Service starts with the sale

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In the sale of print advertising, the process ends with the printing of the ad in the magazine. In online advertising, the ad sale is the beginning of a process that includes posting, tracking, reporting and, if goals haven't been met, finding out why, making some adjustments and tracking and reporting again.

That's just the process for a single impression-based display ad. The level of complexity rises with each additional element, from links and landing pages to registration and lead generation.

With all this complexity, though, there's opportunity. Media companies can add value with analysis and interpretation to help clients use insights from their metrics in a productive way. On a more immediate level, a b-to-b media company can use a high level of client service as a competitive advantage in its market.

Dan Hirsh, publisher of IDG's Network World, said Network World's eight-person client services group "has become a point of differentiation for us, and we have made a sizable investment in it." The department, which is part of sales rather than production, is now five years old.

The customer service department at Network World includes two full-time designers, a copywriter and five client service managers (CSMs). Each CSM works in a team with a salesperson, and, at a simplistic level, a CSM makes sure each program that's sold is implemented and that everything that needs to be measured is measured and reported to the client.

"In the past, CSMs were much more like project managers, but we're educating them to be more consultative because they are so close to the programs that they can see what's working and what's not working, and identify trends," Hirsh said. CSMs are involved in every online advertising program, from an impression-based banner to multifaceted lead-generation programs—handling an average of 90 programs each quarter.

"Anyone who hasn't already made this investment now has a fundamental decision to make," Hirsh said. "It's going to be much more costly to start a department like this in 2008 than it was for us, because we built it up over time."

CMP's ChannelWeb also uses a team approach, although it's organized differently than Network World. Chris Sullivan, VP-managing director of ChannelWeb, explained that salespeople are paired together in teams, with one doing outside sales and the other, inside sales. "A lot of the Web-based campaigns start with inside sales," he said. "Often the team works together to move that client up to bigger programs."

Supporting sales behind the scenes are people who run all the logistics for webinars and online ad services (OAS) that handle the back-end activities for display ads and sponsorships. The OAS department provides salespeople with monthly reports that give the average responses for different size ads.

"The data give our salespeople the opportunity to act as consultants," Sullivan said. If a certain client's results are below average, a salesperson can prepare to discuss ways to improve performance. On the other hand, Sullivan added, "an advertiser might think the number is fantastic, but the salesperson will be prepared, just in case."

At Thomas Publishing's Managing Automation, Joanne Hogan, VP-e-media, oversees the advertising support function, which resides in multiple departments: one person in sales and marketing supports webinars, two people in client services support lead-gen programs, and a fourth handles impression-based online ad units as well as print advertising production.

Although the number of people involved in online advertising support activities hasn't changed in the three years Hogan has been with Managing Automation, "we changed the focus of the people's jobs last October," said. "With webinars, for example, we felt they should be treated differently than ordinary lead-gen programs, so we put that function with our live events because of all the proactive marketing that's needed."

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