INTERACTIVE: GUEST COLUMNIST: LESLIE LAREDO -- HOW TO FIND GOOD INTERNET SALES REPS

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Internet advertising is expected to reach a level of $6 billion to $10 billion in the next three to four years, according to both Jupiter Communications and Forrester Research. That means doubling the current annual ad spending rate every year.

If this revenue projection is accurate, there will be dramatic growth in Web usage and site traffic; more measurement techniques; better tools for ad placement and inventory scheduling; and more organizations that buy and sell Internet ad space.

For many ad-supported sites, hiring experienced Internet ad sales executives is already difficult and will get worse as the demand for good sales reps increases.

Internet media salespeople who can weave together an intricate balance of media concepts, creativity and technology know-how are already at a premium.

THE EXPENSIVE OPTION

Well-funded sites can use expensive recruitment companies to locate and entice seasoned Internet media professionals. These companies recruit heavily from the existing cadre of Internet sales professionals. For example, when Paul DeBraccio left a VP-ad sales post at Geo-Cities last year to become VP-group advertising at online community Tripod, it started a chain reaction.

Michael Barrett left Disney Online, where he was VP-advertising, to take the GeoCities opening, and Scott Schiller left his VP-ad sales and partnership marketing post at Sony Online Ventures to go to Disney Online as VP-advertising and sponsorship sales.

Start-up sites with limited dollars for recruiting or those on a start-up budget are forced to use other traditional recruitment techniques.

Until a larger pool of online media executives is created, the Web ad industry will continue looking to other industries to find the right mix of media experience, technology acumen, powerful Rolodexes and creative thinking.

Here are some techniques that work in recruiting representatives:

Find experienced Internet sales reps from other sites. Pay a higher comp package and train them on your site.

Find reps who have traditional media sales experience and train them in Internet media.

Hire from the buying side (Internet media planners and buyers) and train them with basic sales skills.

Hire reps who sell high-technology products, hardware or software and train them in media sales.

Finding experienced reps means raiding other Web sites. While site-raiding can guarantee a certain level of experience, it also calls for higher comp packages -- which can't always be justified because many reps lack the critical time on the job and experience. Many sales managers are so strapped that they don't have time to adequately train and manage new sales reps.

MOST HAIL FROM PRINT

It also takes time for new reps to learn a site and sell buyers on their new alliance, especially if the rep was hired from a competitor.

Most Web reps hail from traditional backgrounds. While they often have print experience, many reps come from broadcast and cable TV; radio; direct marketing; or Yellow Pages backgrounds.

With solid training on Internet media concepts, traditional media reps can learn to sell the Internet on its unique attributes and not just as an extension of another medium.

Some sites try to sway media buyers and planners to the sales side, hoping they will be good salespeople because they know what buyers want.

In theory, this notion can work, and many from the buyer side have successfully moved to the seller side. However, sales management must train new hires on the basics of selling and ensure that these reps can execute basic skills such as prospecting, pre-selling preparation, presentation and closing.

Finally, don't overlook technical sales reps as potential media reps. As the creation, delivery and measurement of online ads constantly evolve, having a solid understanding of these tech skills is a benefit, especially for media-savvy buyers.

While software sales reps may need training in the nuances of selling media, they will excel at resolving technical issues that can unravel a sale. Be careful, however, to ensure these reps are selling audiences and content and not selling technology.

Creating a recruitment strategy and hiring reps should be a comprehensive process that includes training on basic Internet technology, Web media and sales skills.

Leslie Laredo is founder and president of consultancy Laredo Group (www.laredogroup. com). She has had interactive ad sales experience with Prodigy, Ziff-Davis Interactive and InterChange Online Networks, among others.

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