Thursday, April 23, 2009

Online Publishing Insider: 10 Things You Need To Know About Selling Engagement

10 Things You Need To Know About Selling Engagement

Anyone who has sold both print and digital advertising can tell you that there are differences between how each is bought and evaluated. As a rule, digital media is numbers and results-oriented, while print has traditionally relied on a more conceptual sell. Online selling is geared to the spreadsheet; print to the PowerPoint presentation. Print selling emphasizes market knowledge, educating clients --especially on the marketer side -- on buying dynamics, and telling a compelling sales story that shows clients how they will succeed. Digital selling is fast, RFP-oriented, emphasizing media technology knowledge and campaign metric optimization.

Of course this is too simplistic. But it points to the strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Successful digital selling requires going beyond the spreadsheet, while selling print ads needs to be more metrics-oriented than ever before.

But the best online sales teams have learned from the legacy of print selling. They don't rely on hits and clicks and answering RFPs with agency spreadsheets neatly filled in with the right numbers. They know how to move beyond the RFP to market creation. And most important, they know how to sell their audience engagement story -- and sell it as a highly compelling advertiser/audience engagement story.

Spreadsheet selling eventually plays into the world of ad networks. No one is better than ad networks at calculating effective CPMs and delivering numbers that appear to deliver maximum results. But online publishers have the extraordinary advantage of potential knowledge of their audience. I say "potential" because so very few publishers really do understand audiences in depth and convey that knowledge in a compelling way to advertisers.

Speaking of the need for online publishers to "re-imagine" the sales story for advertisers, Vivek Shah, president of digital publishing for Time Inc's business and finance division, makes a critical point: content sites "have to do a better job" of showing advertisers how to enable the reader to interact with the advertiser within the context of the publisher's site.

In short, Shah is calling for a more effective engagement story. I completely agree, and believe that the path begins with audience knowledge. The more we know about what our audience cares about, why they come to our sites, what they need that they aren't getting, and how we can help them be successful, the more we have all the raw elements of an extraordinary engagement story.

Simple truth: Advertisers care about how you can help them see more business through their sales funnel. Knowing what your audience is doing and how to connect audiences to key moments in the sales funnel experience -- from awareness though the sale -- the more value you offer, and the more that advertisers are willing to invest in your site.

And so allow me to offer the 10 things everyone needs to know about selling engagement. Online publishers need to develop an "engagement knowledge" that answers these questions:

1. Who comes to your site?

2. Why are they there?

3. What are they doing on your site?

4. What do they find most valuable?

5. What do they want from your site that they don't currently have?

6. What programs are you offering to address this?

7. What creative resources can you offer advertisers to meet these user needs?

8. How will you gauge user satisfaction with your engagement programs?

9. How will you show advertisers how your programs address their sales funnel goals (awareness, engagement, sales impact, ROI)?

10. What can you learn to develop even more effective engagement programs?

At the vanguard of engagement selling, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, CNET, for starters, have all developed programs that marry deep insights about customer preferences with thoughtful advertiser engagement programs. Take a look, for example, at Yahoo's array of ad solutions.

The key, though, is audience knowledge. The more you know about your audience, the more effective the ad solutions can become. As simple as this is to say, it ultimately requires a long-term, complete commitment from sales and marketing leadership, thoughtful research and operational excellence.

Kevin Mannion is founder of Sky Road Consulting,which provides management, sales, and marketing solutions for online publishers.

Online Publishing Insider for Thursday, April 23, 2009:

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