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DMS '11

Two companies investing in self-service advertising for SMBs agree that self-service is an important and growing category, but isn’t likely to replace direct sales.

This morning’s panel at DMS ’11, “SMBs and Self-Serve: Ready for Prime Time?” featured Paul Levine, COO of the real estate site Trulia, and Ørjan Hanssen, a product manager at the Swedish directory and search company Eniro.

Also, a service component is critical to transitioning small-business advertisers from full-service to self-service.

Speaking first, Levine tried to debunk some myths he sees about online advertising and self-serve, and offered some tips for successful execution.

Myth No. 1: Online Is an Add-On. Levine pointed out that newspaper print classified revenues have plummeted over the past five years, with the main categories of real estate, autos and jobs having more digital revenues than print.

Myth  No. 2: Online Can’t Deliver Foot Traffic. Levine had a two-word response to this: ask Groupon. Online can also drive phone calls.

Myth No. 3: Creating Content Is a Hassle. Levine talked about new tools making this easier than ever. Example? Food cart culture in San Francisco, where vendors use Twitter as their sole marketing platform.

Next Levine offered three tips for selling online in a self-serve environment.

Trulia has kept the freemium funnel filled, with reviews, free webinars and so on. It drives to a ratio of 10 free engagements for every one that is paid.

Tip No. 2: Peer Pressure Is Powerful. Ego plays a big role in SMB decisionmaking, so it makes sense to exploit it. “Realtors are all about their personal brand, so we make sure they understand what their peers are doing.”

Tip No. 3: Cross Over and Back. It’s a mistake to treat self-serve as a discreet channel. Trulia has both self-serve and direct sales, and the two should be integrated. When a customer comes into Trulia via self-serve, a salesperson is assigned to make contact to retain and upsell the customer.

Eniro‘s Hanssen talked about the Scandinavia Ad Networks product, built with the help of systems software vendor Amdocs.

Hanssen said Eniro’s key insight was that if it is going to compete with 100 percent self-service business models, it needed to differentiate itself with a strong service component.

“We had the opportunity to use service as leverage to help SMBs take a step toward self-serve,” Hanssen said. “There is a need for a solution that supports them on the journey from full-serve to self-serve.”

Some of the methods Eniro has used to help SMBs down the path to self-serve include using detailed performance reporting as well as live customer support. The reporting is designed to promote engagement by the advertiser with the self-service platform.

During the questions and answers session, Levine said he doesn’t see self-service as a replacement for live salespeople. “You will find few examples of services that are 100 percent self-service to SMBs.”

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