Growing Up

Since the first of the year, our phones have been ringing off the hook with ad-selling sites looking for ad sales, sales management, business development and customer service training. We’ve booked more training days in the first quarter of 2000 than we conducted in all of 1999.

I’d like to have you believe this is the result of our brilliant marketing plan, but in fact we’ve never actively marketed our training services. It had been a sideline to the consulting business, offered as a client service, with occasional open-to-the-public training sessions that we promoted at events and with mailings. Pretty low-key sales effort, really.

No, we believe the reason for the huge increase in training demand is that the Internet advertising business is growing up. We are moving beyond a Wild West, figure-it-out-as-you-go mentality and into a stage characterized by an active attention to first-class salesmanship: developing and retaining a highly skilled sales staff that provides better solutions to clients. We are joining the rest of the mature media world.

Some readers will object here, wanting to keep this industry separate, unique, an island apart. But many of you will agree with us that the Internet as an advertising vehicle can’t begin to deliver on its potential until we (the ad-supported sites) begin to reach out and deal with the rest of the world (specifically, advertisers and agencies) the way they choose to be dealt with.

This means we need to learn to fill their business needs with our offerings. We won’t grow this business if we expect the rest of the world to play by a new set of rules. Behaviors are hard to change, and the need to change established behaviors always slows the growth rate of any new idea.

So, Internet advertising salespeople are looking more and more to older media to understand how to sell in the way agencies and clients want to be sold to.

And Internet publishers are investing in the skill levels of their salespeople, their managers, their support staff (and everyone else who works with clients and prospects), because they know that the best trained sell more, keep renewals longer, serve clients better, and are generally happier employees. Which makes them far less likely to leave.

We said eighteen months ago in this column that the Internet advertising business was in toddlerhood. Today it seems to be in school. Literally in school, and learning fast.

We’re excited about the development, and the advertisers and agencies we speak with are, too. Better-informed and better-prepared sales professionals make their jobs much easier; better salespeople in any arena make it easier for customers to buy. And that’s what we all need for the business to keep up its impressive rate of growth.

Now, we admit to a strong bias here – we are training fans, zealots even, who truly believe in the power of continuing education and development for every professional. And yes, our training programs, both customized for companies and designed for public forums, are part of our firm’s revenue picture. You could take this column as a purely commercial message, and if you do, we apologize.

Our view is that no matter whom you work with – whether it be one of the IAB’s professional development programs, another private training firm, or even dedicated internal training staff – the best teams will soon be known, as they are in other fields, by the distinction of their commitment to ongoing training and development. And we believe the whole industry will gain by it.

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