Do We Still Need Sales People in a Programmatic World?

Will programmatic buying and selling replace the need for sales teams? No, of course it won’t. However, it will require a new set of skills to be honed, writes Paul Gubbins (pictured below), independent ad tech consultant, exclusively for ExchangeWire.

Having been involved in helping companies to train and transition their direct sales forces from an IO- to a programmatic-view of the world, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I believe the sales teams of today and tomorrow should look like.

Firstly, I really don’t think a huge amount should, or will, change. There is still an underlying worry from many in the traditional camp that programmatic should be feared.

I understand where this fear comes from, as many associate it with autonomous AI, but that could not be further from the truth. Programmatic is merely plumbing. And, in the same way a household could have a number of gas or electricity suppliers flowing through its connected pipes, the OpenRTB infrastructure can deal with a variety of ad requests and bid responses.

The main agencies make up the lion’s share of the customer base for most publishers, ad nets, and tech vendors; and when they release statements of intent to transition their buying from the much-loved IO to be 100% programmatic, you should listen and recalibrate your commercial teams accordingly to face their demand.

Spotify is just one example of a premium publisher that has released PR recently talking to the fact it is building its sales team to meet the expectations of today’s programmatically literate agencies. Expect more to follow, and quickly…

Channel conflict will always arise when you have two commercial teams trying to sell the same audience and context to the same customer: the agency. It needs to be one team, one narrative. However, we can only get there when the sales teams of today can understand how to support the different buying models in play and not always look to their operations teams for guidance.

So, what should sales teams be doing today?

 Understanding the needs of their agencies and advertisers

 Selling the benefits of their audience, reach, and contextual relevancy

 Being execution-agnostic (neutral regarding buying models)

What is actually happening in many cases today?

The majority of meetings between sales teams and agencies/advertisers is being taken up discussing ad operations, such as DSP and SSP connections, rather than the relevancies of the audience to meet an advertiser’s needs.

Before programmatic, sales people would never have spent so much time in meetings talking about ad serving; and it bewilders me that, today, so many sales forces do just that. They completely miss the opportunity of selling their USPs, not the ‘programmatic plumbing’ that underpins the ad delivery and, in the majority of cases, is not unique, but completely commoditised.

So, what actually changes for traditional sales teams that have been built around the IO in a programmatic world?

Paul Gubbins, Independent Ad Tech Consultant

A deep understanding of the different buying models that exist in programmatic is now required so they can demonstrate to an agency they can support any buying route adopted. Far too many companies still have isolated skill sets and the sell side should follow the lead of the agencies, that realised this recently and have started to disperse the incubated programmatic skills that existed within their agency trading desks to the wider opcos. Again, programmatic is not a line item on an advertiser’s plan, but the delivery mechanism for the line items.

Assuming a publisher’s, or ad network’s, inventory sits with an SSP (owned or third-party) a sales person should be confident enough today to articulate the points of entry to their brands and audiences. These buying access points may include:

– Insertion Order (IO): Includes a fixed price, data, 100% delivery, optimisations, and post-campaign analysis

–  Automated Guaranteed: Excluded from OpenRTB protocols, but supports workflow automation to meet any buyer’s needs to migrate from IO transactions

– Programmatic Direct: Biddable PMPs with data, price controls, and priority options

–  Programmatic Guaranteed: Priority access with data, guarantees around volume commitments (buy and sell sides), audience matching, and fixed pricing

So, sitting on the floor of the next ad tech trade show, you will be surrounded by salespeople who represent programmatic-first companies, and you may ask why they are needed. Because audiences are transient; consumption habits are changing; the term ‘inventory’ becomes broader on a daily basis, accelerated by the IoT; and advertising will always require smart salespeople to make informed decisions that ensure the output of their machine learning-/AI-powered tool kits are still providing ROI for those selling and those buying advertising space.

The line in the sand between operations and sales is fading – the geeks and jocks are becoming the same person! It still exists, but being able to sell is now crucial in the world of programmatic operations and understanding top-line operations (the pipes) is crucial to any traditional salesperson looking to stay in the game beyond 2017. Programmatic will not replace salespeople, it will replace those who do not take the time to learn the language that those on the buy side want to speak!

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