Death of the Salesman? What Does RTB Mean for Publishing? 1

At the MediaNext Conference in New York last week, James Elliott discussed the “The One Constant in Media Sales: Disruption.”  Elliott, who founded the leading advertising representative firm for national print-digital publishers said “disruption happens because of a new way to do a job that needs to be done.  If we don’t recognize what the job is that people want, we might not understand the disruption.”

Will network-delivered, real-time purchased, advertising impressions wipe out advertising sales as we know it?  I can certainly understand the pessimism of traditional publishing sales forces when they read about the fast growth of RTB and RTM.  If advertisers can purchase high-quality ad campaigns utilizing laser targeting of prospective buyers  through “exchanges,” how will advertising sales people make a buck?

The drum-beat of apparent success, publicity funded by RTB venture investor dollars, is at a noisy peak.   Publicists for the real-time bidding industry are touting so-called research studies that show that advertising placed on web sites through real-time bidding platforms will grow to 41% of all US Internet advertising spending by 2017, representing $20.8 billion.  A report conducted by the Winterberry Group in conjunction with the IAB projects that 91% of advertisers will be utilizing RTB platforms in two years.

Call Me Maybe?

Meanwhile, advertising sales people and ad sales processes are still stuck in the “call me for the price” mentality. Going back as far as the beginning of the publishing industry, advertising sales managers and advertising sales training was unconsciously based on the assumption that an advertisers had a limited number of choices as to where to spend their advertising dollars, and they had to call a sales person to get a price.  Sure, marketing programs to support advertising sales invested in increasing the number of interested buyers, and sales people, too, conducted sales calls to build relationships and to increase the flow of purchase interest.  However, the fundamental position of the sales person was “call me for a price.”  In the last 20 years, the rise of the Request-for-Proposal process accentuated this but didn’t fundamentally change the ‘value position’ of the media sales person that they was the point of contact to learn a price for advertising media.

Then the first chinks appeared in the ad-sales industry armor with the success of advertising networks that enabled advertisers to buy inventory on a range of sites — usually the lowest quality unsold inventory — without contacting a specific property sales person.  Then the rise of the machines enabled real-time media buying, by parsing the available network impressions with additional data on the users past behavior.  This added value to otherwise low interest and low price inventory.  Now RTB touts the ability of an advertiser to buy “premium inventory,” even “native advertising” on an exchange.  The advertiser can pick and choose what impressions to buy and at what price.  So advertising sales people are naturally concerned.

If the advertising sales manager no longer operates from the power position that the buyer must call for a price, what is their crucial role in the process?  What is the value proposition of the sales role in publishing?  Intuitively, sales people fear the unknown, and especially they fear losing this point of leverage.  But at we believe the rise of the machines makes sales people more valuable, not less.  Of course this can only happen if advertising sales teams are trained to add value in a new way.

What Did RTB Do To Bond Sales People?

I wrote about this years ago — about the parallel of the media industry with the financial services industry.  In the 1960s, an investor had to call his broker for a price and to execute a stock or bond trade.  Now investors can find the price and purchase a stock in real time.  Financial products and services are the most commoditized complex product in the country.  We can find out the performance of a company in excruciating detail from the past.  But investors don’t want to buy the past; they invest to participate in the future results.  And as they say “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”  So investors use financial advisors to help them determine the best plan, not to determine the price.  And financial services sales people are the most highly compensated sales people in the world.

The seeds of opportunity for media sellers have been here for a long time.  Top sales people have always known that the way to build relationships with clients and agency personnel was to bring marketing knowledge to the conversation.  Publishers such as Meredith and ESPN invested in research that added valuable understanding of how clients like General Foods or Budweiser understood their market. This research provided the foundation for logical sales proposals to clients that incorporate the research as a basis for understanding and finding competitive advantage in the future.

Training advertising sales managers and sales people to understand how to bring value to the conversation is what we do at  Bringing value to the conversation helps sales people get more high-level appointments.  Getting to agreement on the ‘situation’ based on research-based understanding of the market is the first step in a logical advertising sales persuasion.  Understanding and mastering the research data helps advertising sales people probe better for opportunities and handle objections better to close more business.  In the long run, while the price of media impressions might be set on exchanges, it’s the future value that is equally important to the buyer.  When advertising sales people help advertisers and agencies understand the value of the media buy, they will be wildly successful.



About Daniel M. Ambrose

Ambrose, launched, corp. in 1994 to provide sophisticated strategy consulting and advertising sales training to advertising-driven media clients in the U.S. and abroad. Starting with the founding of and iVillage in 1995, has worked with hundreds of clients to help accelerate advertising revenue growth.

One thought on “Death of the Salesman? What Does RTB Mean for Publishing?

  • Daniel M. Ambrose Post author

    The balkanized advertising/media agency situation means advertisers can’t get a properly integrated solution from one source. Will advertising media sales people fill the void to become the full-solution providers advertisers need; bringing print, digital, video and in-person events together in winning packages to move the needle for advertisers?

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