘could you just join this call’ you were OUT. Weekends were weekends, as you got on the train or jumped in the car that closed the shute and gave you a chance to reflect and consider the week that was and the week to come.

The impact is worse than that though, what impact at home? How much more is the family affected by this than you – how many times are you zoning out of the present to read, respond to a message – did it annoy you and change your mood. How many times did you hear ‘Daaaad?’ ‘come on dad’ because you were distracted. None of this happened before the technology, we were all present, in the moment. Technology creep has eroded into home life, friend life. We have become a nation of screen starers and we all know it, but can’t stop it.

But hold on, is it all bad? As someone who travels a lot technology has helped me, it has kept me connected to my family more than I could ever have done before. Now I can see and talk to my wife and son when I am away, I am able to send photos and videos at the touch of a button. I can work instead of killing time at airports – I can keep working wherever I am instead of it all piling up for my return and perhaps making me go into the office at the weekend. The ability to work remotely is also a new opportunity for the modern businessman. But here in lies the problem and the reason we can’t stop. We can work everywhere and ‘spread out the work’ so as to minimise home disruption. We now only need to glance at our phones every half an hour rather than take a full two hours out of the day, but I think that is more corrosive than locking yourself away for an hour.

So where does that leave us in this constant battle with technology – it starts with us. It starts with the standards we set for each other and what our expectations are of each other. I have three rules, one for me and two for people who work for me that I try to stick to at all times unless there is something extraordinary. The first is that when someone is on holiday, let them have that time uninterrupted. Don’t tempt them in, don’t encourage communication. The second is to not expect communication at the weekends (I fail a little at this by emailing at weekends but I don’t expect responses) The third is for me, it is not new but I do believe in it, if you have a stressful job then don’t look at your email when you first wake up, in fact give yourself a chance to wake, dress, eat, speak before being pulled into email because you don’t know what you will find there and it is proven to increase stress levels overall if it starts first thing in the morning.

We cant stop the technology creep, we can only become more disciplined with it and I will be looking to improve myself for the sake of home and family.