Commentary

How You Sell Is More Important Than What Gets Bought

In sales, "ABC" stands for "Always be closing" and is a motto managers have been trained to tattoo on the minds of their sales force.

But for many publishers spending time with this column, their sales force is also their public relations and marketing team wrapped into one. So it is imperative that the collective sales communication generated, both written and oral, leave a visible footprint in the hallways of agencies and advertisers regardless if a sale is made, and long after the salesperson has left the building.

Like politicians, members of your sales team must be on message. They have to concisely articulate the value your property delivers to your audience, so it is easily understood why users choose to spend time with your content. Your sales team must disseminate this information in a credible manner, which means the audience metrics they present must be reliable and accurate. Research information, third-party or custom, must be recent and create meaning beyond numbers on a page. And your sales team must embody the virtues of your content, so when buyers think of your property, they see the face of your sales rep.

This isn't easy -- and it gets harder if you run your organization focused entirely on closing deals. Of course we are in the business of making sales, but exclusively focusing on doing so inhibits your sustainable growth. That's why I have consistently voiced my aversion to having anyone other than your own sales team sell your inventory. Third-party sellers, like ad networks that sell your "distressed inventory" -- or companies that help improve the value of that distressed inventory, like behavioral targeting or yield management companies -- all sell their technical wizardry and their brand in front of yours when closing a deal using your inventory. Their sales may help your bottom line -- but in the process, your brand moves farther down the food chain in the eyes of the advertiser making the purchase.

I think behavioral targeting is amazing. And from what I understand, the approach to yield management that companies like Right Media are offering is also break-through mathematics. But these products best serve your interests as a publisher when you arm your own sales team with these product offerings, versus arming these companies with your inventory.

Your sales team is really your "communication team." Every sales impression made by your "communicators" on behalf of your content must consistently exude your brand's identity while further clarifying your value proposition -- not the value proposition of someone else.

To ensure this occurs, constant training must occur with your team of "communicators" so they stay "on message." Additionally, all the little things like email signatures, PowerPoint shells, and stationary, both professional and casual, need to tie neatly together while reinforcing this concise message. Then, arm your communicators with as much innovation as possible to help meet the needs of your potential advertisers.

How many times have you heard salespeople claim they can "sell ice to Eskimo"? It's been an ice age since I bought media, but I can tell you buyers are really smart. They have sophisticated tools to evaluate media properties and an intuitive sense of which ones make the most sense based on their client's communication objectives. If buyers don't see that match, it doesn't matter how much they warm up to a salesperson; they are not buying any ice.

As a publisher, you will have more success if you stop selling to buyers but rather, make it easier for them to understand why to buy you. Then, when that situation arises, close the biggest deal you can.

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