In online sales, it’s ALL about the relationships

relationshipOf all the trends currently percolating in the world of local online revenue, none is more important for local account execs to understand than the growing importance of our relationships with our clients. Every good sales person intuitively knows this already, but the nature of that relationship is changing, and that’s what I want to address today.

We know from all the data that local is where its at in terms of advertising growth over the next five years. This is why Google, Yahoo and a host of other pureplay Internet companies are creating applications that enable commerce at the local level. They want a (big) piece of that pie, if not all of it. What these people understand — perhaps even more than we do — is that they lack an existing relationship with local advertisers, and so there’s an all-out war underway to find and exploit non-advertiser-originated relationships in the name of helping small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) part with their advertising money.

Who has such a relationship? Well, we know about the Yellow Pages people, but how about companies like American Express? That’s right, American Express is leveraging its existing relationships with SMBs to introduce people to companies that are eager to teach businesses how to use the Web to conduct commerce (and take a cut of money spent, of course). This is a booming growth business, and we need to be paying attention, ‘lest some outsider come in and hijack our relationships with clients.

We keep this from happening by doing a better job than they do of offering a host of à la carte services that help SMBs do business via the Web. We become consultants, if you will, teaching everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to how to use Google Analytics to how to use YouTube to help their business. We don’t do this for free, of course; we upsell them these services as a part of our portfolio, because we’re no longer just media companies selling advertising; we’re multimedia companies that enable commerce, and if that means helping clients use tools that don’t belong to us, then so be it. Better for us to be mining that relationship than for outside pureplays to come in a steal it.

“But this isn’t my job description,” I can hear throughout the land. Perhaps it isn’t, but it should be, and it behooves you to study, study, study, until you know as much as the next guy about how everything works online. Or hire us, and we’ll come in and teach you everything you’ll need to know.

The almost complete lack of understanding about all of this by local merchants is stunning, but it represents perhaps the greatest opportunity for generating serious online revenue at the local level. Somebody needs to teach the community how all this works, and we’d much rather that be a smart local media company than Google.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)