Should ad sales teams take over e-commerce efforts?

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


In one of my recent newsletters, I talked about how BuzzFeed is working in the affiliate and direct e-commerce space. The media company is banking on growth in commerce, currently its smallest business, to accelerate its top-line growth as part of its sales operation.

Like other digital media companies, BuzzFeed makes money in affiliate commerce by putting links to retailers’ Web sites within its articles. If readers click on a link and end up buying something, BuzzFeed gets a cut of the revenue.

BuzzFeed sells cookware products direct to consumers, connected to its “Tasty” food brand.
BuzzFeed sells cookware products direct to consumers, connected to its “Tasty” food brand.

BuzzFeed also sells products directly in areas like cookware, which relates, for example, to its Tasty food brand. They generated US$57 million in commerce revenue last year or 14% of total revenue. The company expects that number to hit US$150 millionin 2022 (or 23% of its total), and US$330 million (or 31% of the total) by 2024. 

If you are not in this world yet, there might be a “close to home” opportunity, already existing and easy way of doing so … and to do so using existing resources. 

In media circles, there’s an extra opportunity to consider here: The ad sales team. Could they be well positioned to sell deals to businesses, adopting an affiliate role in the e-commerce chain?

Is “commerce” a revenue stream that could be exploited greatly by a professional sales team with regards to taking their expertise and deal negotiation skills to advertiser clients (and/or relating this to the reader/customer base)?

Utilising existing sales teams

Even if you’re a small- or medium-sized media company, e-commerce may look initially as a threat to the sales team. But no. Especially if your way forward involves more for programmatic advertising and less direct selling, this could be a big opportunity for publishers to sell and use sales teams in new ways.

As demand for e-commerce options grows, it’s perhaps wise practice to at least consider a strategy around this area.

Incentives needs to be built in 

In some media companies, this could start with offering a standard commission or other monetary incentive for sales reps who refer business customers to buy into the opportunity of say, a Web e-commerce deals (negotiated by the media sales team with the many e-commerce firms out there). This could be in isolation or part of a wider package of offerings.

Incentives will motivate your sales teams to succeed with e-commerce offers.
Incentives will motivate your sales teams to succeed with e-commerce offers.

Key would be the initial set-up. It will not work if there is no real incentive to sell it on the part of the sales team. I recall (back to my experience inside some of the big UK media companies) that when “mobile” first emerged on the scene as a new channel to sell, we struggled at first to excite the salespeople as the incentives weren’t structured in. They told us they felt they already had a myriad of things to sell, and mobile was “just another.” That’s when part of their commission incentive scheme was amended to make it a “must sell,” with the relevant incentives in place.

Be it as a B2B or a B2C opportunity, some media houses may simply offer a limited amount of offers, made based on the media target audiences. And, in many cases, e-commerce companies would bite your hand off for the opportunity to reach a new audience that have loyalty to the media brand already — even paying themselves for the privilege (before a product or service is even sold). 

Print still important 

I know of some media companies that produce print supplements for third-party sellers (am thinking of specific examples, here in there UK, of things like gardening products), where that print supplement (don’t overlook the power of print still), is charged top advertisers/third-party product suppliers for inserting the supplement, with the media house still taking a commission on top of any reader sales. The next step could be for ad sales teams to re-sell the opportunity of the offers made (for selected/relevant advertisers) to put before their own audiences, set up in a similar fee plus commission basis. 

You may argue that these are not where your sales team’s talents are best utilised. But why not? It may actually be a piece of a jigsaw that can generate revenue for an advertising client by just “quietly” sitting on their Web site and perhaps in some way pay for the ad campaign they are planning separately.

You have sales teams at your disposal, experienced and experts in selling to help with much of this. Use them!

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About Mark Challinor

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