The Crucial Sales Skill That Startups Overlook

Recently, a Sr. Sales Director at another company accidentally cc’d me on an email to a Media Supervisor.  The entire email was ridiculous but one line in particular stuck out to me:

“I recommend that big data driven agencies like yours use biddable media for their programmatic RTB opportunities.”

Wait.  What?!?

I have decided to name this kind of word vomit “Gangnam Style,” because it resembles my friends singing along to the song. They make the right sounds, but they have no idea what they are saying.  This symptom expresses itself often with sales reps in the Ad Tech space.  They managed to cram an impressive amount of buzzwords into a sentence, but they don’t actually SAY anything.

While entertaining, it touches on another big hiring mistake. The typical Ad Sales rep will spend between 2-4 hours a day writing proposals and sending emails to clients and prospects.  After a quick word count, I estimated that I sent around 24,000 words to clients this past week, or approximately 50 pages of material. For a skill set that makes up between 25-50% of a sales role, a writing assessment is rarely a part of the interview process. 

Why is Written Communication so Important to the Sales Cycle?

Convenience for the Buyer

Emails allow the client to review the material on their own schedule. Plus, emails can be archived and the information can be pulled up for future projects.

The In-Person Pitch is Important but the Homework Closes the Sale

Most sales people love to hear the sound of their own voice, so most can deliver a decent live pitch.  But talking about big ideas is a lot different than mapping them out in a proposal with an implementation timeline and specific next steps. Established companies may have sales support to help with complicated proposals but startups typically don’t.  So it becomes important to hire a sales team who can craft compelling written pitches.  They need to be able to send something specific that the client can say, “YES. I want that.”

The client may even need to repurpose the material so that their boss or other clients can also say  “I want to go to there.” Because the truth is…

Agencies Plagiarize the Best Material, and this Isn’t a Bad Thing

It means the sales rep’s ideas are going to be presented to the boss, the end client, etc.  When an agency asks a sales rep a complicated question, the reply should be timely, thoughtful, and should clearly answer the question.  Jr. sellers will likely be talking to Jr. Marketers, so in the absence of a Sr. contact, it’s important that the message gets up the flagpole. Hire sales reps that will type that bad boy up and help make their agency look awesome.

You may be thinking, “Shouldn’t a sales rep already be talking to all the decision makers?”  To that I say; ask an agency what they call sales reps that contact their clients directly.  It rhymes with prick.   Oh, actually… that works too.

Great Sales Reps Should Have a Great Digital Cadence.  

No one on this site needs the “Youngsters Lurv Their Digital” pitch, but it’s important to acknowledge it in this context.  Most young marketers are used to, and often prefer, to build digital relationships.  This means sales folks must have a strong digital ‘voice.’  Just as every word at a lunch meeting shouldn’t be about work, neither should every email or gchat. Do they send witty notes? Clever Memes?  Hilarious videos?  Puppy pics?  Do they remember that a Marketing Manager is huge Baylor fan, and take the time to send a congratulations note?

Net Net- If you are hiring for a sales position, there should be a written portion of the interview process. Between the first round interview and the second, email the candidate a list of questions. These can be industry questions, company questions, or even personal questions. All these allow you to hit two birds with one stone. You get to learn even more about your candidate and/or their knowledge of the industry plus you get to evaluate their writing ability  #Winning!


Ellie Windle is a contributor at The Makegood and Sales Director at MediaMath. MediaMath is the leading provider of digital media trading technology and services, and invented the demand side platform (DSP).

  • mediaguy

    Well said. You’ve killed two birds with one stone. First, absolutely right. Digital voice is an important and nuanced skill and attribute. Two, you may have been the catalyst to force Gangnam style to jump the shark. Seriously, enough already.

    • Ellie Windle

      Haha. Good point. I think I realized the same when I went to hyperlink “Gangnam Style” to the actual video, and realized that every reader would collectively sigh with disappointment, click on the link anyway, and proceed to hate me the entire time they reluctantly re-watched the video. Hyperlink disaster avoided!