Selecting the Right Ad Sales Partner: Screening for Fit

If you’ve been following this series, you already know that selecting the right sales partner — whether a rep firm or an ad network — is a delicate business. There are a lot of good sales firms in the online advertising space, but knowing which is best equipped to sell your site’s inventory, at a price that allows you to build your business, takes some work.

Last week, we made a case for rethinking the size issue: Larger is not always better if the fit isn’t great. Today, we’ll take a quick look at some of the other factors site publishers should evaluate when selecting an ad sales partner.

Global Reach

Everyone talks about international coverage these days, about how important it is for marketers and advertisers to coordinate messaging in all their markets. Many of the larger ad networks have aggressively and successfully expanded beyond their original national boundaries; is that an important attribute for your sales needs? If your site has a cross-cultural or multiple-country readership or any other sort of audience base that would be of interest to international marketers, you might want or even need sales representation around the world.

For smaller sites, sites with geographically focused audiences, or sites whose major advertising prospects are concentrated in a few identifiable areas, that global reach may lose importance. If you want to make the best selection, you need to have invested the effort to understand who your best prospects are likely to be and where they are located.

If you do want the global coverage, you’ll need to ask questions to understand how the various national or continental operations of your prospective partner work together. Do the salespeople from various countries regularly cooperate on multilocation buys, or are the individual offices distinct businesses with little interaction? If the salespeople in Paris have never cooperated with the sales team in New York or Sydney, Australia, don’t expect that to change just because your site is offering multinational programs.

Domestic Cooperation

The same issue applies for domestic U.S. sales. Are the sales offices in Boston and Los Angeles prepared to cooperate when an East Coast agency takes on a West Coast account? Are the representatives in each office inclined to work that account, no matter where the order is signed? If not, don’t expect coverage at the agency and client for any geographically split accounts.

Look at the Sales Force

At an even more basic level, what about this agency/client split? Do the salespeople have contacts and sales relationships with clients as well as agencies? An agency-only focus is not a problem if your buy is one that fits the interactive agency model of business, which is today becoming more and more price driven. If your audience represents something a bit more unusual that would be of interest to the marketer directly, make sure you partner with a firm whose salespeople are encouraged and rewarded for client contact as well as agency coverage.

Does your site “show well” in a phone demo, or do most of your sales come from face-to-face visits? Look into how the salespeople at the firms you’re considering spend their time, and make sure there is precedent for the sales calls you want, be they phone, email, and/or face to face. Look below the surface to see whether this varies by sales office. Are there company-wide behavior standards, or have different patterns emerged in various parts of the country? Regionally appropriate differences can be a great advantage; just make sure you understand what sort of sales coverage you can really expect.

How Involved Can You Be?

Finally, be honest with yourself about your own ability to support and communicate with your sales partner, and make sure that’s a good match with expectations, too. If you expect regular reports on progress, make sure you are prepared to give regular support with real-time responses to their sales questions, training as needed or requested, and responses to advertisers’ special needs queries that are fast enough to keep the sales team effective.

If you don’t want to support the team as closely as you would an internal sales force, don’t select a sales partner that works that way, and don’t expect that level of support or information back from them.

As in all other partnerships, the best and most satisfying are those in which expectations are clearly understood and respected by all involved parties.

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