How Programmatic is Changing Ad Sales Teams

Technology is rapidly changing the way online advertising is traded, and the way sales teams are staffed and structured as a result. Just as agencies adapt and evolve their employee skill sets, publishers too are searching for a new breed of data-driven, technology-savvy salesperson. Digiday reached out to some major to publishers to learn how programmatic ad trading is changing their sales teams, and what the sales force of the future might look like. Here’s what they said:

John Battelle, CEO, Federated Media
Sales teams have to navigate a new terrain – the ad tech ecosystem is complex, rife with short term behaviors and roadblocks. Selling into this world requires business development skills, a curious nature, and a consultative nature. It’s not for everyone. “Pure” salespeople who are great at selling one, set product suite are not going to thrive here.

Meredith Levien, evp of advertising, New York Times
Programmatic buying won’t replace premium buying; it solves different problems for marketers. What it will replace is the buying that happens in the “transactional middle,” the space of short-term, people-led RFPs with click-through-based performance objectives. As automated buying grows exponentially, publishers need sellers who are as conversant and capable in the technological aspects of putting audiences, media brands and marketers together as they are in developing ideas. The most successful sellers know how and when marketers’ objectives are best served in whole or in part by the machines, and how to leverage machine-based programs into larger premium programmatic partnerships. The stiff competition for savvy sales talent amongst publishers will be matched only by the stiff competition for share of marketers’ dollars. Publishers who operate without bias to old models and with constant focus on training for creative and technological proficiency will win in both cases.

Kevin Gentzel, CRO, Washington Post
Programmatic has powered the evolution of the entrepreneurial salesperson. The entrepreneurial seller is part brand champion, data wonk, audience expert, and client consultant. With tools and products like native, content sponsorships and targeted reach, the entrepreneurial salesperson must lead with innovation and relevance. This new breed of seller has a start up mentality and drive. They understand the power of strong media brands as well as the convoluted ad tech landscape. And while it is a fragmented and competitive environment for the entrepreneurial salesperson, they have a huge opportunity to make a big difference for their clients and their business.

Jim Spanfeller, CEO, Spanfeller Media Group
At its core the legacy sales team is not changing that much yet. What has happened is that the advanced publishers have added additional resources in the programmatic area. What will happen is a more transparent understanding of the value of each channel and how best to optimize it will emerge. This will happen as programmatic irons out some of it’s remaining kinks, like lack of transparency and suspect traffic. Being able to use programmatic efficiencies for buying known environments in addition to specific demographics will be a big leap forward for programmatic and should in fact increase CPMs in the space. Direct sales will endure, though, as more and more marketers look for deeper and more pervasive relationships with brands that have deep authority with key consumer groups.

Mark Howard, CRO, Forbes
Programmatic is a major focus for us. Earlier in the year it appeared there was going to be a big move towards preferred deals and that they would be initiated by the buying groups that direct sales was already working with. So far, preferred deals have played a smaller than expected role, but there is constant growth in interest and in execution of preferred deals. We are also seeing increased demand in the open market as more players are testing programmatic buying, resulting in increased yield and revenue. The direct team is ramping up for programmatic, whether it be RTB or guaranteed to play an integral role in bigger, more strategic programs.

Matt Turk, Publisher, Slate
We view business as a barbell. On one end there is programmatic, the other premium (native, experiential, editorial programs, creative units). These are both growing at Slate. In the middle there is standard ROS. It is strong, but becoming a smaller share of our business. We are embracing programmatic, but looking at it more analytically and less like a traditional sales role. Our traditional sales people are trained more as consultants, and focus on using Slate Custom (Slate’s in-house agency) and all the tools we have available at Slate to build solutions  for our partners in the premium space, which now comprises a majority of slate’s business.

Jimmy Maymann, CEO, Huffington Post
Programmatic has enabled advertisers to buy eyeballs with greater speed, targeting, and efficiency. To a certain extent, they have crowded out the traditional sales force or ad network, and replaced them with something less cumbersome and more efficient. The other side of the advertising barbell offers a premium product that cannot be automated by programmatic buying. Premium products like HuffPost’s native advertising and Brands as Newsrooms offerings integrate brands into the content itself, allowing them to engage in a robust dialogue with audiences. These premium products deploy the premium content and the formidable technology of our platform and are something that programmatic buys cannot replicate — they require creativity, a savviness about sticky content, and a digitally native newsroom to elevate brands beyond banners. Those who have these capabilities are well positioned to offer brands a product that will do more than capture eyeballs — they can intrigue and engage their consumers.