Woe The Digital Sale: Do You Know What You're Selling?

Question from a buyer of digital advertising: I get so many calls from salespeople and sit in on so many meetings, but sometimes I really think that these salespeople don't know what they're selling. Do they even know what media sales is really all about?

Jason says: "Sell. Sell. Sell? Everyone's selling? Then, buy! Buy! Buy!!" -- Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack." (I feel comfortable referencing this movie because all guys love it and all women either love it or have been forced to watch it 20 times by some dude.)

Rodney was talking about stocks, not advertising, but just like stocks, there are a lot of things people buy and sell every day to make our world go around. Cell phones, shoes, ice cream, cars, pizza. I think that about covers it. These, however, are all things that people can actually see or quantify in a meaningful way as they sell or buy them.

But advertising? Please. Most of the time we are selling air or space or maybe pixels or fairy dust. Unless you are selling outdoor advertising, you can't ever even physically count everything you sell. Imagine buying shoes from a wholesaler: "I bought 1 million pairs of shoes today. At least, I hope I did. I'm not really sure if they were all delivered." How about measuring success? If you sold 1,000 cones of ice cream today, you'd see the happy faces. Sell 1,000 ad impressions, and you are just hoping that most people saw them and imbibed them in some way.



Selling TV ads? How many people left the room while the commercial was playing?

Selling magazine ads? Did every reader really look at each page?

Selling digital? How many times did someone just hit the back button or open another window?

Then there's attribution: now, we're really out in the ether. If I see 20 ads this week for a Ford Fusion in print, online and on TV, who gets the credit for getting me to walk into a dealership or go visit their Web site?

Thus, selling media is not like selling anything else on the planet. We are dealing with fractional levels of success on something that is extremely difficult to measure, being delivered in numbers that we can only hope to be true.

It is easy to understand how one could get confused, but you should at least be able to count on your salesperson to shed some light on it and put his or her particular product in some clear language you can understand. If he can't pin it down, then maybe he should be selling something more concrete, like mortgage loan futures or Roombas.

And don't even get me started on whether selling data is the same as selling's not. My Online Publishing Insider colleague, Ari Rosenberg, noted this here

So what does all of this wonderfulness mean? Well, obviously, that media is special, unlike selling or buying anything else in the world. Do media salespeople still need to know what media is all about? Yes!! Amy, do the folks on your side think they are buying stocks, ice cream or golf hats that come with a free bowl of soup?

Amy says: At least we know there is one person who really knows what media sales are all about: Mr. Jason Krebs. Seeing what we really are doing everyday in print is daunting. I think that agency folks think they know about media sales -- but what we really know is media buying.

And of course, the buyer-seller relationship is complex. Salespeople are supposed to be a resource for buyers. The nature of the relationship is an overt exchange in which the buyer expects the seller to accommodate all their requests. Some buyers may need more help than others; some sellers are willing to do whatever it takes to get the sale, and some sellers are not.

Additionally, it's only the biggest sites that have the budget to provide professional sales training and marketing materials, things that make a seller better at doing their job. But is it a requirement for a seller to know about media, specifically and intimately, to be loved and admired by buyers? The answer is resoundingly NO!

Agency buyers' priorities are around client service, doing a good day's work that ends earlier than 9 p.m., and having a life. Salespeople actually can contribute to all of those things. Buyers can provide better service to their clients with a seller partner who genuinely cares and provides the service that a buyer asks for. Most requests are not designed to torture salespeople per se; it's just that the torture gets passed on involuntarily.

Help buyers manage their time by delivering RFP responses that are on-point and flawless. Over-communicate and provide extra research and rationale when you make recommendations. And since work dominates the life of a media buyer, the occasional happy hour or dinner at the hot new restaurant really does give a buyer a thrill, even if they try to pretend they hate going out with sellers.

The media business is an art and a science. Media sales is an art and a science too. It's great when sellers understand the science -- but art makes life more meaningful, doesn't it? Try to make some art, and you may find that may be all it takes to connect with a buyer, and to do work together you can both be proud to say you did!

4 comments about "Woe The Digital Sale: Do You Know What You're Selling? ".
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  1. William Mcgarry from BuzzMedia, September 23, 2010 at 4:03 p.m.

    Great post!...Krebs - you dated yourself with the Caddy Shack reference. Although I appreciated it and laughed, I wonder how many people in their 20's have seen the movie. I make that mistake at agencies all the time and get crickets...then again, maybe it's my delivery...

  2. Tom St.John, September 23, 2010 at 4:07 p.m.

    Solid commentary. Funny and very true on many fronts. One question though...What about straight performance-based programs...especially Cost per sale? I'd argue that the buyer KNOWS exactly what they're getting for their spend there, no?

  3. Steven Comfort from Namo Media, September 23, 2010 at 6:13 p.m.

    Jason makes an interesting point about the nebulous nature of relating the sales of hard goods & quick-serve food to advertising, but selling services is an altogether different ballgame. The sales leads of TelCos, CableCos, Insurance, Consulting, & Investment Services (including Jason's Mortgage Futures, but more likely Private Banking Services ), and the like are much more clearly tied to ad spend and ad source.

  4. Ken Nicholas from VideoAmp, September 23, 2010 at 8:16 p.m.

    Great article & concept from both of you; right on the spot here, as always.

    And, Amy, you wouldn't have known this, but thank you for validating over 15 mo's of writing as I've done on Media Sales, with the 2nd sentence of your last paragraph.

    You have a lifetime fan, with that one!

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