Remember the Michael J. Fox movie, The Secret of My Success?
Young Brantley Foster, trying to break into the corporate world, tells the interviewer, “Whatever the exception is, I can fix it; I can be older, I can be taller, I can be anything .”
That line comes to mind a lot these days, as I hear from experienced ad sales people eager to make the move into Internet ad sales, and getting rejection after rejection.
The hiring manager wants Internet experience and for good reason. This industry is different — it’s quirky and has its own whole jargon and expectations and technologies, all of which take time to learn. Web sites need results now, without the luxury of long transition periods or time to get new employees up to speed.
Making matters worse, there is no certain pattern of success — some folks make the move easily from other sales arenas into Internet ad sales, others do not. So, while every new hire carries with it some risk, an employee not yet proven in this space feels far riskier.
At the same time, everyone in the Internet business was new to it at one time, and given the speed of growth, most made the transition fairly recently. So, why are there these barriers to entry now?
Demands are High
The barriers are high because the expectations are so high — advertisers and agencies require a high competence level from their sales reps, with no slack-time for learning the ropes. Sales organizations are driving for near-term results, with no cushion for a long learning curve. Few sales organizations have spare resources for training the next crew; everybody has to be out there covering accounts and generating revenue.
So, what’s an aspiring Internet employee to do?
First, take heart. There are jobs, lots of them, in interactive advertising sales. To access them, you need an inside track and that’s an achievable goal.
Immerse Yourself in the Business
Read everything you can find about online advertising. Most of the best information is right here online…. I-Advertising , Online-Ads , I-Sales, Iconocast and of course, our own ClickZ. Follow the posts for several weeks, go back and read the archives, and you’ll learn to talk the talk and to think like an insider.
Network at industry functions. Go to the Internet mixers and no-host bar events that happen most weeks in most Internet-intensive locations. Attend trade shows and conferences to learn the business and to meet the people, because being connected is a huge condition of success once you do land that sales job.
Volunteer to help a not-for-profit site succeed online. Or find a local start up that is not yet profitable and wants some free or cheap help during your off-hours. You want experience, and no one said that experience had to come with a paycheck.
If you can find 5 hours a week, on weekends or evenings, to bring your talents to some Interactive enterprise, you’ll learn a ton and you’ll get experience you can cite in interviews. You may even get a job offer in the process.
However you do it, get involved. Get your feet wet, learn the language, the culture, and the insider jokes. Join the industry on your terms, and the job opportunities will follow.