A lot is riding on the selection of an outsourced ad sales company. Meeting your immediate ad revenue goal is your most pressing consideration but no ad sales company – at least those that have been in business for longer than a month – is going to guarantee your next year’s revenue results. Your decision on a new sales partner must be at least partially formed by those things that are perhaps more tangible, or at least somewhat verifiable if only by your observation. Your chosen independent partner will be seen as a representative of your company. The fact that they are an independent contractor will be forgotten by most – your colleagues, other company stakeholders, and even your customers. So, you have both your company’s revenue and, ultimately, its reputation on the line with your selection of a sales partner.
The ideas offered below have been compiled from the collective experience of the senior leadership at GLM who have participated in hundreds of publisher searches for outsourced sales help. We hope they can help you in your next search for professional sales assistance.
1. Are you searching for a great sales company or a great salesperson? There is a pretty big difference.
There are a lot of good media salespeople available for hire. You can certainly find one willing to work for you on an independent basis. And if your only need is to have someone delivering a few orders a week, this could be a solution for you. However, you’ll be hiring an individual you will need to manage, who likely has no important resources outside of those you supply, who will surely want to fit other principals (i.e. paying clients) into their schedule or may well decide the independent life isn’t for them and soon leave for another job. Again, there are situations when a single seller will do, but where stability, predictability, resources, and scale are desired, you’ll surely be better off with a sales company.
2. Is the company being considered a cultural fit with your organization, its mission, values, and goals?
Seems obvious, right? You’ll pick a team that you like and trust. True, but that doesn’t mean the company being considered – or their team members – have any affinity whatsoever for your company’s beliefs. Again, the chosen company will represent you just as if they are employees. It’s best to interview them as you would an employee.
3. Does the company being considered have experience that matches your needs?
It’s not often that you find a vendor with the perfect resume but often a prospective partner has team members with individual backgrounds of real value. You may want sales experience with a certain audience, sales success in certain ad categories, or perhaps some time selling a media operation with a long, complicated menu of assets for sale. Whatever is on your particular wish list it is a good idea to spend some time to rank your wants before you start your search. It will likely save you time later.
4. Is the company being considered giving you any evidence that they will do what they promise?
This is very difficult to judge from general conversations with prospective sales companies. All of them will quickly point to their revenue success over time. After all, they have active businesses with a current client list. But if you expect that you’re hiring an advertising management company then you should ask about their responsibilities beyond just securing the next order. Ask for the areas they participate in (i.e. all activity beyond a sales call) with a typical client. Then when checking references, spend some time probing performance on those non-selling activities that the company is offering you.
5. Do you understand the standard business practices of the company being considered?
Sales companies tend to share certain general practices but most have their own set of individual preferences. For example, something as seemingly simple as requesting a change to their sales reporting periods can make some sales operations struggle. Or asking your new team to attend your company functions and shows can run afoul of the sales companies’ internal policies. With the recent COVID-driven changes in work locations, hours, and other policies you should make it a point to cover your prospective partners’ newest business practices and preferences.
6. Has the company being considered shown you that they operate a smart and efficient operation?
In a nutshell, you want to know that your prospective partner is as contemporary as your organization. There is nothing more frustrating than having one of your company’s other departments (especially accounting!) call you and claim that your sales team cannot consistently produce the information required in any useable form on the first request. Make sure you give prospective sales partners examples of all of the data/reports that will be expected, even that needed only periodically.
7. Has the company being considered talked about managing your advertising business – or has the conversation largely been one about selling?
The outsourced sales partner should provide all management of your activity outside of your company. Because the salespeople are their employees, they have direct contact with your customers and they are considered your company’s representatives for all media-related matters. That covers a lot of ground and it’s worth your time to make sure that you are expecting both a great sales effort as well as effective and efficient sales management.
8. Does the company being considered, have other assets or services that could be useful to you in the future?
Times change, sometimes faster than planned. The internal capabilities you have today may not be those you own in the future. And the constantly shifting media landscape makes predicting resource needs extraordinarily difficult. So, a media partner that now has a basket of assets and has demonstrated the ability to quickly assemble and introduce new services, can be a very valuable partner in the future.
9. Have you asked the company being considered what they specifically expect of you?
Outsourced sales operations typically consider the territory outside the doors of your company their domain. They usually consider that their area of management responsibility. But what exactly does that mean? Will they frequently ask you to go on sales calls? Will they ask you to settle a dispute with a customer? Will important new business presentations require your attendance? Since their expectations can often be a drain on your available time you may want to get a sense of what they can be.
10. Just how important will your business be to the company being considered?
Every sales company will tell you that you can count on receiving their endless attention and non-stop effort. However, unless you’ll be among their largest clients those claims may be something of an over-promise. No sales company has the kind of assets that permit equal treatment for every client. Moreover, few clients likely share an identical list of service deliverables. So, your revenue – which dictates the sales company’s revenue – will generally rank you on their “important” list. It’s good to know where you will likely rank before you decide on a partner.