Woe The Digital Sale: A Jack-@$% by Any Other Name

I'm a seller for a network. Recently, I ran into an industry colleague who, after asking me what my "title" is, insinuated that he is doing better than I am because he is a "director," while I am merely a "manager." We really do essentially the same job. Do titles matter these days? I didn't think so, but maybe I'm naive. Do people really care what my business card says?
Jason says:
Ask a stewardess or secretary if titles matter. In reply, the flight attendant or executive assistant will either give you an earful or turn your request for decaf into a triple espresso. Seriously, though, in our industry a job title is something that is usually only important to the wrong people. It is probably one of the more hyper-emotional issues that people deal with in the business world (right between whose office is bigger and who has the higher-classed chauffeured Mercedes--whoa, Condé Nast flashback there).
If you have been dubbed vice president of sales and you have no direct reports, does it matter that you are a vice president? Are you making sales calls? Are you writing proposals? Are you cold calling? These are all honorable tasks, mind you, but they are also all matters that may be within the purview of an account executive. Does that make you more important than a regional manager at another company who has seven salespeople on her team and a large revenue base? In other words, it is all relative. Maybe your title is indicative of your overall stature in the industry, and that's terrific. You deserve it. But it is hardly worth flaunting.
Where these things may come into play is regarding client access and actually getting your job done. When calling a prospective client, I suppose you may get your call returned faster if you tell them you are a senior vice president rather than an account executive. Who knows. I think it is personal and depends on whom you are calling.



I tell my team, "Don't worry about what it says on your card. Rather, focus on your actual job responsibilities and stress those points with our prospects." It doesn't matter to me if you want to be called "The Situation." What matters is that your job is to represent the company in the best possible manner. And I want our clients to know that, whatever the title, I have entrusted this person to service the client's business and deliver our full range of services.
However, I am certainly not oblivious to reality. Titles are not meaningless. They are a badge of accomplishment and a factor of self-esteem within your peer group. Just don't get caught up in the game. For every person who cares what your title is, there are 20 (more important) people who don't. And the latter are probably in the best position to help your career.
What do you think, Amy, are agencies impressed by fancy titles? Should I promote everyone on my sales team to "Vice President of Generic Department?"

Amy says:

When it comes to ignoring salespeople and cold calls, titles do not make a difference to an agency buyer.  If I got a call from the "Grand Poobah of the Selling Sciences" of, I may be inclined to call him back, just to find out how the heck he got such a title!  But in terms of managing the day-to-day business at my agency, there are other more important needs for the titles on the sales side that have nothing to do with that person's career achievements. 

Online advertising and media is a digital business that is still mostly managed manually.  With that manual labor comes many human mistakes.  And human mistakes have to be remedied by humans.  Titles on the seller side are important at this point because as a buyer, when I need to solve a problem quickly, I need to know who can make that happen.  If that is not an account executive, then I do need to have a VP contact that will have more authority to make a decision to help me right then --  not someone who has to go back to their team to get an answer while my client's major launch campaign of the year is on hold because of a financial issue. 

Same goes for the negotiations.  When the CPM is too high and the AE won't budge, I need to escalate the issue to get things solved.  So while title is not important from prospecting angle, the hierarchy does make things clearer for the agency side when business needs to get done.

Part of agency folks' ambivalence to titles is that titles are even more meaningless on our side.  A buyer may be called a strategist at one agency and a connections specialist at their next job - even when all they are really doing is buying media.  With director level and officer titles, agencies need those to impress traditional teams and clients to show that they do have some level of experience and can be trusted to manage the business of media planning and buying.

There is one thing I do know for sure about titles.  Becoming a VP of something, no matter what the size of the company, will still make your parents very happy.  So I say to everyone: Go forth and prosper in your careers, become a VP, and make your parents proud!!

4 comments about "Woe The Digital Sale: A Jack-@$% by Any Other Name".
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  1. Josh Shear from That Josh, April 8, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

    I have a director title (Director of Online Publishing), but it's really only impressive in certain professional circles that have nothing to do with what I do. If I tell people I'm an in-house SEO and social media strategist, they get a better idea of what I do.

  2. Charlie Stogner from StogTv, April 8, 2010 at 4:31 p.m.

    My need for the correct title is of a different nature but I'd appreciate any ideas.

    We're developing local 'cable-captive' TV operations that are planned to be much more like video versions or a good community newspaper than traditional TV.

    We will focus on human interest features, not 'breaking news'; local sports, events, etc.; covering government bodies, meetings etc. and our local 'managing partner' is more like a newspaper publisher than TV station manager who in the smallest sites may be a 'jack of all trades' from selling to producing ads; covering events as a 'back pack' journalist and probably taking out the trash.

    I'm looking to a job description/title that would more correctly tell others what the role is.

    Any ideas?

  3. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, April 8, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.

    No one in my company has a title on their card except the sales reps, who insisted. It tends to drive people crazy - which may be why the sales reps insisted - but it reinforces the message that our organization is flat and nimble.

    Also, it saves money when we promote people.

  4. Walter Sabo from HitViews, April 9, 2010 at 6:35 a.m.

    Any thing whose only value is to "make things clearer from the agency side..." is worthless.

    I always loved the fact that when Leonard Goldenson, the founder and Chairman of ABC handed out his card it said:
    LEONARD GOLDENSON and nothing else.

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