How programmatic salespeople learn programmatic

Vince Vaughn

In the beginning of the summer I started on a mission to understand how to sell programmatic advertising. I did a bit of research, hosted a meetup, and spoke with a group of peers from Xaxis, iProspect, and ONE by AOL about how they tackle explaining, selling value, and the future of programmatic sales.

I learned a lot, but what stood out is the education process for programmatic is basically nonexistent. For most, they fell into programmatic sales by way of selling traditional display advertising. Some bought media, others sold, and the remaining previously worked at an advertising platform. Not surprisingly, none of them took a course on programmatic in college. Therefore, most of their knowledge and experience came from on the job training.

The first question I asked each peer was, “What’s your background and how did you get into programmatic sales?” Emma Wiedner, senior account executive of client engagement at Xaxis, said that she "started out at FRWD learning everything I could about digital. I brought that knowledge to Starcom and shifted when I realized I loved business and client development more than the actual buying of media. That brought me to 24/7 Real Media, one of the first ad servers and networks, which merged with Xaxis in 2014.”

Similarly, Vinny Rinaldi, director of programmatic at iProspect, found his footing through each step of his career – from ESPN to Adap.TV to DoubleClick, finally landing at iProspect. The breadth of his programmatic learnings came from his exposure to the Adap.TV platform.

“I gained an understanding of the full tech landscape connecting buyers and sellers under one platform," he said.

Surrounded by “the most talented people in the world,” he said at Google he was able to "truly value a full stack capability by leveraging data in the ad server, data from a DMP, and create strategies to buying the most effective consumer.”

Felicia Wu, account director at AOL, began her career as an account manager at Ad.com – purchased by AOL in 2004. When she moved into programmatic sales two years ago, she relied heavily on her colleagues to share their insight and expertise. She continued, “In general, online advertising is constant crowdsourced learning. The industry moves so quickly that, regardless of where you sit – publisher, advertiser, monetization partner, etc. - you are constantly learning, innovating, and evolving your business.”

Once you’ve ‘mastered’ the concept, the true battle in programmatic sales is explaining what programmatic advertising is to a client. Looking for inspiration, each peer gave their analogy. Both Wiedner and Rinaldi shared the stock exchange example. Rinaldi shares, “advertising has become Wall Street, ad space is like the stock market, we are all high frequency traders buying and selling media, rather than shares of stock, within technology platforms.” Wiedner went a bit further, stating that “at the 201 level, now add in a data management platform [DMP] using client’s first party data, building out specific audiences, now we can find those audiences across multiple channels and look at your digital campaign holistically.”

Wu had my favorite, noting that programmatic is analogous to post-internet shopping. She explains “before the internet, if you wanted to buy something unique or specific, you’d have to go to a known shopping mall, do your research, ask around, and then physically go to the store. Now, you can just search on the web and purchase instantly with a click of a button.” Similarly, finding your customer programmatically “saves time and money as buyers and sellers have more efficient resources to spend their budget and time.”

However, sometimes clients still don’t get it. Rinaldi told me his client once asked, “how is your algorithmic buying method more efficient than me calling my publisher, negotiating our terms, and signing our IO’s?” This is a true struggle for programmatic sales teams, Rinaldi explains, with the challenge of “being able to shift a buyer’s mentality from buying an impression to buying a consumer.”

It’s all about selling the value. Wiedner describes to her clients that with programmatic advertising, “now you can evaluate your media investment against real world business results, as opposed to CTR or just impressions. Making it easier for CMOs to understand the value and defend their investments to the C-suite.”

Wu elaborates, “Programmatic gives time back to buyers and sellers – time spent figuring out where and what to buy, negotiating and then drafting I/Os, trafficking multiple tags, and more. Sellers and buyers can focus on smarter more strategic buys instead of where to move partners up and down the waterfall or ad stack - this especially rings true with the rise of header bidding.”

Speaking of the “rise of header bidding”, I asked each sales peer, “What is the future of programmatic sales?” More importantly I wanted to know if it has or will become easier for clients to understand or will programmatic be a constant challenge of change, new acronyms and platforms. Wiedner has already put to rest the good ol' days of wining and dining clients and has now accepted the new norm, the consultative sale. She explains, “This role takes a lot of business knowledge and ability to educate on a complex ever changing subject across multiple stake holders in an organization and agency.”

Rinaldi pleads to advertisers, for the future sake of programmatic, to change the way they purchase media by forcing publishers to be more insightful with their inventory and audience. He implores, “The more data and insights we can provide our clients with, the more they will see the value in using programmatic buying tools for their media dollars.” Wu summed it up nicely, “Programmatic will continue to grow and be a part of nearly everything within digital advertising.”

Madelyn Sminkey is a key account manager at The Drum. She tweets @MadelynSminkey

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.