How to Drive Your Ad-supported Digital Business to Thrive!


Industry Dive’s Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer Ryan Willumson shares some of his insights on a successful digital ad-based business.

While some niche publishers are focusing on subscription revenue models (again), you have an opportunity to capture market share by building a profitable digital business supported by your clients’ marketing campaigns.

Digital business expert Ryan Willumson spoke at the recent Niche Digital Conference on some best practices for building a sharp sales operation. Here are some of the sales highlights from his presentation, “How to Build a Thriving Ad-Supported Digital Business.”

First you must start by busting two common digital ad-supported business myths:

#1 Myth: Digital can only support lower quality editorial

Fact: You can have the best sales team in the world, but if they don’t have a good product, then they can’t be successful.

#2 Myth: Ad-supported media have worse editorial teams.

Fact: The best digital and ad-supported organizations support a healthy, robust editorial operation.

Then focus on these  5 key areas for success in an ad-supported digital business:

1. Build a Healthy Sales Culture

  • Seek out talent – experience not necessary
  • Digital organizations require energy
  • Recognize your team controls the culture, not you
  • Good vs. bad hires can swing millions in revenue

2. Hire the right sales people. Many publishers think that “Sales is for a very specific type of person.” Such as a smooth talker, great at verbal communication, motivated only by money, an extrovert and good at “convincing.”

Great news! LOTS of different kinds of people can be good at and enjoy selling marketing solutions. Here’s Ryan’s Top 14 Checklist:

  1. Intelligent and thoughtful
  2. Very, very good writer (Do a writing test during hiring!)
  3. Motivation: Success (not money)
  4. Hard worker
  5. Verbal communication skills
  6. Thinks on their feet
  7. Possesses the mindset of a consultant
  8. Asks open ended questions
  9. Sells the high level, not the details
  10. Thinks big!
  11. Thinks ahead
  12. Cuts bad deals off at the legs-resists temptation to overvalue revenue
  13. Own your products strengths & weaknesses
  14. Finds the right customer

3. Find the Right Customers

Seek out customers that believe in digital, are currently spending or want to spend on digital and have a budget for your products.…Then work on renewal/upsell.

4. Execution and Client Success

For ad operations and branded content execution, Sales needs to be set up for successful execution. They should always know the specs, due dates, and reminders – and over-communicate. Help clients avoid common pitfalls like bad subject lines, broken code, weak copy, and more. If there is a problem, empathize and (usually) make good even if it wasn’t your fault. Remember, top notch execution is key to renewal!

5. Find Balance in your KPIs

Build KPIs around the buying journey:

  • Early – New contact calls/emails (micro-marketing)
  • Investigation – Initial Meetings
  • Consideration Set – Proposals
  • No KPI for contracts

Bonus Tip: Limit what you measure. Complexity kills productivity!

So once you’ve adopted these best practices for building a sharp sales operation, you can begin to build a solid relationship with advertisers through the optimum positioning of your digital editorial brand AND you will have products that resonate well with your clients goals. Sounds like success to us!



More about Ryan: Ryan Willumson is Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Industry Dive. He has experience growing digital media companies and has helped lead the build-out of sales, editorial, and operations teams in high growth environments. Industry Dive, an all-digital B2B publisher with a focus on mobile-first products, reaches over a million business executives in 10 different industries. In three years since inception, the company has achieved sustained profitability and grown to more than 35 full-time employees.


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