November 12, 2021
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We Need To Become More Consultative With Our Sales

One of the argued positives of relying on programmatic advertising is that it’s hands-off for the publisher. The marketer can pick their creative, send it wherever they want, and have no direct discussion with the publication where the ad will actually show up.

The inherent downside to this approach is that the source of the audience was less important to the marketer. There was no understanding of how the relationship between audience and content can increase the strength of the brand’s message. Instead, all that mattered was if the “right” person saw the ad. And I say right in quotations because that’s always been questionable.

With the 3rd-party cookie going away, more advertisers are going to need to find ways to reach their target audience. I have long felt this would result in an increase in direct-sold advertising campaigns. Some publishers are concerned about this, though. According to a recent Digiday+ research study:

If that’s true, publishers might not like where they’ve been taken, according to new Digiday+ research. At the start of the third quarter of 2021, publishers are more reliant on direct-sold advertising than they were a year ago, and many incremental or complementary revenue streams now play smaller roles than they did 6-12 months ago.

I find the attitude comical, but I suppose I understand why. To support direct-sold advertising, you need to have a team. At Morning Brew, for example, we have an entire team of sellers, account managers, creative strategy, and content strategy, plus a variety of writers and project managers. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the ad ops, revenue management, yield management, etc. that go into running a diversified business.

It requires a team to support a more robust advertising business. For media companies that have historically been very cash-strapped, making this investment can seem daunting. It’s the right move.

However, I don’t think selling direct-sold advertising campaigns should just be hiring a team to sling little boxes. We know those banner ads are pretty inefficient and that there is tremendous banner blindness. Just as importantly, what might work for one partner might not be the best campaign for another.

Because of this, I believe that we not only need to hire a sales team that can sell direct-sold advertising, but we need to hire a team that speaks like a marketer to be consultative with advertisers.

A consultative seller should be able to understand what the client wants to achieve with their campaign. For certain clients, it might be something big and splashy. For others, it might be a major lead generation initiative.

To suss this out, the seller should be asking questions:

  • What are you looking to accomplish?
  • What are the goals?
  • What is your ideal outcome from this campaign?
  • What are your limitations?

The seller should be operating from a position of curiosity to understand as much about what the advertiser wants as possible. From there, the seller can then start to pull the pieces together. Perhaps there’s some custom content. Maybe there are a few ads. Maybe we throw in a month’s sponsorship of the podcast. Whatever.

The goal here is to offer the client the products that are going to make them look the best. That’s the real secret here. Selling is about connecting your products to their dreams. Help them accomplish those and you’re onto something.

I think the real magic is when you can push back on the client and challenge their thinking a little.

Let’s say you’re selling for a B2B media company and a brand new partner comes to you looking to run a campaign. You can ask the above questions and they’ll tell you, “we need leads so we can improve our paid conversions over the next 6-12 months.”

The straightforward answer to that would be to offer a lead gen program. Great, so we’re going to produce a white paper, promote it on the site, in newsletters, and maybe send a very targeted dedicated email blast. Leads procured.

But is that the right answer?

Maybe not. This is the first time that this partner is advertising with you. How well does your audience know them? Is your audience interested in what they have to offer at that particular time? Could the right answer be that the plan should be a blend of brand advertising as well as lead gen?

Peter Weinberg, Head of Development at The B2B Institute at LinkedIn, asked Colin Fleming, senior VP of Global Brands, Events and Customer Marketing at Salesforce why the company spends so much on brand advertising. The full piece is worth reading, but this part jumped out to me:

Peter: This is one of biggest challenges in brand marketing: we often confuse “awareness” with “availability.” You don’t just want people to have heard of your brand (awareness). You want people to think of your brand in an actual buying situation (mental availability). Awareness is helpful, but what you really want is “situational awareness” or “salience.” Otherwise you’re going to struggle to turn that awareness into cash flows. So how did you overcome that challenge at Salesforce?  

Colin: Well, even when you have a compelling customer insight, and we did, you still need to connect that to the bottom line. We found a great study on B2B buying behavior showing that two-thirds of the time, when a business decision-maker purchases software, they already have a brand in mind. And 94% of the time, the buyer ends up sticking with that brand. So if you’re not part of the original consideration set, there’s no way you’re getting bought. And that’s how we tied this marketing problem around unaided awareness to a downstream business problem. That made everyone sit up and take notice. 

That bolded part is my emphasis, but it’s such a critical point. When I was at CoinDesk, I had to do an ESP migration. I had a single brand in mind: Sailthru. It’s great for media companies. We couldn’t get a deal done, so I went wide with my research and ultimately chose Salesforce Marketing Cloud. For what we were doing, this was a major mistake. Three years later? I went back to Sailthru and we got a deal done.

Part of the problem with ad campaigns is we are so tied to quarterly results, it’s hard to think about the long-term. And when budgets aren’t very large (often the case for B2B advertisers), they need to work with something that gives them immediate results. But the right answer and what a consultative seller would advocate for is a blended campaign.

We don’t hire consultants to do what we want. We hire consultants to help us become better. And that means when a partner comes to us looking to advertise, we should be helpful so they can see beyond just the immediate success metric.

But ultimately, it depends on the client. We can attempt to be as consultative as we want, but some partners are just there to buy leads. It’s either because the client’s budget is not large enough or the team is the “performance” team and there’s a separate “brand” team who hasn’t RFPed you. In either case, we can push and recommend, but selling isn’t always about getting your way.

The push to direct-sold advertising is a good thing for publishers. It might seem like a lot of work and more cost, but in my opinion, it reconnects the audience and the content. That makes us less of a commodity and something more important to the advertiser. If we can consult our partners appropriately, we can become a regular part of their marketing journey.

Thanks for reading today’s newsletter. If you have thoughts, please hit reply. Or join the AMO Slack channel. Thanks so much and have a great weekend!

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