Zen And The Art of Online Selling

"Who are those guys, Butch?" -- The Sundance Kid

And that is the question every marketer who ever spent an online ad dollar has asked.  Who are these guys, and why do they matter to me?  The answer is often presented in terms of demographic categories. And if your site is perceived to be the leader in a target category, you stand to do well.

But that is where the advertiser really needs the seller for the kinds of insight and intelligence that strengthen or change completely their conviction.

It is an aphorism that selling begins with customer knowledge. The customer, after all, is king -- or queen, as the case may be.

May I disagree?

It is the customer of the customer who rules, after all, isn't it?

In other words, the starting point for successful selling online is deep audience insight. And here clickstream metrics cannot give you the answers. There is no substitution for audience knowledge and insight.  You know, the kind of understanding that comes from actually speaking to them, listening to them, engaging in dialogue with them.

Do you think you do know this already? Perhaps you do. But I wouldn't be so quick to believe that, as most sales teams I know and most online publishers do not regularly use any of these audience-intelligence-gathering methods:

1.    Identify passionate site users and regularly speak with them.
2.    Create user advisory boards comprised of passionate, engaged users.
3.    Survey users on why they are there, what they are seeking to accomplish, and whether or not they were successful.

Why speak regularly with your audience? Doesn't that question itself seem silly? But I know it's rare that a sales, marketing, or even editorial person consistently engages audience members on a regular basis. About their sites, that is. And yet your customers are counting on you for that knowledge. In another context in MediaPost, I have quoted the golden words of  Brandon Starkoff, SVP/Global Director at Starcom: "We seek to place most of our business with online publishers who are leaders in their category. And one of the ways that we can see their leadership is by the extent that they know their audience."

Starkoff emphasized in that telling conversation that Starcom relied on these online leaders -- these audience experts -- for guidance in understanding how their clients could be successful. And that would include insights into the type of programs and ad units that would work.

Does your team -- or do you as a salesperson -- offer the advertiser guidance that they can take to the bank? If they can look to you as such an audience expert that they can confidently place their dollars in successful programs, well then you are in, by definition, a leadership position.

The Zen koan I would like you to consider then would be: What does it mean to focus on your customer by not focusing on your customer?

And the answer to the riddle would be: You focus on your customers by first focusing on their customer. And you can do that easily.

Some practical steps to get started on the path:

1.Send a simple survey (you can do it for free via Survey Monkey) and pose questions similar to the ones that Avinash Kaushik of Google has suggested that all sites should randomly ask their users:

a.    Why are you here today?
b.    What were you hoping to accomplish?
c.    Were you successful? Why or why not?

2.    Find users who are passionate about your site. How? If you have registration data and can ask your tech team to help, great. Otherwise you can use the above survey and find users that spend a lot of time on the site.

3.    Ask these users if they can spend 15-20 minutes with you to find out more about who they are, why they come to your site, how they feel about the content and advertising, what ads they see or would click on, etc.

4.    Create advisory boards with your best users to offer insights into your site, your content, programs, how advertisers can catch their attention, etc.

Once you connect with your users in these kinds of ways, don't be surprised if you become addicted to user feedback, advisory groups, and relationships. The insights you capture can only make your selling, marketing and content development exponentially better. And if you are not already a leader, you will become one to your advertisers.



3 comments about "Zen And The Art of Online Selling ".
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  1. John Ribbler from Media Pro, Inc., June 18, 2009 at 2:04 p.m.

    This article provides an excellent example of how marketing "gurus" address a valid issue by framing the subject in "cosmic" gobbledygook, then present a worthless, trivial plan of action that contradicts the original thesis.

    Yes, you do need to understand your customers and their "customers." (You're talking about what motivates them, I think.) But, you are supposed to know how to serve your customers without asking them to serve you by spending 15 - 20 minutes explaining "who they are." In general, the valuable customers have better things to do that help you figure them out.

    Guess what? The Zen approach is to "get it," intuitively. That's what great companies do. The others hire consultants.

  2. Jon Levy from Hype Circle, June 19, 2009 at 1:55 a.m.

    John Ribbler says, we should "get it intuitively. That's what great companies do". I totally agree.

    The problem is, the advertisers (our customers) want to see some type of verification.

    Sure, we can tell them that our readers come to us because we have best information on products they like, and they use that information to make their buying decisions - which we intuitively know is true - but advertisers want to see the data.

    Nothing like a little survey to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

  3. Stuart Long, June 19, 2009 at 1:58 a.m.

    Listening is the cornerstone of understanding and the foundation of sales success. If you listen closely you'll notice that the vast majority of those asked to participate in a survey would rather skip it. If you really listen to your customers all of the Zen voo doo magic in the World becomes superfluous. Your customers will tell you what they want, how they want it, when they want it, where they want it, and how much they will pay for it. If you're really listening, your customers will solve your biggest problems and help you overcome your greatest challenges. If you don't listen, you'll create a survey and then wonder what the survey results really mean.

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