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How to Sell Online Advertising: The First 5 Steps

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How to sell online advertising requires an organized and planned approach to finding customers whose understanding of online varies greatly.

Early adopters of online advertising have a depth of skills, knowledge and experience that will make it easy for them understand a product and a market.

The odds of getting quickly to “yes” or “no” for such a sale is high.

Businesses that recently have started buying online advertising will lack that foundation. They require patience and consultation that could take weeks, months and sometimes even years (yes, even years) before finally landing the sale — or getting “no” for a final answer.

Five simple steps help prepare a site owner or account executive for what might turn out to be a one-call close on a contract.

Online salespeople need their own depth of knowledge and experience to answer what are sometimes tough and insightful questions from the early adopters.

They also need that depth for inexperienced advertisers who have naive questions and a lot of uncertainty.

Anyone who tries to sell online advertising needs to take at least five steps before meeting a client:

  1. Understand the current site audience.
  2. Create multiple ad products to sell.
  3. Review the available inventory.
  4. Research the advertiser’s online presence.
  5. Develop advertising rates that are easy to communicate.

1) Understand the Current Site Audience

A seller of course visits his or her own site. But it is not enough to visit the site and understand that it has certain channels or sections.

It is often necessary to know the three major metrics on a monthly or quarterly basis — unique visitors, visits and page views. Ad sellers also should know the seasonal variances (holidays usually results in fewer visits), the major sources of traffic, the growth rate of site visits, etc. Clients often ask about audience numbers.

Does the site get a lot of traffic from social media? If so, that knowledge becomes a selling point with a client who has a social media focus.

Does the site have a lot of traffic in sections that advertisers value? Knowing which sections have the highest value and largest audience will lead to some obvious prospects that are a good fit for those sections.

What is the ratio of mobile visitors to desktop visitors? A client with a large mobile audience may want to know that breakdown.

Is site traffic growing? Bring a printout of a chart showing the growth rate over time. Growth impresses advertisers.

If the site is trending down, the ability of campaigns to deliver the promised impressions is put at risk.

Tip: If the site is trending up and growing faster than competitors, it becomes another selling point with the client.

2) Propose Multiple Ad Products

Clients have different needs. What appeals to one client may not appeal to another. It pays to have at least three to five different products to sell.

It also pays to know how those products work and whether they are a good fit for a client.

Let’s put it this way. Don’t learn everything about a product being sold and wait for that moment when a smart client asks a question that draws a blank stare. The odds of a sale just dropped quite a bit.

A robust portfolio of site products may include banner ads, sponsorships, mobile, directory listings, video profiles and classified ads. A salesperson who doesn’t know all of the essential details about a particular product that may be available for sale should avoid bringing them up in the first place.

Although it’s best to know each one thoroughly, for a new salesperson, it’s better to focus on knowing one or two products thoroughly that make the most sense for the client than knowing six or eight products only vaguely.

Tip: If more than one account executive is selling the site, have each one develop areas of specialization as the site and audience grow in complexity.

3) Review the Available Ad Inventory

One way to help ensure a successful close is by checking beforehand to see that all needed ad inventory is available.

Sales reps get embarassed when they land a nice contract and go back with an ad insertion order, only to find out that not enough inventory is available.

In that case, the ability to serve the requirements of the contract is seriously in doubt.

If it happens, either try to extend the term of the campaign with the client’s permission or refund some of the money.

Knowing the available inventory will help form the proposal — the number of impressions, length of time, sections where the ads appear, etc.

Tip: If a high-demand section is running out of ad inventory, it’s up to the people in charge of content and marketing to build up that section even more.

4) Research the Advertiser’s Online Presence

Two advertising clients in the same type of business can have remarkably different skills and experience with online.

Online selling handshakeOne can have a professionally built Web site, robust Facebook account and strong understanding of mobile technology.

The other could have site built by his cousin, no Facebook page and not own a smartphone (but his daughter has one and keeps encouraging him to get one).

An overly simple proposal will not impress the first client. A complex proposal will overwhelm the second. Research all aspects of a client’s online presence before the meeting by going to their site and checking their social media presence including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Researching their presence increases the odds of crafting a highly customized proposal that makes sense to the client and increases the odds of a sale.

Tip: An account executive who asks informed questions, offers suggestions and gives praise about a prospect’s Web site or social media presence will build confidence in that prospect.

5) Anticipate Questions about Rates

The best prepared salespeople know a customer’s total advertising budget before they meet about a proposal.

The larger clients may split up their money among print, broadcasting, outdoor and digital. Smaller ones will have enough money for the two channels that can accept smaller budgets — radio and online.

Review the rate card on a regular basis and see if it makes sense for the client, the product and the budget. No online rate cards remain valid over a lengthy period of time. The market changes constantly.

Is the site’s competition using CPMs that are quite a bit lower? Has the economy deteriorated and as a result advertising expenditures are in decline? Are clients consistently saying that rates are too high?

Be assured that clients will often say that rates are high. What matters is whether price becomes a consistent objection and the major reason why a deal isn’t closed.

Look for pricing tactics that increase the odds of a sale including term and volume discounts. At the same time, keep rates as simple as possible to make them easy for the salesperson to communicate and the client to understand.

Tip: In a rapidly changing online environment, rate cards should be updated quarterly rather than annually.

Revise and Follow Up

One call closes are rare. After following the above five steps and meeting with the client, it’s best to give the client a brief window of time to review the proposal and consider the benefits.

Arrange a followup appointment that day or soon after to guide the client toward a decision. Again, “no” means not now.

If the client pushes off the decision, review the numbers in the proposal and make any necessary changes. Site grown numbers in particular are an opportunity to further impress a client.

Scott S. Bateman is a former online general manager at two major media companies.

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