I just got promoted to media supervisor at my agency job. I am starting to wonder about my career path and becoming a media director eventually -- but I'm also intrigued by the secret lives of salespeople. I wonder if I should start exploring sales side opportunities before I get too senior on this side of the business. Would my agency experience prepare me for this kind of position? And is it ever too late to switch sides?
Amy says: I have always wondered about the secret lives of salespeople: the freedom, the glamour, and especially the expense account! Being naturally curious, aka very nosy, I would often ask my favorite reps about their job satisfaction, the pressures of selling and the ways that Web sites work internally -- both process and politics.
A lot of what we do as buyers is definitely mirrored by sellers, it seems. We have clients, they have clients. We have tagging issues, they have tagging issues. And both of us are constantly pitching our wares to advertisers.
From a content perspective, you are probably more than qualified to join a sales organization. You know what advertisers need from online advertising and can provide an insider's view on what makes a buyer sign on the dotted line. Also, you have an understanding of any site's competitor set, so you can bring value there. What I think you would probably like is being able to learn about different agencies and how they do business compared with what you are used to.
What you may not be used to is cataloging all of your activities and worrying about making your quota. Sales management is always going to be asking what have you done for me lately. I know many folks who are required to have dozens of meetings per week and record all activities associated with them. CRM software helps out with this -- but it is way more detailed than filling out a status report for a weekly client meeting.
The other main difference, of course, is compensation. If you are a salesperson, your base salary may cover your living expenses -- but you will probably rely on your bonus to buy that Louis Vuitton bag or new Burton snowboard. Bonuses only come along when you meet your quota, or your team does, and in this economy it may be tough. Choosing the right sales team is important too, since you want to be working with people who have a shared interest in success.
If you are thinking about making the switch, start asking questions of your favorite vendors. Determine your monthly budget so you know what you need in terms of salary and bonus. I don't think it is ever too late to join a sales-side company; many senior agency execs join "the dark side" in marketing and strategy positions. But maybe the sales side isn't so "dark" after all, and it will be a career that suits you better in the end.
Jason, what do you think? Could an agency guy hack it in the fast-paced world of selling?
Jason says: I envision a very secretive recruitment process, hopeful media executives pitching you on the benefits of joining their team, a flood of speculation from the twitterati as to your prospective whereabouts, and then the culmination in your press conference, where you proclaim "I'm taking my media talents to South Beach.... the Web site."
OK, maybe not. Basically, I believe great salespeople are born, not made. As such, we are always on the lookout for exceptional talent (excepting the digital near-apocalypse of early 2001 and the ad depression of 2009). The reason we often look for talent over experience is simply because, in a business so young, it is more difficult to accumulate meaningful experience. I have always said that I believe in hiring great businesspeople with the relevant industry expertise.
And you cannot get more relevant experience selling digital media than working in an ad agency buying digital media. I have found that salespeople who come from ad agencies can do extraordinarily well in the world of digital ad sales. Along with whatever business category experience they may have (e.g., health, technology, retail), they also know how the agency world works, which is right up there with knowing how to assemble a carburetor or figuring out how to get the wrapping off a CD.
These turncoats might actually know how to navigate the ridiculous world of "RFP du jour" that some digital agencies have created. For instance, having someone from the agency side could help our team understand why we received an RFP at 4 p.m. on Friday that was due Monday at 10 a.m., for a company that posts over $600 million in annual sales, while the RFP is for a whopping $7,000. Similarly, perhaps they can help us work a system where the largest CPG brands in the world plan digital media for every brand, individually, from scratch, for each effort, rather than as a whole a few times a year (as they do in TV, print, outdoor and radio).
Ax-grinding aside, if you are ready to come sell some ads, also be ready to a) rarely get a phone call/email returned b) barely receive feedback when you don't make the plan, and c) be asked to make a contribution to an agency's charitable endeavor even when that agency has not given you a dime of revenue in years. Oops, ax-grinding still alive and well. Now, I'm thinking about crossing over.
Well, if that doesn't bother you and you've got the necessary attitude, temperament, and moxie, my fellow Jewish poet and I welcome you: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Come on over, my agency brethren, I've got a Vuitton bag waiting as a signing bonus! And you soon will find out if you were born for this.