All of the recent meetings I've been attending start with the same question: 'So, how are you guys doing in this tough market?' Truth be told, there is still a lot of activity -- especially in behavioural targeting -- and lots of online campaigns being booked, although some sites certainly are having a hard time maintaining a strong sell-through rate. But looking into 2009, things will almost certainly become tighter and there will be far more competition for online spend.
In my role, I am fortunate to work with the top publisher sites in the U.K., but at the same time I get to interact with most of the key agencies. And when speaking about top sales practices to either group, in good times and bad, some core elements are always present. But when budgets get cut and ad spend constricts, it becomes even more important to practice excellent selling skills. So whether you sell online advertising, or do business development for an agency, or sell a technical or service offering; here are a few of my top tips for how to thrive in a difficult market:
Get back to your core values
Here's a question I always try to ask before heading into important meetings: What makes my own company unique? Being able to quickly and succinctly answer this should be the core of any work-based conversation, but it's even more important in a difficult market.
Be able to discuss what makes your offering the best in the market, and a 'must buy'. Is it your premium audience; the best inventory/content in the market; the strongest technology; the smartest staff; the best ad opportunities? Those core values and strengths are why you achieved success in a strong market in years past, so emphasise them today.
Do not fall into the trap of selling negatively
When deals get harder to come by, you will invariably be in much tighter competition with others in your space. This happens all the time, and an easy mistake to make is to start negatively selling against your competition. But it rarely works, it almost always makes you look bad and even if there is a short-term gain, you will be carrying a stigma of negativity moving forward.
So instead of selling negatively, always focus on your own benefits and strong points. To put it simply, spend less time talking about your competition and more time talking about how you are going to solve your client's unique requirements with the best solution.
We've had some very negative selling done against us in the past. But in every case (and especially in the U.K.) it did not work. Buyers and decision makers understand when they hear a message of negativity, and they would almost always prefer to hear a message of positive selling.
Realise that the world is not ending!
Yes, there has been some bad news, and yes, many analysts have been forecasting that the online industry will not be growing at the rapid rate seen in previous years. But at the same time, online seems more insulated than most advertising and there will still be plenty of online campaigns. Even the most negative forecasts still project some level of growth in key areas, and some reports actually show growth through next year.
So if you firmly believe you have a strong offering, then be aggressive and sell it. In fact, look at this excellent section
that the Financial Times just published on their site about being bullish with sales and advertising efforts in a down market. There will be online revenue, and deals to be signed, so go and get your portion!
Get more involved in the industry
Everyone knows the value of networking and making contacts across the whole spectrum, but not many people actually find the time to do it. There is so much competition for our time, and sometimes there is a desire to get away from 'the job', but networking is critical for building your contacts and market knowledge. And believe it or not, networking with your competition can be helpful. Learn what they are doing and what successes and challenges they have. The more you know and the larger your contact database; the more success you will have.
And even if you cannot get out to network, fill your head with as much as you can. You're already one step along the way by reading iMedia, and there are many other industry publications in the U.K. that will inform you on new pitches, accounts changing hands, tips and trends in the market, etc. Research and learn and it will certainly produce better meetings and increased perception of your market mastery.
Again, these are just a few of the main things I see day in and day out, but I know there are many other successful tactics. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me and maybe I will do a follow-up piece with other good practices in the industry. Until then, keep positive and whatever you are selling, do it with a high degree of integrity, and you will reap the rewards!
Jeremy Mason is managing director, European operations at Revenue Science.