6 Keys to Online Sales Success
I’ve worked with dozens of different sales teams to help them become more effective sellers of online media. Sometimes these sales teams are integrated print/online teams, sometimes they are separate. They may be located in large markets or small, and may be business-to-business or consumer publishing companies. Regardless of size or scope, however, there are six keys to online sales success that always apply, and those companies that execute these keys are usually very successful in selling online media. Some of these steps should be taken before you even begin the sale, some during the sale, and others after the sale.
In a previous position, I once overheard a conversation one of our most successful online salespeople was having with a customer: “I don’t want to take your money from you one time. I want to take your money from you 10 times.” He understood that if you approach online sales the right way, you’ll have continual, repeat customers, which is a lot better than constantly having to dig up new ones.
These tactics for online sales success will not only work for new customers, but also will help ensure they turn into repeat customers.
1. Keep it simple.
At its core, online advertising can be simple; but for some reason, advertisers, agencies and we, as publishers, overcomplicate it. In print, we tell an advertiser that for X dollars, your ad of this size and location will be seen by this many people with these qualifications in this many issues. Do the same thing online.
• E-mail newsletters: For X dollars, your ad of this size and location will reach this many people (your e-mail circulation) with these qualifications in this many issues.
• Web advertising: For X dollars, your ad of this size and location will be seen this many times (impressions) during the month by people with these qualifications.
Using this approach takes the mystery out of it for both ad rep and advertiser/agency … and any sales rep worth their salt can sell it.
2. Don’t underprice your inventory.
This is perhaps the biggest mistake I see publishers make online: We don’t value our online audience the same way that we value our print audience. We go out into the market with our hat in our hand, saying, “I have a couple hundred-thousand impressions available on my Web site. Would you like to buy a few? Oh, and you’ll be one of 12 advertisers on the page.” No wonder our clients don’t value our online inventory.
Truly successful publishers and sales teams have realized that they must eliminate the perception of unlimited inventory online, deliver good value to their advertisers, and sell the qualified audience they deliver via Web and e-mail for what they’re really worth.
Manage your inventory: Reduce the number of ad positions you have in your newsletter and on your Web site to increase the share-of-voice of each position. Make the positions larger so they have more impact. Reduce the number of advertisers who can run in a given position so that each advertiser has enough volume of impressions to make it worthwhile.
Then, price your inventory properly. For example, surely an exclusive sponsor of a 20,000-circ e-mail newsletter—if the sponsorship is properly designed—has the same value as a full-page, four-color ad in a 20,000-circ print magazine, where it’s one of 20 advertisers. And, by reducing the number of positions available, we can increase urgency on the part of the advertiser. If, for example, there are only 50 opportunities for someone to reach my audience via my e-mail newsletter this year, there is much more urgency for a customer to move now or lose the opportunity.
3. Set expectations.
Ask your advertisers how they will measure the success of their campaign. Do they just want to get their brand and message in front of as broad a qualified audience as possible? Are they looking for an exclusive sponsorship to reinforce a partner-type relationship? Do they want to target their message to a much smaller, but more focused group? Are they expecting to elicit a bunch of clicks on the ad?
Make sure you know what they want, and offer something that will meet those needs. A word of warning, however: If they say clicks don’t matter, then make sure you reinforce this with them to set the expectations up front. For some reason, after the campaign, every advertiser seems to really want to know the number of clicks, because it’s a quantifiable response metric. If they do want clicks (or even when they say they don’t), make sure you reinforce that the biggest influence on clicks is their creative, and that they need to design creative that will elicit a response from your audience.
4. Check creative for effectiveness.
We do a specifications check on ad materials, but do we also do a creative effectiveness check? I strongly recommend that, as part of the trafficking process, your ad operations team looks at every piece of creative for two simple checks: brand effectiveness and response effectiveness.
For brand effectiveness, does the advertiser’s brand and/or message remain on the creative the entire time, or does it remain visible only for a short time during the animation? For response effectiveness, does the advertiser have an incentive for someone to click? Is there a clear call-to-action? Does the incentive/call-to-action remain visible only for a short time during the animation? If you perceive a problem with either the brand or response effectiveness, communicate it to the ad rep immediately. The rep should call the advertiser/agency and make sure to communicate the issues that they see.
Of course, we’re not looking to rip apart their creative, but we can certainly make them aware of our observations and ask how that impacts their expectations of us. More often than not, they will be blown away by this level of customer service and, even if they don’t have as good of a creative package as they may want, they will remember the conversation post-campaign and be more willing to buy from you again, instead of blaming you for “poor performance.”
5. Monitor performance during the campaign.
Web campaigns usually run for at least one month or have a multi-month duration. E-mail newsletter campaigns are often multi-issue as well. I recommend that ad operations and ad reps look at the performance of their clients’ campaigns at least once each week. This way you can spot problems such as under-delivery of impressions and lower-than-expected click-throughs, and then take steps to correct the problem before it’s too late.
It may be that you can make adjustments on your site or in your e-mail newsletter delivery to correct the problem without having to involve the advertiser/agency. In these cases, all the advertiser will know is that their investment with you performed really well. It may be that you need to communicate with your client and make some recommendations on things they could consider in order to improve their response rates by adjusting their creative.
Don’t be afraid to do this. If you approach it the right way, your client will really appreciate the feedback. It may be that you are unable to solve the problem—you oversold the inventory, the position isn’t working as you thought it would, or it’s just not a good match for the advertiser’s objectives. Don’t be afraid to go back to the client and talk straight about it, but make sure you have a recommended solution: perhaps extending the campaign to achieve the desired impressions or moving them to a different ad position. Again, aim for this level of customer service.
6. Close the loop.
Finally, close the loop with your advertisers by reporting back to them and making their buy more tangible. The worst thing that can happen to both parties is for an advertiser to spend money with you and feel like it just went into a black hole.
For Web campaigns, report back to them at least once per month with the results of the previous month. Include impressions delivered (brand impact) and clicks (response impact).
For e-mail campaigns, report back to your clients one week after a mailing, since most people will read a newsletter within a week of receiving it. In the report, include the number of e-mails sent (brand impact) and clicks on the advertiser’s ad (response impact).
For b-to-b publishers, it is important to show the quality of the leads, so if possible, also send along a list of the domain names that clicked the ad (Web or e-mail). Make this reporting automatic—even if the numbers are poor in your estimation.
If you’ve followed the previous steps properly, there won’t be any surprises, and the advertiser will have confidence in you and be more willing to buy from you again.
Eric Shanfelt is executive vice president of eMedia for Aspire Media. He previously served as senior vice president of eMedia for Penton Media, and spent a year as an industry consultant helping more than a dozen b-to-b and consumer media companies grow their online media business. Shanfelt has an extensive e-media background spanning 17 years and specializes in practical revenue-generating strategies for publishers.