Questions of compensation

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Digital media is generating a larger portion of b-to-b media companies' revenue. As Internet advertising delivers more raw dollars, publishers with integrated sales teams need to review their compensation packages to ensure they are aligned with new business realities.

Offering the same commission rate for print and online sales may not make sense in the early stages of developing a digital business. Generally, one page of print advertising demands a higher price than a single online display ad, so publishers have often offered additional incentives for online sales. But at what point are there enough online dollars available in the marketplace to let nature take its course, for salespeople to simply follow the money without needing a push to sell one medium or another?

More and more b-to-b publishers are embracing the philosophy that all dollars are equal, regardless of the medium from which they come.

Even though some print advertisers might decide to trade print advertising for online advertising and pocket the difference, there will be other companies that can't afford print advertising but can access less expensive advertising online, said Tom Cintorino, senior VP-digital media at PennWell Corp.

At PennWell, a matrix of goals provides digital salespeople and territory reps an incentive to work together. "For every dollar of digital media sold, each one is ultimately compensated, so any thought of competition goes out the window," Cintorino said.

Mario Di Ubaldi, group publisher of the Science Group at Advantage Business Media, said the unit has recently changed its compensation strategy so that "a dollar of revenue is a dollar of revenue." As a result, the commission rate does not vary.

"We want to sell our brands, not types of media, so we're not pushing one over another," Di Ubaldi said. Because the sales territories are divided by company rather than geography, and the client's overall budget tends to increase or stay the same, it doesn't hurt the salesperson if the advertiser takes money directly from a print budget to fund digital advertising, he said.

At Cygnus Business Media, publishers compensate salespeople in a number of ways, said Paul Caplan, chief sales integration officer. He said when it comes to compensation there is no one set answer, but the high growth rate of digital media indicates that most online dollars are incremental.

"It's not really an either/or proposition," Caplan said. "We're not trading a higher-value sale for a lower-value sale. It's a matter of putting together the best integrated solution for the customer. Sales-people who do that successfully will win in the long run."

Heather Mikisch, publisher of Thomas Publishing's Managing Automation, said she has gone through a number of different sales structures. "I've never had a separate online sales team and I've never been a believer in paying someone extra for selling online," she said. "Even though online advertising may carry a lower cost, there are more customers out there who can afford it."

Even though it may seem more efficient to have different salespeople become experts in selling different media, "the customers won't allow it," Mikisch said. "There must be one point of contact."

However, Mikisch said she understands selling and executing online programs can be more complex than a print sale. "We have internal online specialists who assist the salespeople," she said. The sales support team is responsible for implementing online programs, doing such things as delivering lead reports and getting people together for quarterly reviews.

Because the support team tends to have the most client contact after a program is sold, Mikisch is experimenting with allowing them to handle renewals for a commission.

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