Will Ad Sales Pros Share Their Rolodexes?

Of the many memorable scenes in Glengarry Glen Ross, there’s one in which Alec Baldwin’s character says, “These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers.”

That’s the stereotypical view of how the sales process works, with sellers jealously guarding their contacts. But a new startup is challenging that for the ad-sales business. It has taken a page out of question-and-answer sites like Quora to set up a place where ad sellers can come together to anonymously share information. Need to know a contact at Team Detroit? How about who handles mobile media at Razorfish? Log onto SellerCrowd and ask your peers. SellerCrowd’s bet: ad sellers will all benefit if they help each other do away with the mundane work of ferreting out the right people to pitch.
The first reaction might be to think this would never work. After all, why would someone in sales want to help a competitor? Why would she want to give another ad seller a contact she worked hard to get?
Changing times, according to Clayton Gran, founder of SellerCrowd, which went live two weeks ago. The system is popular with younger sellers, he said, who haven’t built up the sizable networks those in the business for many years have. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a cultural shift among young workers who were practically weened on sharing. What’s oversharing to those in their 30s and 40s is the normal way of life for them.
Gran founded the site after a stint working in sales at Short Tail Media, where he worked under ad sales veteran Jason Krebs. Gran came to Short Tail from venture firm General Catalyst Partners. As someone new to the sales game, Gran was struck by just how inefficient it was. There were databases and directories to help with the mundane but critical information of who to pitch, but they were frequently out of date or not specific enough. Agency turnover, always an issue even in the best of times, exacerbated the problem.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming for a small sales team,” said Gran. “Where do you start and how do you figure out who will buy your product?”
Krebs and another digital media veteran, Crowdifi founder Eric Porres, are among SellerCrowd’s backers. Krebs sees it as solving an important information gap many on the publisher side face.
“I realize that SellerCrowd is not for the 20-year veterans of the business,” he said via email. “It’s for new to mid-level people who want to keep pushing forward. Basically this happens on LinkedIn every day; I can’t count how many times people say to me, ‘Hey, I see you’re connected to Mr. X, can I get an intro?’”
The site is still new but appears to have an impressive amount of information being exchanged. A typical recent question: “Does anyone have an agency contact for Ikea and Ethan Allen?” The questioner soon got the names and emails of an executive on the client side at Ikea and at MEC Global. All questions and answers are “pseudo-anonymous,” a key feature of the site, according to Gran. That means users need to log in with their LinkedIn accounts — what sales pro worth his salt isn’t on LinkedIn? — but is then assigned a pseudonym and avatar. The LinkedIn info is used to validate that the user is actually in sales, according to Gran.
I was allowed to give the site a whirl. I used the opportunity to ask what the motivation is for users to help potential competitors. The six responses I got pretty much hewed to the same theme: sales is much more than just slamming an agency or client rep with an email pitch. There was a certain pride among the sellers who responded that a contact at Universal McCann wouldn’t make a difference.
“In my opinion, any seller who thinks they have a leg up by knowing a name and email address is delusional,” said one. “That is not a relationship. Name and contact are a commodity and busy work.”
One concern raised by a SellerCrows user was that some people will share false information. The site’s pseudo-anonymity might be able to guard against that. There will still be some that are wary. I ran the idea of the site by Peter Naylor, a longtime ad sales executive and current evp of digital media sales at NBC Universal. His immediate response: “If anyone wants my Rolodex, they need to hire me.”
That was an initial worry, said an ad seller on SellerCrowd. “I admit that I initially had mixed feelings about sharing a rolodex that I’ve worked hard to source out. However if you stop and think about it – what are the odds that sharing a marketer’s contact information is going to actually lose me a sale or even a portion of a sale? Probably slim to none.”
Gran is cagey about SellerCrowd’s business model. He notes LinkedIn has built a strong subscription business, and said there’s no reason the concept can’t be spread into other industries. “Digital media is our first foray because I know it best,” he said.
Like any site that depends on those wanting information and those giving it, SellerCrowd also has to encourage more sharing. Right now, there’s clearly more people seeking information than giving it. Out of the last 20 questions posted to the site, eight received answers. The site has, of course, only been live for two weeks. It uses the LinkedIn information to direct questions to people, according to Gran. It prompts questioners to answer a couple questions when they receive answers.
“We use a pay it forward approach,” Gran said.
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