“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Ed Kozek, senior vice president of product and engineering for WeatherFX at The Weather Company.
How would you say 25% of your week is spent?
If your answer is vendor meetings, you aren’t alone. My product team spends at least 10 hours every week on these meetings.
Publishers generally don't suffer from the “not invented here” bias that vendors are victim to, where there is innate resistance to using third-party technologies. Publishers focus on building compelling content to attract more users, relying on a set of levers and dials to maximize advertising revenue. We don't care if those levers are in-house or outsourced, but it does matter how many we use.
Partner relationships touch many groups, such as legal, product, compliance and ad ops. Working with too many vendors bogs them all down. It can also hurt your product by introducing latency, discrepancies and privacy concerns.
A lot of vendors approach the market with blinders on. I know I did when I was one. An attribution company may think it is up against other attribution companies, and maybe some in research. If they sell security, they may think their competitive set only includes fraud and privacy. In reality, they are up against nearly every company that does, or wants to do, business with their target client. There are hundreds of companies vying for their time, and they only have so many resources to vet and manage partners.
How should vendors make the most out of those first meetings with a potential client? And once signed, how do they make sure I’m getting the most value out of their product?
Find An Owner
At least half of the pitches I hear are from very young companies offering services that didn't exist a year ago. Because these are new products, there's often no clear internal owner of the relationship. It could sit in ad ops, IT, product, monetization or any combination of those.
Further, sometimes the owner will sit in one group but the budget will belong in another. Given our interconnected world, particularly in the incestuous world of ad tech, it's pretty much impossible to not have a connection with a prospect – for better or worse. They need to find the owner of the relationship. They could give me the best pitch of their career, but if it's not a problem that I have or understand, their relationship with the company will likely stop with me.
When pitching, vendors should think twice before just projecting a deck and walking through it. We've all observed the 1,000-yard PowerPoint stare, where people zone out at the screen and try to follow it instead of listening to the conversation they are leading. A face-to-face discussion is almost always more productive. They should clearly explain how their product solves a client need and, especially in the first meeting, not go into technical details unless they must.
For example, I was in a meeting last week with a potential partner when there was a question about scalability. An engineer on the call immediately brought up a UNIX shell on the screen and started typing in commands to try to show stats about their capacity. He instantly lost everyone in the room. Focus on providing a solution, not selling a product.
I see a lot of vendors brought in by advertisers or agency partners who say they must run measurement on a campaign and only work with a particular vendor. No one likes to be forced to use a previously unconsidered vendor that – in the seller's mind – only takes up precious work cycles and whose only value is to keep one client happy. They shouldn’t focus only on the immediate client ask, which both sides almost always do. There is a bigger opportunity to demonstrate the power of their product beyond the task at hand.
Follow Up, But Not Too Much
Some partners will spam the hell out of you, while others seem to disappear the minute the contract is signed. Pro tip to vendors: Don't do either of those. Touch base with clients regularly, but remember to respect their time and always follow up with useful information. No offense, but if a vendor is in town and want to set up a coffee meeting to “just see how things are going,” they should save their time and mine. We are all up to our ears in meetings already. Instead, try sending out well-produced email newsletters. They provide product updates and company news in a familiar format, and if they are done well and sent regularly, it will show that the company puts a lot of effort into making sure their clients are happy.
Another great tool is usage metrics. Many companies can tell how much their product is used and by how many people. If they don't have these metrics built into their product, they need to get working on it. Armed with this data, I can guarantee that they will be better informed than I am. If a vendor has the capability to tell me that we bought 10 seats, but only five are being used, I want to know about it. My first thought will not be, "Then we are paying you twice too much!" Instead, it will motivate me to investigate who is not using it but should be, and why they aren’t. This kind of data will turn me into an internal advocate for that vendor, and it'll also result in valuable, real-world user feedback for their team.
One last thing about staying in touch: If a vendor has a good relationship with a client but communication suddenly drops off, they should take a look at their contract. If it's ending in the next quarter or so, the client may be preparing them for some bad news. Sometimes it's too late to do anything about, but the earlier the vendor knows this, the better chance they have of saving the deal.