Publisher, Know Thyself

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oracle_smallADOTAS – Ad sales development professionals are, at a bare minimum, charged with providing research and positioning that sells a given site’s strengths to the right advertisers and advertiser categories, as well as work with designers and engineers to create original, high-performance ad-targeting and custom solutions capabilities.

Over the years (holding this role at three different media properties) I’ve encountered two kinds of sales people who are, frankly, geniuses at derailing any new ad product positioning and development effort, sometimes managing to infect the entire sales team in the process. I call these two types of sales people the “Insecures” and the “Deludeds”.

The “Insecures” are characterized by spending 90% of their time worrying about the media property’s various weaknesses, turning their own company into the enemy. I’ve seen this condition spiral into team-wide ineffectiveness and, for the lead complainer, a different job.

The second type, the “Deludeds,” do anything they can to gloss over glaring examples of a ‘bad fit’ with an advertiser. This type of salesperson relies entirely on personality and relationship-building to overcome significant gaps in marketers’ needs vs the media property’s offerings (and they do whatever they can to avoid learning the nuts and bolts of their property’s targeting and custom solution capabilities).

Entire companies can accidentally slide into this unexamined state, leading to very surprising, big, cancellations, which in turn are very disruptive to an ad-supported business.

To be fair, I’ve periodically fallen into both of these camps at various times. Luckily the WhitePages sales team works together to educate ourselves on our site audience, be at ease with our product as it is today, and acknowledge openly how our brand is perceived by our target audience of 20- and 30-something online media buyers that are not our core user demo who use our site. We use this knowledge as a strength when pitching to various brands.

Beyond just asking our clients directly (which we do, at every meeting), another method we use is surveying our media-buying prospects and customers every six to nine months.

It sounds like an obvious approach, but I know of many sales organizations that rely on product customer research to understand how their brand is perceived in the marketplace. That approach works to craft a big picture brand story (to support the sales pitch), but you run the risk of missing out on how media buyers perceive you and your product, which can be, we discovered, wildly different from your typical customer or reader.

The insights we get from our regular media buyer surveys give our sales team some much wanted positive reinforcement (for the “Insecures”), as well as much-needed reality checks (for the “Deludeds”), allowing us all to proceed with sales efforts knowing what we’re really up against.

In the (admittedly lofty) interest of contributing to the betterment of online advertising sales, as a discipline, we’ve decided to openly share some of the questions and insights we’ve gained from these surveys so that you might get some tips for preventing “Insecures” and “Deludeds” from cropping up on your team (or dealing with them as a buyer):

What we aim to learn from each survey:

— Are media buyers aware of the WhitePages brand, as distinct from other directory and search services?

— Are media buyers aware of WhitePages and WhitePages Mobile as national display advertising platform?

— How do media buyers rank WhitePages and WhitePages Mobile as a display advertising platform within a list of 12 competitive sites?

— How important are certain attributes (e.g. relevant content, reach, mobile opportunities) and targeting capabilities (e.g. behavioral targeting, geo-targeting), and how aware is the buyer that WhitePages does or doesn’t offer these attributes/capabilities?

— Has the media buyer ever purchased advertising on WhitePages in the past?

— Has WhitePages improved/declined/stayed the same with regard to important attributes and capabilities?

How we slice the data to make it useful:

— Compare all “ranking” and “improvement” metrics between the buyers who “have purchased on WhitePages” vs “haven’t purchased on WhitePages”

— “Awareness” metrics are all broken out into survey-over-survey comparisons and by “have purchased” vs. “haven’t purchased” within the same time frame

— View all open-ended comments and results by sales territory to identify major differences

What we learned:

Customer service and campaign goal past performance wins every time: If a buyer has run media with us, they rank us in the top 5 of the properties (if not, they rank us in the 10th slot out of 12) Again, this is clearly due to not being our core users and having the misperception of what we sell.

Content is no longer king: As of first quarter 2010, media buyers now rank “audience targeting” higher than “relevant content” — a notable shift from all past survey results.

Brand perception is a hard needle to move: No matter what we do to aggressively dispel widespread (understandable) media buyer confusion over WhitePages’ brand and advertising offerings, buyers still can’t get past the idea that we are just selling yellow-page local listings (which we don’t even sell, at all).

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