10 Things You Need To Know About Selling Engagement

Anyone who has sold both print and digital advertising can tell you that there are differences between how each is bought and evaluated. As a rule, digital media is numbers and results-oriented, while print has traditionally relied on a more conceptual sell. Online selling is geared to the spreadsheet; print to the PowerPoint presentation. Print selling emphasizes market knowledge, educating clients --especially on the marketer side -- on buying dynamics, and telling a compelling sales story that shows clients how they will succeed. Digital selling is fast, RFP-oriented, emphasizing media technology knowledge and campaign metric optimization.

Of course this is too simplistic. But it points to the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Successful digital selling requires going beyond the spreadsheet, while selling print ads needs to be more metrics-oriented than ever before.

But the best online sales teams have learned from the legacy of print selling. They don't rely on hits and clicks and answering RFPs with agency spreadsheets neatly filled in with the right numbers. They know how to move beyond the RFP to market creation. And most important, they know how to sell their audience engagement story -- and sell it as a highly compelling advertiser/audience engagement story.



Spreadsheet selling eventually plays into the world of ad networks. No one is better than ad networks at calculating effective CPMs and delivering numbers that appear to deliver maximum results. But online publishers have the extraordinary advantage of potential knowledge of their audience. I say "potential" because so very few publishers really do understand audiences in depth and convey that knowledge in a compelling way to advertisers.

Speaking of the need for online publishers to "re-imagine" the sales story for advertisers, Vivek Shah, president of digital publishing for Time Inc's business and finance division, makes a critical point: content sites "have to do a better job" of showing advertisers how to enable the reader to interact with the advertiser within the context of the publisher's site.

In short, Shah is calling for a more effective engagement story. I completely agree, and believe that the path begins with audience knowledge. The more we know about what our audience cares about, why they come to our sites, what they need that they aren't getting, and how we can help them be successful, the more we have all the raw elements of an extraordinary engagement story.

Simple truth: Advertisers care about how you can help them see more business through their sales funnel. Knowing what your audience is doing and how to connect audiences to key moments in the sales funnel experience -- from awareness though the sale -- the more value you offer, and the more that advertisers are willing to invest in your site.

And so allow me to offer the 10 things everyone needs to know about selling engagement. Online publishers need to develop an "engagement knowledge" that answers these questions:

1. Who comes to your site?

2. Why are they there?

3. What are they doing on your site?

4. What do they find most valuable?

5. What do they want from your site that they don't currently have?

6. What programs are you offering to address this?

7. What creative resources can you offer advertisers to meet these user needs?

8. How will you gauge user satisfaction with your engagement programs?

9. How will you show advertisers how your programs address their sales funnel goals (awareness, engagement, sales impact, ROI)?

10. What can you learn to develop even more effective engagement programs?

At the vanguard of engagement selling, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, CNET, for starters, have all developed programs that marry deep insights about customer preferences with thoughtful advertiser engagement programs. Take a look, for example, at Yahoo's array of ad solutions.

The key, though, is audience knowledge. The more you know about your audience, the more effective the ad solutions can become. As simple as this is to say, it ultimately requires a long-term, complete commitment from sales and marketing leadership, thoughtful research and operational excellence.

7 comments about "10 Things You Need To Know About Selling Engagement ".
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  1. Christopher Jette from LGD Consulting Inc., April 23, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.

    Great article Kevin, wish the agencies would take the same approach though. Once they get buried in their spreadsheets and research they basically do their clients a disservice. Very few agencies are good at receiving ideas that speak to engagement and when it is received favorably, even more can't act on such ideas because they're either too departmentalized in their approach or too afraid to bring the ideas to their clients. So certainly us as publishers need to do a better job but without qualified personnel on the other end to receive these ideas, it justs becomes an exercise in futility.

  2. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, April 23, 2009 at 1:41 p.m.

    Kevin, WOW you did it again, and I hope there are significant listeners, better yet, get the biz model particularly in selling media has to change...selling in to sell through cannot remain stagnant. As one well immersed from the client side who has transitioned over the fence, it is that understanding, that engagement to audience, added value...what really is delivered, beyond just numbers in my the key of the every medium
    And know their business........their market, their headset, what's missing in their strategy that your media brand can bring to enhance their audience.connect...

  3. Jon Levy from Hype Circle, April 23, 2009 at 1:59 p.m.

    Excellent insight. Having sold print and online programs as one package, I can attest to the difficulty of getting clients not to measure their online campaign purely on the number of clicks. We often put forward the question: "When you run a print ad, do you put a toll free number at the bottom, then gauge the success by how many phone calls you receive? Of course not. While online gives us countless measurement tools on how a user engages with an ad, one must remember that with branding campaigns, the impression you leave is what counts. If you are truly putting your ads in a relevant and credible editorial environment, you will leave the right impression. Fortunately, there are quite a few brands that understand that, and empower their agencies accordingly. For the rest, we'll continue to convert them one by one!

  4. David Slatter from Claymore Marketing llc, April 23, 2009 at 3:15 p.m.

    Kevin, great piece; I wanted to pick up on the last paragraph since I think this is the most important point here- “The key, though, is audience knowledge.” Often times I have clients telling me they want to do audience/viewership research solely focused on the their online presence; however I try to encourage them to take a more holistic view. If you use multiple media (and who doesn't) to channel prospects through the awareness to purchase cycle you better be sure they all fit nicely together- each has their purpose but they all need to work in sync to create the total user/brand experience.

    David Slatter

  5. Mike Kelly from LIN Media, April 23, 2009 at 4:12 p.m.

    Excellent insight and ideas for all publishers from content to sales. In fact the more content, design and sales are in sync, the better we can serve both our users and our advertisers. As advertisers look for more accountability out of their new media investment, it's important for us as publishers not to fall into a CPC/CPA trap that cheapens the value of "view-through" ( a term I hope catches on!) To your point about the 800# in the print ad, it's also time for online publishers to help advertisers cost-shift from rapidly declining media like non-engaging terrestrial radio, yellow pages and print. That helps to eliminate the objection that "I'd love to spend in new media but my dollars are all tied up".

  6. Kevin Mannion from Advertiser Perceptions, Inc., April 23, 2009 at 4:20 p.m.

    Thanks all for the comments. Jon and Chris--I hear you and have been there. Media planners at agencies are often tasked with spreadsheet buying. The marketer side though, especially the sales and marketing management, look at top line and sales funnel metrics. How online publishers impact the marketing dashboard (awareness levels, engagement, conversion) is the essential story that needs to be told, and, generally speaking, it is a story that resonates at the senior client-side levels. Not to say that agencies don't care. In fact there is nothing more beautiful than to work with agency folks who get it (personal experience: Starcom in Chicago has always set the high bar for challenging digital sellers to turn audience insights into golden ideas for their clients).

  7. Jeff Demarest, April 24, 2009 at 6:19 p.m.

    First time every, blogger or blog responder.
    Way to go Kevin! Great article. Chris your comments are right-on too! Publishers love and get our "engagement" technology, but often then refer us to advertisers, who refer us to their agency, where ideas often go to die. Very frustrating. My elevator pitch is, generally online ads are designed to talk a target audience, right? Well our technology allows ad viewers to talk back to the advertiser right through their ad---no pop-ups, no floaters, no redirects. So advertisers now can pose questions, drive content, make recommendations, conduct e-commerce all through their ads. They nod their heads and say thank you, but are clearly affraid to try anything new.

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