Why Do Publishers Still Have Fragmented Sales Teams?

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Bruno Rebouças, chief executive officer at ProgMedia.

Today’s media-buying trends show that programmatic deals will keep growing aggressively compared to direct buys. Some key advertisers have already reached a point where all of their display campaigns are bought programmatically, rather than through direct buys.

It can be a tough thing to swallow, as most changes are. In this case, publishers were the most impacted, and many had a hard time adapting. Like most ad tech trends, US players led the charge, while publishers in Latin America, where I am based, followed suit. Today, it seems likely that pretty much any mid-sized publisher has sold at least one programmatic deal, and the ones that haven’t are on their way to doing so.

However, even with this huge shift, there is still one thing that hasn’t fully changed: Many publishers, especially in Latin America, still have their “old” sales team, which is focused on selling directly, and their “new” programmatic team, which is focused on selling programmatic deals. Not surprisingly, it is common to see internal competition for the same client’s budget.

There are some extreme cases where the direct-buy teams may communicate to advertisers and agencies that “programmatic deals don’t work,” which showcases how potentially unhealthy this arrangement can be. There should be no competition around which kind of sale or deal is the best because there is no best way. This begs the question: Is it really necessary to keep two individual sales teams?

Ahead Of The Curve

The most successful publishers already understand that their sales teams need to be more holistic and take a more consultative approach to agencies and advertisers. To achieve this, it is impossible to keep the direct vs. programmatic sales team fragmented. The key is to understand all the different kinds of buying and selling types available, including open auction, private auctions, preferred deals, programmatic guaranteed and direct, in order to suggest the option that makes the most sense for each case.

Some great examples of publishers excelling in programmatic include Business Insider, Meredith and Spotify, which have all taken steps to integrate their sales teams.

In Latin America, UOL, a big Brazilian publisher, has led the charge and trained all of its sales reps, who used to sell only directly, in programmatic deals long ago.

Potential Pitfalls

Consolidating internal teams, however, is never easy. It gets even worse when the changes are made too quickly, which is how the demand for programmatic deals grew.

Challenges of integrating sales teams are many. Conversations are getting more technical, which requires a new skill set from sales reps. Also, it is difficult for publishers to deal with sales teams’ compensation since revenue predictability is considerably lower in programmatic. There is a required mindset change from “selling more” to “selling better.” It shouldn’t be about selling millions of impressions, but about selling great inventory and data so that the CPM prices can increase, too. It is a business structural change.

But the way media is bought has changed dramatically, and publishers’ sales teams should do so too. Buyers do not benefit from having two sales reps from the same publisher telling them that their product is the best.

Instead of focusing their energy on which team is going to sell more of each deal type, why not focus on improvements that buyers really care about? Viewability, content quality, brand safety, fraud and audience data are some examples that, if well managed, should have a positive impact on a publisher’s revenue stream. As buyers get more savvy, they will care more about those variables and less about the kind of deal type they are using.

This holds true even more so in less savvy markets, where this kind of fragmentation holds back programmatic’s evolution. There is a clear opportunity for publishers that take a more holistic and consultative stance. Not all buyers are 100% familiar with all the programmatic deals types and possibilities, which makes the perfect scenario for the advisory approach.

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