What I learned about sales from doing a QBR with Kris Jenner
Back in 2010, I was CEO of a startup influencer marketing business. We were early pioneers in monetizing Twitter’s newsfeed—so early in fact that Twitter hadn’t even hired its own sales team yet. However, marketers were becoming intrigued with Twitter and we saw an opportunity to fill the gap by brokering sponsored tweets between them and high-profile Twitter users.
At that time, the top influencers on Twitter included a group of up-and-coming reality show stars from shows like The Jersey Shore, The Hills and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, all of whom had already figured out that Twitter was a powerful way to bypass traditional media and engage directly with their fans. The most famous of these by far were the Kardashian-Jenners, who were managed by their mother, Kris.
Shortly after I joined the company, I set up a QBR process to go meet our top partners, introduce myself and look for ways to grow the business. Kris, like many Hollywood talent managers, worked out of her home, so I drove over from our Beverly Hills office to her house in Hidden Hills.
Getting put on the spot with a very difficult objection
Its always a bit nerve-wracking when you meet someone who has a huge public persona so I was surprised how incredibly welcoming and down to earth she was—but no sooner had we sat down in her office, she launched into full attack mode:
Kris: “Look, you really need to pay my girls more! I’m getting offered $10k, $20, $40k, $100k per tweet. I’ve got the studios calling me, brands calling me, everyone wants a piece of us right now. You aren’t paying us anywhere near what they are offering!
She wasn’t wrong. On the high end we were paying Kim $7k a tweet, while on the low end we were paying the Jenner sisters $500 a tweet. Yet we couldn’t afford to pay them more because while Kim was the high profile celebrity that drove advertiser interest, the (at the time lesser-known) Jenner sisters drove more tweet engagement—meaning we needed to package them all together to keep the blended cost-per-engagement within the range of what advertisers would pay.
Overcoming the objection by asking clarifying questions
I was fortunate to have gone through negotiation training early in my career, where I’d learned that the one of the best ways to respond to a difficult question or objection is by asking your own questions to diffuse the situation:
Me: How many of those offers are for a single tweet, vs something more time-consuming like a public appearance or a photo shoot?
Kris: I don’t know, but they are all proposing big numbers and you guys aren’t even close.
Me: How many of the partners that have done sponsored tweets with you have come back with more business?
Kris: Hmm..I don’t know. I haven’t really kept track of it. I’m so busy. I’m running this business by myself with one assistant.
Using data to reframe the conversation around our strengths
I had learned from one of my first bosses how its easy to fall into the trap of believing you are small when you are a startup, and that the one of the keys to overcoming it is to reframe the power dynamic around your own strengths. So I slid a piece of paper with some data on it across the desk:
Me: Kris, here’s a monthly breakdown of the sponsored tweets each of your clients has done with us, and how much they’ve earned from us. You can see it’s $200k so far and growing month over month.
Kris: Oh, that’s interesting. I had no idea…that’s real money! How can we do more?
Me: Well your Acceptance Rate is only 75%. Our top influencers are at 95%.
Kris: Acceptance Rate??? What do you mean?
We’d learned early on in the business that the one thing every celebrity cared about more than anything was what people think of them. So we had created a metric called Acceptance Rate, which accomplished two things: 1) it immediately got their attention and 2) it was directly related to how much they used our platform and made us money.
Me: Your clients are only accepting 75% of the sponsored tweets we’ve sent their way. The other 25% seem to be going unanswered. That creates a bad experience for our advertisers and makes us less likely to send more deals your way.
Kris: That’s crazy. We’ll endorse anything—within reason. You know what, its Twitter’s fault! Kim’s password got hacked a few weeks ago and we couldn’t get hold of anyone at Twitter to help reset it. You’d think they would have VIP support for top users like her.
Me: Wow that’s terrible. Let me see if someone from our team can help get you connected to Twitter’s support team and let’s also make sure we have backup contact info for you, your assistant and anyone else who manages your clients’ Twitter accounts so we can ensure you get notified the next time we have a deal for you.
Getting the desired outcome
After that meeting, the Kardashian-Jenner Acceptance Rate shot up to 100%, and remained there, leading to more business. But more importantly, the strategy of overcoming tricky objections by asking questions and reframing the conversation around your strengths really crystalized for me that day, and has become a cornerstone of how I approach sales and marketing ever since.
If you want to take a deeper dive in how to use your data to reframe your sales conversations and keep your buyers engaged, you’ll find this post a good next read.