Ad Ops Management: How To Work With Challenging Sellers
by Matt Peck, on Dec 15, 2020 9:00:00 AM
Matt Peck has been working in AdTech for over 8 years, with roles ranging from Media Ops to Ad Ops team management at companies like AOL, Oath and Millennial Media. He spent much of those 8 years focused specifically on leading, managing and growing thriving account management teams.
Ask any Ad Ops Analyst for their best seller horror story and I guarantee not only that they’ll have one, but they will struggle to narrow it down to just one story.
One of the hardest parts of working in Ad Ops is maintaining relationships with sellers, and getting past the frustrations those relationships can bring. But overcoming this challenge, and forming productive working relationships with sellers, is critical to the successful execution of your Ad Ops strategy.
Having spent quite a bit of my Ad Ops career honing my seller-handling skills as both an analyst and a manager of analysts, I’ve put together my top tips for each group.
Browse the list of tips specifically meant for analysts in the thick of seller relationships:
- Understand Your Sellers
- Focus on Building the Relationship
- Expect Some Frustration
- Pick up the Damn Phone
- Be Solutions Oriented
Or take a look at the list of tips designed to help Ad Ops managers help their analysts deal with tough sellers:
- Be Ready to Support
- Build a Relationship with the Sales Team
- Provide a Mix of Training and Hands-On Coaching
- Be a Feedback Gathering Machine
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Tips for Ad Ops Analysts
This first group of tips are meant to help guide analysts in building and improving their 1-1 relationship with sellers.
Before diving into the tips, I urge you to remember that each one of the sellers you deal with is a real person. Thinking of them this way will help remind you to communicate with them like one.
1. Understand Your Sellers
First and foremost, seek to understand your sellers. This seems like it should be common sense, but most of us fail to do this, particularly when we are frustrated.
Your job is literally to support the seller so don’t jump straight to frustration when they need you. It is your role to figure out how to help them do their job.
Start by understanding a bit more about the seller’s job. They are often making the majority of their salary from commissions—this is the money they need to support themselves and their family, so they have a lot of skin in the game. Most of their take-home is riding on providing client success.
Next, try to understand what the relationship should look like between you and the seller. It's their job to wine and dine clients.
It's your job to deliver results.
As such, you'll be relied on to answer questions as the expert in the area. What is incredibly important to remember is that the seller will never know all the ins and outs of your job, so don’t get immediately frustrated with them if they make a mistake or promise something that isn’t possible. They simply don’t know.
This would be like a surgeon getting frustrated with you for not knowing every step that needs to be taken to perform open-heart surgery.
If you just take the time to remember these things, it will help to prevent some of the initial and immediate reactions or frustrations you might have when things go wrong.
Approach your relationships with your sellers with these factors in mind and you will be much more successful in them.
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2. Focus on Building the Relationship
It's easy to look at work relationships as just that—I work with you. and then I walk away at the end of the day.
But I’d challenge you to build a real relationship, person-to-person, with your sellers. It will help you get to know each other and allow you to work together better in the long term. It will also help your seller see you as a person too, just like I suggested you do for them in the previous section.
Get face to face (or virtually face to face in a COVID-era world). Build a relationship. Grab a beer or coffee. Get to know them. Become best friends. Seriously!
3. Expect Some Frustration
Set your expectations correctly at the beginning. At some point along the line, you will get frustrated with your sellers, and that's okay.
What’s most important is how you deal with your frustration, and work to continually improve the relationship. Some really important tactics I’ve found that help me deal with my frustration, and not allow it to be damaging, are:
- Allow yourself to feel your first gut response, but do it privately
- When writing a “frustrated” email, walk away for an hour and revisit it before sending
- Rely on your supervisor to pre-read said “frustrated” emails and help you revise them before sending if needed
- Have a vent session with another analyst if you need to, but just make sure you don’t unload directly on the seller
Most importantly, don’t take things personally. Sellers who screw up are simply doing just that—screwing up. They aren’t attacking you personally or trying to make your life miserable.
Let yourself be frustrated for a moment, but learn how to let it go.
4. Pick up the Damn Phone
In a digital world, we have come to rely heavily on text-based communication. While it's great for productivity, it is terrible for conveying human emotions.
Quite honestly, humans totally suck at interpreting emotions and feelings from text-based communication. This goes both ways: a message from your seller may come off as rude, or you may inadvertently send something that comes off harsher than you anticipated it would.
Make sure your communication with your seller involves auditory or visual communication whenever possible. Be face to face. Have a real conversation. Especially with the hard conversations.
I know it may seem hard, given that most people feel like this about receiving an actual call these days:
But I promise it will be well worth it.
5. Be Solutions Oriented
And lastly, the single most important tip I can give you is this: be solutions oriented. Don’t be a Negative Nancy. Nobody likes Negative Nancies.
If a seller brings you something that is impossible, don’t jump to “no.” Jump instead to “what can we do instead that still meets the client’s goals?”
Be creative like this dog:
Or be like Tim Gunn and figure out how to make it work.
Because who doesn’t like a “can do” attitude?
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Tips for Ad Ops Managers
This next set of tips is meant for Ad Ops Managers, and will give you some guidance on how you can help your team deal with challenging sellers.
1. Be Ready to Support
Make sure you are ready to support your team in dealing with the issues that arise. Be available.
Make it exceptionally clear to your team that they are going to make mistakes, and that it is okay. Instill in them that how they recover from their mistakes is the most important part of their job.
An Ad Ops team that is scared to make mistakes and is having to deal with challenging sellers is a recipe for disaster. Give them freedom to create relationships, but be ready to coach them through fixing little mistakes and speed bumps in the process.
2. Build a Relationship with the Sales Team
Model the behavior you want to see from your team. You yourself should have a good relationship with the sales team. It isn’t just your analysts’ jobs to have relationships with their sellers. It's yours too.
Make sure the sellers know you, and have an open line to you in case they have issues or feedback. Having a good relationship with sellers means you’ll be able to spot small problems with individual relationships before they cause huge problems.
Having this rapport will also make it easier when you have feedback for members of the sales team on how they can do their job better. Create an atmosphere of teamwork between your team and theirs, and I promise your analysts will have an easier go of building 1-1 relationships.
3. Provide a Mix of Training and Hands-On Coaching
Plan on incorporating communication skills into your training program for analysts, but make sure to balance that with plenty of hands-on coaching. Communication skills are much easier learned by doing, so your team will need to practice them in real-life situations.
If they have a tough call coming up, don’t immediately jump in to save them. Instead, coach them ahead of the call. Ask questions and help them build their plan for having a positive conversation.
Sit in on the call and then provide any feedback afterward. Challenge your analysts to have the tough conversations themselves—just make sure to prep them for success.
For this particular skill set, growth is all about getting in the reps.
4. Be a Feedback Gathering Machine
Lastly, you will never know how your analysts are doing if you aren’t monitoring and gathering feedback on their performance.
I’d recommend building feedback gathering into your performance review process where you solicit feedback from the sellers they work with, other Ad Ops team members, and the person’s mentor.
Write down your own assessment of how you think they are doing before you read feedback from anyone else to see if it aligns with what you're seeing. You’ll find huge gaps in your own ability to judge your team members if you see glaring differences between your own perception and that of others.
And lastly, have the individual rate their own performance. They should have a pretty good sense of what they need to improve on their own. And if they don’t, you may have a different kind of problem on your hands.
The Bottom Line
Sellers are people too. Give them the freedom to make mistakes, and forgive them when they do. Build your relationship like you would with anyone else, and apply solid communication skills to your dealings with them.