Confessions of an Ad Network Salesperson

Recently Digiday has been exploring the gift economy that exists with digital media. Following our confession from an anonymous 25 year-old media buyer, we tracked down a young media salesperson to get a view from supply side of the fence regarding issues such as tangible meetings, summer houses, and lying to clients.

To what extent is digital media sales all about the relationships?
In my experience good relationships get you information, but they don’t really get you contracts. That said, the information is really valuable. You can use it to tailor your pitches and format your proposals. In the long-term relationships will probably pay off, but it takes time to build them.

So how do you go about building those relationships?
In order to stay on people’s radar you can either email and call them hoping for a response, or you can get to know them via an expense account and almost guarantee a call back, solid information on the client’s media planning, and that you’re keeping your company top of mind. Since entertaining can take up two or three nights every single week, in order to stay sane I like to take people to do things that I would want to do anyway, and have the evening be very friendly and real. I try to figure out what they are into and find something that I enjoy too.

Media buyers talk about tangible meetings where they’re given gifts such as jeans and sunglasses, are those essential to get their attention?
I don’t think they’re essential. Things like happy hour cocktails and meeting up in different environments are really how you build relationships. For me, jeans and sunglasses are for teams I don’t even like. I would never take buyers I get along well with to a jeans party. The buyers that get something with a takeaway value are usually the ones that I have a hard time connecting with. That said, for the most part it makes me feel a little bit dirty, like I’m buying my clients. If I’m going to spend that money to build relationships I’d rather it be organic and fun, not cheap and dirty. I’d say I am anti-jeans, sunglasses, and vacations, mainly because you don’t even get to know the people very well and it makes me a little resentful, as if I’m being taken advantage of. I mean, in what world is it normal to have another adult take you shopping to buy you stuff?

Who are the worst offenders in terms of gifts and hospitality?
The worst offenders are the really big [ad] networks, with stuff like summer houses, vacations, even the Superbowl. There’s not many people that can compete with that. I’ve heard recently that they’re starting to leverage their summer houses more, too, and basically saying only buyers that have spent with them this year will be able to come. But ultimately they’re well known and respected so planners will never get in trouble for buying them. A lot of players have very similar products, so they’ll spend with who they like the best and who they have the best relationships with.

Do salespeople always understand what it is they’re selling?
I think in the [ad] network space there’s a lot of ignorance. There’s probably only a handful a handful of engineers at a lot of companies that really understand what’s going on. A lot of salespeople don’t understand what they’re selling, and they don’t understand other people’s technologies either.

What about buyers? Do they understand what they’re buying?
Media buyers don’t always know what they’re doing or what they’re buying. A lot of sales people don’t understand their own products, so you can’t expect someone on the agency side to get it.

Do sales people often lie to clients, then?
It’s really terrifying to lie to someone in this industry, but it happens. To blatantly lie is really dangerous, though. There’s too much movement of staff between companies to lie about capabilities and stuff like that; you’ll get found out. But there is a lot of talking your way around certain issues. When it comes down to actually getting on a plan you’ll get a list of questions from buyers asking about things like data and blacklists. That’s when we try to get people on the phone so we can talk around it and sugar coat it, rather than replying through a channel like email where difficult questions are harder to avoid.

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