Keep Agency Relationships Healthy

I get asked by publishers quite frequently for tips on how to improve sales relationships with agencies. It’s a common question, given how many sales organizations burned some bridges over the past few years by circumventing agencies and contacting clients directly.

Although respect for the agency-client relationship is a key issue, I’d like to set it aside for now; I’ve written quite a bit about that in the past. There are several other things that sales reps can do to improve relationships with agencies.

The three biggest factors contributing to success when dealing with agency planners and buyers are service, service, and service.

By the time an online advertising client has contracted with an agency to put together ad campaigns, there’s usually a high degree of complexity involved in placing those campaigns. Planners usually investigate hundreds or thousands of ad venues for each campaign, so any problems that arise with service from their ad sales reps tend to leave a bad taste in a planner’s mouth. To adequately service agencies, sales reps should have as much information as possible ready at their fingertips to provide to planners when the need arises.

These are some basics that all reps should be able to provide:

  • Basic measures of traffic and ad views. All sales reps should know by heart or have immediate access to traffic statistics for each site they represent. Monthly unique users, and monthly page view and ad view totals, should be readily available.

  • Average demographics. Sales reps should also know average-user data. If different sections of the site cater to different audiences, it’s also helpful to know that information. Reps should be prepared to answer questions about median and mean age, sex, household income, education level, and other common demographic and psychographic data about audiences on their sites.
  • Targeting options. All reps should be able to tell media planners about the different targeting methodologies and filters that their sites offer. It’s useful to know which ad server a site uses; whether it targets based on declared user data, observed behavior, or other methods; and how much inventory is available for targeted audiences.
  • Accepted rich media formats. Planners hate it when reps tell them that they accept all rich media formats, and this later turns out not to be the case. When planners ask, reps should talk about all the formats they’ve run successfully, and let the planner know about any policies governing the use of formats that haven’t yet been tested with the site.
  • Basic description of the site and its editorial mission. Whenever planners present a media plan to their clients, they usually write a presentation deck that showcases each recommended site. Reps can help save planners some time by providing a paragraph or two about the site, the audiences it services, and a few bullet points about its success.

Good service consists of a lot more than having information at your fingertips, though. I have a quick list of suggestions for “going the extra mile”:

  • Make sure that your agencies can reach you. I am often bewildered by the number of sales reps who forget to indicate on their voice mail that they are out of the office. If you’re out for any significant length of time, change your voice mail to reflect this. Leave a mobile number if you’re out on sales calls, or leave the name of someone who will be covering your responsibilities when you’re out. Also, if for some reason you leave your job unexpectedly, please send an email to your agency contacts and indicate who will be covering the account.

  • Don’t overpromise. Overpromising might get your proposal past the first few rounds of cuts, and it may even get you on to a media plan, but it’s incredibly shortsighted. If you promise something and don’t deliver, odds are that your campaign will be canceled. And planners will remember the unpleasant experience. It will count against you in future business dealings.
  • Don’t make things up if you’re unsure of something. If you’re asked about something you’re unsure of, promise to look into it and call a planner back rather than inventing a statistic or an explanation. If you have a hunch that 90 percent of your users meet the audience criteria for a plan, don’t quote that number as gospel until you confirm it. These things have a tendency to resurface later.
  • Keep open a direct line to management. It’s very frustrating for a planner to hear “I need a manager to authorize a CPM that low” or something similar and then not hear back from a sales rep for days. If you need management’s authorization for something, make sure management is available to provide an answer ASAP. Many online plans are put together in just a few days, so time is of the essence.

The key to healthy agency relationships is service. With some basic information and skills at your fingertips, maintaining these relationships should be a snap.