Finding The Right Fit

As promised recently, this is the second in a series of articles about selecting the right third-party partner for Internet advertising sales. This is a multi-part series because there is no one “right” answer, there are lots of solutions that are more and less right for lots of different sites and publishers.

As in any other partnership, you’ll make a better match if you have a clearer picture of what your needs and expectations are. What follows are a number of questions site owners should be asking themselves (and investing the time to answer fully) prior to beginning any sales partnership discussions. These are the things you need to know about your business to be “ready” to evaluate the right ad sales route.

What market coverage do I need?

What categories of business do my prospective advertisers occupy? Do these advertisers buy their media direct or work with agencies? Are my prospects already spending ad dollars online, or do I need to convert them to Internet advertising? Do they buy nationally, regionally or at local buying centers in the US, worldwide or in selected markets? Are there different buying patterns in different geographic markets… different countries?

Just because your site has a clear target visitor, it’s not safe to assume that your target advertiser will be as easy to assess or attract. Looking hard at your best potential advertiser pool, and understanding the sales coverage needed to reach that prospect set, is key to making a good partnership. If your clients and prospects are substantially different from those now covered by your prospective ad sales partner, this point must be addressed directly. Don’t assume the firm’s sales business model allows it to shift its client base to fit your business.

What are the skill sets my sales force will need?

No, the answer here is not “sales skills, of course.” You need to analyze the roles to be performed to support the buying dynamics for each market. Factors to consider include:

  • How much client education is needed about the type of site? Selling a new type of ad product or technology that no one has seen before will take time to explain.

  • What are the communications requirements your sales force will have to handle? Complex inventory management constraints are hard on a third-party firm unless they have the same means to manage that information as you do. And having to talk to engineering about every non-banner idea can really impact the sales process.
  • What background/experience is needed for the sales reps to perform their roles well? Is knowledge of rocket science necessary to explain the site’s appeal to visitors? Does your sale generally require the involvement of multiple decision-makers on the client end? Is your ad product so customized that the buying cycle will take months? All of these impact sales partner decisions significantly.

What are the sales economics for this type of site?

Consider the sales cost associated with the advertising/sponsorship revenue generation programs you have in mind. What are your start-up costs and what is the ramp-up time to see results? What are the ongoing sales costs when the model is built out? What are my renewal expectations versus the need to bring in new accounts?

Understanding your revenue expectations, not just in total dollars, but in terms of new accounts closed, renewal percentages required, number of calls needed to close, average order size and the other familiar sales productivity metrics will be a great help in evaluating sales partners for a proper fit.

What strategic/legal issues should be considered?

How much control/flexibility do I need in targeting or in program design? How much market coverage do I need to get — and in what time frame? Am I willing to accept exclusive channel relationships — for what considerations? Are there other terms and conditions in the contract that impact my business near or longer term?

We gave you questions. But, trust us, the answers are better ones, and more useful, if you make the effort to answer these questions first. The better you know your needs and market realities, the better choices you’ll make.

Next week, we’ll begin to paint the spectrum of third-party ad sales options, starting with those focused on national coverage. And remember, if you know of any creative third party sales partners, tell us about them in an email to

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