Paywalls: a salesperson's FAQ
Salesperson buy-in is often a bellwether as to whether or not your paywall strategy will be successful. With so much on the line (i.e. commissions), your sales team is likely to be the most hostile and least receptive to the idea. What's more, you are relying on them to carry the message to advertising clients and position the move as smart, practical and sound.
The upside is that when done well, salespeople can take a premium audience and use it to trumpet the brand's engagement, reputation, and ability to get users to convert. If a brand can get someone to pay money to access it online, it can get that person to click on an ad or influence them to make a purchase. But how do you ensure that your sales team is set up for success? You answer the questions that erode their confidence.
I sat down with a sales colleague, Alex McGrath, and asked him what his questions would be if we were to go paid tomorrow. I took the most urgent six questions and answered them here:
1. How much is traffic going to drop?
This is the first question any sales person is going to ask, and it's going to put you in an uncomfortable position because there's no way to answer it with 100 percent confidence. This can damage a sales person's confidence, and clients will use that lack of confidence against you.
Confront this issue head-on by prepping your sales team with data from your Web analytics. Let them know the specific areas of your site will be gated and how many page views and unique visitors those areas currently generate. In addition to traffic and reach, provide loyalty metrics (page views per unique) and stickiness (page views per session) information. Loyal users are more likely to pay than one-hit wonders, and providing your sales team with a definitive number of them that will be affected creates confidence that a percentage of those will convert. Sticky content is already convincing readers to stick around your site; it's not a leap of faith to think that they might pay for it as well.
Three ways you can minimize traffic loss:
- First page view free: this allows Google's traffic to continue to create ad inventory
- Threshold gating: only show the paywall after users have access over a certain number of page views in a 30-day span
- Proprietary content: only charge for content that users can't get elsewhere
2. Do we have a marketing strategy?
Have your audience development lead put together a presentation and set up a conference call to walk your sales team through the marketing plan and allow them to ask questions. Show them mockups of the paywall page, banner promotions, email promotions, direct mail, etc. Educate them on how you are using existing customer data to drive subscriptions. The more sales reps feel comfortable with how subscriptions will be promoted the better they will be able to convince advertisers that it's a good thing. Have a follow-up call at 30, 60 and 90 days after paywall launch to keep your sales team in the loop
3. How are my advertisers going to feel about this?
There are a lot of opinions out there about paywalls, and some advertisers may see it as a backwards move by a desperate company. Others will embrace the move as smart and might be interested in targeting only the paid subscribers, as they will be a more qualified audience. Instruct your sales teams to vet any entrenched opinions and offer them a means of diffusing advertiser pushback.
4. Will I get more insight into my audience that will help me better sell?
You can get a lot of data once you have email and postal address, and you can get even more via credit-card reverse-append. That information can be used to build a far more robust demographic and lifestyle profile of your audience. Providers such as InfoUSA and Experian can work with you to augment the data you collect during the subscription process.
5. Will I be able to target ads off of the data we're collecting?
It's absolutely possible to target off of this data on your Web site if your have integrated your subscription management system with your content management system. For more information, check out our Publishers' Playbook to subscription management.
Even if you can't target off of discrete demographic and/or lifestyle data, you can charge a premium on all paid subscriber impressions. Similarly, you can only serve low-value ad network impressions on the first page view in from Google. This provides protections from ad networks dropping cookies on your loyal visitors and selling your eyeballs for lower CPM's elsewhere. Monetize the low-value impressions with ad networks, your free content impressions at a higher rate and your paid content impressions at a premium rate.
6. How committed are we to this? What happens if it flops?
Carolyn McCall, former CEO of Guardian Media Group, said at the FIPP Digital Innovators Conference, "With regards to our strategy on paid content, we're not entrenched in our current position." That's good advice. Be firm in your resolve and avoid flip-flopping, but let your sales team know that if the numbers don't make sense, you're open to tweaking the strategy or dumping it altogether.