February 20, 2003
A lot of online publishers are trying to hire new ad sales reps
right now. (In fact we have seen a remarkable upsurge.)
Unfortunately some of those hires will not work out. Are you about
to hire the wrong person? Minimize your risk by learning how to
avoid the five most typical mistakes.
There is definitely been a strong upsurge in online ad sales job
openings in past 45 days. In fact, without even looking we are
aware of at least two dozen online publishers who are hiring.
However, it does not mean you can just hire telephone order takers
like some sites did in the old days. Advertisers are still
buying cautiously, avoiding long-term commitments, and twitchily
watching the economy.
How do you hire the right sales rep for your needs; and, how can
you make sure you will not have to lay them off in a few months if
things get harder again?
We asked ad sales training consultant Janet Ryan of Ryan Whiteman
how to avoid hiring mistakes. Her tips:
-> Mistake #1: Hiring based on avails or current industry
Most of us learned years ago that trying to forecast ad sales
based on your avails (the spots you have open) can be a suicidal
mistake. The old "I have zillions of page views therefore my rep
will make lots of money" thinking is gone.
However, Ryan says many publishers still make mistaken hiring
decisions by basing their forecasts on current market activity.
The problem is most advertisers are focusing on highly short-term
activity. They will not buy any campaign unless they can pull the
If too many yank in unison, you are high and dry with a rep to pay
and no sales coming in.
Ryan suggests you forecast a worst-case scenario before you
hire anyone. Factors to include:
- How much do you depend on one particular niche, and how many
companies are there in it? The more companies duking it out
for market share, the greater the likelihood in this economy
that many will either be merged with one another or gone by
Can you make your ad sales goals with that smaller number?
You will need a great relationship-building sales rep. Can
you broaden your focus to include a different group of
companies? You will need a great evangelical sales rep.
- Are the current active advertisers in your niche driven by
time-specific needs such as an annual product launch or
going public? Once the specific timed goal passes, how
likely are they to pull back expenditures abruptly?
- If you are basing market activity on ads you see in
competitors' sites, how much data do you have on which ads
are CPA, CPC or CPM? Do you happen to know how far off rate
card they are discounting to get CPMs?
Never assume anything is sold on rate card, or on CPM unless
you have inside knowledge.
- What is the likelihood of any government activity (new laws,
wars, etc.) affecting advertisers' spending?
Once you have a "worst case scenario" worked out, you have a
better margin for error when it comes to who you can hire and for
-> Mistake #2: Hiring based on skills preferred vs. needed
Ryan says, "The biggest mistake even experienced sales managers
make is they have a favorite profile in their head of what good
salespeople look like, and they rely on this vs. doing an
analysis of 'What does this particular job require?'"
Before you start looking, first create a profile of the perfect
rep for your needs based on these factors:
- How many calls or contacts does the sales cycle require? Is
it a two-call cycle, or a 15-call cycle? What kind of
persistence and patience will your rep need?
- Who makes the buying decision? A C-level exec, a committee,
an agency media buyer, or one marketer?
- What type of education do buyers need? Does your rep have
to make formal presentations in suit? Does your rep have to
help clients take their first steps in online advertising?
- What type of relationship building is required? Are you a
brand sales prospects have heard of? Have their direct
competitors bought from you?
- Do you need a rep who "lives and breathes ROI" or can you
hire someone who is more comfortable talking CPM?
- Will your rep have support in terms of sales materials,
Powerpoint presentations, an active lead database, a great
media kit, or will they have to dig up leads and create
marketing materials on their own?
- Will your rep be required to handle trafficking once the ad
is sold? Will they need to answer emailed and phone
queries quickly, or can they go on the road to meet clients
without worrying that no-one is covering calls at base camp?
Ryan says that often when publishers go through these questions,
they find they need at least two different skill sets. In that
case you may be better off hiring two part-timers to fill each
end of the slot, rather than trying to find one person who is
perfect in every way.
If a part-timer wants to work virtually, from a home office, Ryan
advises you base your hiring decision on how much experience they
already have. Junior-level reps will need more in-person
cheering on. Be sure you can meet them face-to-face at least
-> Mistake #3: No formal screening process for resumes
Even after you have carefully defined exactly what type of rep you
need prior to advertising the opening, it is awfully easy to get
swept into hiring the wrong person when a resume that looks
incredible pops onto your desk.
As Ryan says, let us face it, great sales reps are great at
selling. Which means you will be tempted to hire the wrong one.
She strongly suggests you create a formal, written, screening
survey for all applicants to take before you will even consider
them. The open-ended questions should be based on the exact type
of rep you have already determined you need.
Be careful not to word questions in such a way that it is obvious
which answer you are looking for.
Ryan advises, "Ask about how they would handle particular selling
situations. You're looking for how someone's brain works."
If your job requires email skills, read the answers for length,
typos and pointedness as much as for the content. "We've had 30-
page answers come in. They were great people, but email selling
requires sharp, short answers."
Only after you have screened answers should you move to the next
stage: Interviews with the handful of best ones.
-> Mistake #4: Judging trial hires by sales made
"The problem with hiring salespeople on trial is they'll spend
all their time on low-hanging fruit to sell stuff quickly to
impress you. They'll bring in near-term dollars so they can last
in the job, they won't evangelize for you," warns Ryan.
Your trial will not prove if the rep can create invaluable long-
term relationships, crack new markets, or get new accounts with
harder-to-impress advertisers. Dialing for dollars only proves
they can dial for a few short-term dollars.
"Some sales have a four-month close cycle, where you have to meet
with 15-people. Reps who do a good job at that would never look
good on a trial period."
One of the best ways to find that kind of rep is to ask execs in
your target market which sales reps (of any type, not just ads
or simply online ads) have impressed them the most.
-> Mistake #5: Paying too much
Ryan says, "If the guy is 90% phone and email, six-figure
salaries are pretty rare."
You may find the salary versus commission balance has shifted a bit
for junior-level reps who now want stability in the face of world
events as opposed to grabbing the chance for riches.
On the other hand, Ryan advises that a highly experienced rep
should be willing to take a lower salary than you might expect.
"The best salespeople for the long term believe in themselves, so
they are willing to take a bet on a big payout. That said, the
upside has got to be great."
If you are hiring someone for long-term sales, especially in an
evangelical position where they bring in new markets and new
clients, you will need to prove that you have done your homework and
the market is really there for them.
Link to Ryan's site: