Request for Proposal

Return of the Dead (RFPs!)

Return of the DeadI’m reposting this item from a couple of years back.  Because Zombies never really get old, do they now?

Whether your company’s future is tied to programmatic selling or the development of native advertising concepts, it’s impossible not to feel the diminishing relevance of the legacy request-for-proposal (RFP) process.  But even though more of the digital ad dollar is flowing to automated buys or non-standard opportunities every day, a great many sellers and agencies apparently missed the memo.  They continue to party like it’s 1999:  drafting, over-distributing, responding, defending and evaluating cattle-call RFPs long after the practice spiraled into irrelevance.

Welcome to the age of Zombie RFPs.  Not realizing they’re dead, they continue to walk among us.  And they are eating the brain of your sales and marketing teams.

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For the uninitiated, some quick background:  In the earliest days of digital publishing and advertising, we co-opted the RFP process common to the magazine industry.  When it came time to spend, ad buyers would prepare a document asking for availability of certain features, adjacencies, capabilities;  pricing; and of course that extra “big idea” that – if good enough — would  certainly clinch the deal.  But what was moderately effective when there were dozens or scores of competing sites quickly became a grotesque charade in an age of hundreds of networks and thousands of sites.

Yet still today – whether fueled by ignorance, inertia, cynicism or all three – the RFP staggers on at the center of buyer/seller interaction.  To foster the “illusion of inclusion,” buyers routinely include 8-10 vendors in the process for every one that will ultimately prevail.  Feeding off false hope, seller organizations burn money, time and creative energy each time an RFP hits the inbox.  And collectively the industry chases its tail in service of a buying practice that’s already dead.

Sanity must be restored.  The zombies must be dispatched.  And sales leadership holds the stake in its hand.

As I’ve suggested in a previous Drift, impose a triage evaluation process on the RFPs your team receives. Politely decline to participate on those where you had little to no advance notice and whose pricing or appropriateness to your company are spurious.  Respond fully and creatively to big dollar plans that seem clearly written with your property in mind.  And for group three – those in the middle – qualify, qualify, qualify.

Seller organizations can’t change the way in which agencies choose to field opportunity.  But we can control the way in which we respond.  And in doing so, perhaps we free ourselves to pursue a path of real innovation and value creation.   Free of zombies, life just gets better.

The New Oreo, Part 1: The Page Layer

In the last Drift, we laid out the three revenue ‘layers’ that today’s digital sales leader must tend to in order to maximize revenue.  In this post, we explore ‘the Page Layer,’ a revenue stream that’s at once familiar and increasingly complicated in today’s market.

Once upon a time, the digital sales VP’s job was pretty straightforward:  you had a sales team you directly controlled; those sales people would then sell as deeply as possible into the ‘inventory’ of ad banners and video on the websites that you also controlled;  and finally, you’d offload unsold ‘remnant’ inventory to a third party network.  Simple.

Today not so much.   With your sales people constantly torn between audience buys, contextual placement and deeply integrated sponsorships (and with agency buyers not always understanding exactly what they’re asking for)  it’s gotten complicated.

The first bit of advice I give clients is to go back to your roots.  Selling specific contextual placement and/or guaranteeing that a given ad will run on your domain on a given date is a unique capability and you must treat it as such.   Some rules to follow as you seek to get the most value and return from the “Page Layer” revenue stream:

  1. Constrict the Channel: With almost no exceptions, people who carry your business card should be the only ones who can sell specific placement on your sites.  You should be able to go into the marketplace with a straight face and say, “If you want to be sure you run on my site, or on that page, on Thursday you have to come through me.  Period.”
  2. Turn Down the Noise: While site design has improved somewhat, there’s still far too much supply out there and the average web page looks like a cross between a NASCAR fire suit and a minor league ballpark.  A site or page specific buy is about environment;  make that environment a clean, well-lit place by cutting the clutter and eliminating the throw-away ad units that are dragging your CPMs down.
  3. Never Sell it All: Letting a given customer buy you out of desirable inventory is bad practice.  You always want to have a little bit left on the shelf to offer to advertiser B.  At the same time you are going to make sure you…
  4. Always Blend: Your dedicated page sellers should be good negotiators, and one thing they should always negotiate is deal composition.  Blending page specific or site specific ad placement with run of site/run of network inventory takes nerve and professionalism.  But it can and must be done.

The ‘Page Layer’ is a rich but finite resource.  Too valuable to be thrown into the hash of an undifferentiated RFP process.

Next Up:  The New Oreo, Part 2: The Integration Layer