For programmatic sellers, the road from lead to sale is more twisted than ever

Written by Jared Maynard, account director, D360.

Every salesman worth his Bluetooth is familiar with the ABCs of the business: “Always be closing.” The mantra was memorably hammered home in Alec Baldwin’s expletive-laden “pep talk” in Glengarry Glen Ross. But what happens when machines enter the game? Can sellers sit back and let automation virtually pound the pavement while they patiently wait for the returns to roll in? Not a chance.

A day in the life of a programmatic seller is eerily similar to what we now call “traditional sales.” I’m still knee-deep in RFPs, still interacting with media planners and digital media experts and still having conversations focused on who we’re trying to reach, not how we’re going to reach them (that is, programmatically). I’m still always closing—or at least I try to be.

Does that make the traditional/programmatic dichotomy an illusion? Maybe. How many sellers are still only transacting directly? Fewer and fewer every day, according to the industry press. It’s no longer cool to just cross your arms, turn up your nose and lay claim to being a “traditional” purist. At a certain point, you’re just unwilling to adapt. For me, programmatic sales has been about what selling has always been about, regardless of the industry: building trust, developing relationships and fostering open lines of dialogue that result in mutually beneficial relationships for both parties.

When I first crossed the frontier into programmatic sales, I was under the impression that it would simply be a matter of becoming BFF with every agency trading desk and demand-side platform out there. While that was definitely essential, it quickly became clear that this was no easy feat. Where before the conversations were guided by an agency that played the central role of operator, I now found myself navigating a complicated network of agencies, ATDs, DSPs, ad networks and beyond, sometimes even contacting clients directly. This new programmatic ecosystem has forced me to become more flexible and savvy than I’d ever been before. It forced me to be more confident in the solutions I was offering.

To the sellers who are new to this: I feel for you. Programmatic sales has made education and team training absolutely crucial, and there still isn’t enough of it happening today. Nobody wants to be on the bad end of a deal, so both parties have to be extra sure that they’re using the same definitions. Have you ever looked for a concrete definition of “programmatic?” You see what I mean.

And to some degree, we’re failing to see the forest for the trees. Execution, in this case programmatic execution, shouldn’t be the sole focus for programmatic sellers. It should be a means to solve problems, of course, a language and logic to weave into conversations about how best to achieve buyers’ goals. But at the end of the day, they have to understand what those goals are in the first place, and they have to provide the same level of service as their direct counterparts. This never changes, whether you’re talking to someone on the tech end of the process or to the end client. Listen to their needs, then be confident in the tactics you recommend.

So the life of a programmatic seller isn’t that different, is it? Sure, the path from leads to sales can feel much more byzantine and you’re forced to adopt a whole new language and basic technical acumen, but you still have to understand your client. You still have to negotiate the same dynamic of give-and-take. You still have to always be closing.

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