Best practice: Sales structures - how do you structure an internet advertising sales team effectively?


Education & Training | by Danny Meadows-Klue

Selling online advertising is harder than selling print. While the Google interface may have made search listings easy enough for anyone to buy off the screen, selling brand building graphical ‘display’ space is tough because it opens up so many questions, often at a time when there just isn’t the knowledge inside the client team or the sales force.

Think of the options in print: whole page, half page, quarter page, strip. Maybe a cover-mount? Maybe a direct mailing piece? Maybe two or three editions? The choices are finite, and also familiar. It’s the familiarity to both buyer and seller that makes the sales conversation fluid and focussed.

Now compare that to the web: hundreds of ad formats and combinations, thousands of options on volumes bought, dozens of ways targeting can enhance campaign delivery and efficiency, and some pretty tough questions to face up to in terms of how campaign performance is measured, assessed and optimised. Any wonder many experienced sales folk edge back from opening up these issues in favour of ‘a half page in the next edition?’

When there’s so much to learn, and only a small team to invest in, magazine and small internet publishers need to find a pragmatic route to structuring internet advertising sales teams effectively.

On the masterclass edition of the Digital Media Sales Academy, we get asked this a great deal by commercial directors and publishers. When we began exploring what worked in 2004, it was clear that while the market was developing there couldn’t be any ‘one size fits all’ model. Intuitively publishers will want their advertising sales teams to be able to sell any product, so in the long term complete integration looks like a dead cert. the problem is that in a young medium in the midst of a skills crisis, that approach rarely works. Most media groups have flipped between complete integration and separation of their online and classic media teams (with both routes risking a path to ‘disintegration’ of revenues and goal alignment). That’s why for small web publishing teams, we regularly suggest a hybrid approach: get the whole sales team up to speed with the basics of the jargon, the proposition and the simple packages, but focus on a few digital leads to step forward and have the advanced conversations.

Back in 2005 we restructured the Digital Media Sales Academy into distinct ‘orientation’ and ‘advanced’ levels to teach exactly to this standard, and the models that have emerged since are proving a smart way for web publishers to navigate the skills crisis. In magazine groups and regional newspapers the challenges are amplified because the sales teams themselves are typically quite small and the control decentralised to the publisher of the title. That can make for a costly re-invention of the wheel as publishers try to get every team up to speed for tackling the biggest of challenges. All well and good, but when most still have steep print targets to meet, that makes for a risky game.

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