In Choosing a Partner, Commitment Is Key

Last week’s column touched on the level of support a site is prepared to offer to a third-party ad sales partner; being realistic about the effort required to maximize your partner’s results is an important aspect of making the right initial selection.

The nonexclusive bulk banner networks won’t ask much of their site partners. You provide the inventory, they sell what they can at what price they can get, and you get a check when they collect. Pretty simple equation. The complaint, of course, is that the sell-through may be low, and the ad rates are pretty much assured to be in the low-single-digit range in this scenario. In sales as in most things, you reap what you sow.

At the other extreme, some of the most site-centric rep firms are able to get top dollar for quality inventory and to optimize revenues even further by developing individual client-specific sponsorship opportunities for advertisers on your site. But they can’t do that without the site’s hands-on involvement, and the sites getting the benefit of those sorts of sales relationships are those that know how to closely support their sales partners, partners being the operative word here.

Where Do You Fall on the Continuum?

Of course, we are pointing to extremes here, and most sales relationships fall somewhere in between. Unless your site provides a highly desirable and somewhat unique audience, it is unlikely that your sales organization will be calling you with lots of unique, one-off sorts of revenue opportunities. But if you do have something different to offer, or some sales angle that requires customization and a creative use of your online real estate, be prepared to make yourself very available to your sales firm to make those possibilities a reality.

When an advertiser or its agency starts talking to your ad salespeople about a custom deal, it generally doesn’t have hours to invest and weeks to think about it. If there is interest, the smart salesperson knows he or she needs to capture that interest and build on it immediately before the next workday emergency takes your buyer’s focus off to the next new thing.

Your salespeople will be jumping through hoops to deliver on the big deal, and they need your quick, even immediate, response. They need to know what you can and can’t (or will and won’t) do to accommodate special advertiser requests; they need to know what inventory’s available; and they need to know timing, terms, conditions, and so on.

Slow Response, Unrealistic Expectations

The two biggest complaints we hear from ad salespeople at third-party sales organizations is that clients don’t respond quickly enough to the big opportunities, and they have unrealistic expectations about what it takes to sell media in today’s intensely competitive environment.

Unrealistic and unmet expectations almost always translate to resentment, which shifts a business partnership from one of mutual cooperation and trust to one of accusations, anger, and lack of communication. And when that happens, you can forget about getting your hopes realized because salespeople can be successful only at maximizing revenue when they have accurate, real-time, actionable information and answers to their queries when the clients ask, not days later.

We’ve talked a lot in this series about what a site can and should expect from a sales partnership, and we will continue to be advocates of publishers getting the sales support they need by making the right sales-partner connection. But, publishers, none of that works if you can’t honestly assess the level of support you are willing and able to offer your sales team and if you don’t select a firm whose interaction needs most closely match what you can offer.

Next week, we’ll talk more about how great sites effectively support sales partners, leading to bigger financial results.

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