How Quora Scaled their Ads Business
Quora is a knowledge-sharing platform visited by over 300 million individuals each month. People come to Quora to ask questions and read insightful, high-quality answers. A large portion of the content is directly related to specific products, industries, or businesses, making Quora an ideal platform for marketers to interact with potential customers. During the summer of 2017, Quora launched its self-service ad platform (as part of Quora for Business), which has steadily grown to include thousands of advertisers.
We had the opportunity to speak with Quora’s Head of Ad Sales and Partnerships, Lorry Destainville, about the ad platform and the process of growing his team by over 5x during the past year. Lorry started his career at Facebook before leading partnerships at Adglow. He started at Quora over a year ago and has witnessed the evolution of Quora Ads since their inception.
Tell us about the ad sales journey so far at Quora. How did it start and what is happening now?
I joined Quora at a very exciting time — three weeks after the launch of the self-service ad platform. There were six of us on the team, but we have grown exponentially since then and have plans to keep expanding.
The first year following launch was mostly about onboarding our 300 beta partners and guiding them through our best practices. This softer beta launch allowed us to gauge the needs of our advertisers, make key product improvements, and set up expectations for our sales capacity going forward.
2018 has been all about scaling our sales momentum. While we are rapidly growing our team across the globe, we have also been focused on catching up with the demand from our recent ads API rollout.
How does your sales process work with a self-service model? Is it predominantly inbound?
Our self-service platform makes it easy for any business to advertise on Quora, so long as they respect our guidelines. The vast majority of our advertisers are organic and spend on the platform without any sales rep guiding them through the process.
We do have a business marketing team that supports our initiatives, whether it’s to grow the ‘long tail’ advertisers or develop a specific narrative with insights into our direct advertisers and agencies. We look to grow our number of self-service and direct accounts, irrespective of whether they are small businesses, strategic agencies or Fortune 500 companies.
What about your outbound efforts? Are there any particular industries or verticals that you’re targeting?
A lot of the businesses advertising with us are in the B2B space. They needed a platform that allowed them to talk to decision-makers and executives and found that having a presence on Quora has enabled them to do so. Many of our early B2B advertisers had already been experimenting with writing on Quora, meaning that they understood the value of the platform and the audiences they wanted to reach by the time we launched our ads offering. From that perspective, B2B was a vertical that took off the most quickly.
As far as our target is concerned, while B2B is important to us, we are also seeing strong growth in several other verticals. Our value proposition is all about driving great engagement and connecting our advertisers with a variety of user segments while providing a safe place for brands to tell their stories. Besides brand safety, Quora has a great sense of intent. Users are here because they need an answer to their question, no matter the industry or vertical. You can imagine how verticals like travel, finance, retail, entertainment, etc. will find tremendous value in capturing that intent.
Does Quora sell as a search or social media platform? And what is the ideal buyer’s perception?
I want to say that Quora is a search and social platform and that our advertisers are comfortable with the fact that there are elements of both. Not every Quora user is on the platform for the same reasons.
While many people come to Quora via search or are searching directly in-product, there are other users who have formed communities on Quora and enjoy interacting with readers and writers in a more social manner. There are ways for advertisers to leverage both of these behaviors to meet their ideal customer. In the end, it’s all about creating a solution that works for a business’s specific needs.
At what point do you pitch the product at an enterprise level or the equivalent?
We prioritize advertisers that have the potential to see strong performance and scale. Looking at the top online advertisers is a very good proxy. Chances are if you’re a large spender on the Google search or social media, you will also have the budget to have a large marketing presence on Quora.
You scaled your sales team from 5 to 28 now. What’s the structure like?
Our outbound sales team comprises nine people exclusively looking to create brand new opportunities, which is a big focus for us this year. Within the same team, half of them are SDRs and the rest are account managers. We refer to them as strategists here, as they manage the growth of businesses according to plan.
An additional part of our team is what we call account specialists, who help our clients with ad optimization. Ad optimization could be anything from telling a customer how to structure their account or how to best utilize our targeting capabilities.
Another part of the team solely works on scale accounts that could be spending anywhere between $5-$10000 per month. They primarily focus on strategic changes we can make to impact the overall portfolio. Ultimately, we think about this group of advertisers more holistically and are under the assumption that our models for communication and optimization can be beneficial for all of them.
Despite being broken up by different functions, the success of our team stems from the fact that we all work together to advance our goals. Bringing in large advertisers, scaling new spenders, and optimizing campaigns are all essential to the success of Quora ads, so it is important to have people dedicated to each function.
How does a typical day look like for your sales team with outbound efforts?
Although we are still a very new team, our Sales Development Representatives work to create a target account list of solid leads that they think would be a strong fit for Quora. After qualifying a company, we typically set up a call with them, explain our offering, and share how we think they could achieve success on Quora.
Our account specialists in the ad operations capacity also support new clients in the onboarding phase. When it comes to new businesses, they intervene only when we want to guide them through strategic advertising within our platform.
Our account executives work closely with those specialists in order to do that. Once an advertiser is scaled appropriately, we move the accounts to our strategists so that we can further optimize their performance.
What is a common ad sales objection you hear and how do you overcome it?
Since our platform is self-service, our advertisers have the ability to try it on their own terms. If they aren’t happy initially, they can easily turn off their campaigns, which can make it difficult to reactive them. A common objection we receive pertains to the amount of time it takes to master a new platform.
Although the value of Quora is evident to marketers, it can be hard to convince people to take the time to really learn how our ads manager works. To reduce the friction of this process, we try to make ourselves available to advertisers to answer questions. In addition, we have also created a variety of resources that are accessible on our Help Center that our customers can use as guides. We also work closely with our Ads Engineering team so that they can also implement in-product changes that make it easier for advertisers to succeed on Quora.
What are the best practices that help your advertisers realize Quora’s value?
First, we help them understand the overall account structure and the most important tools included in the platform. This helps our advertisers have a strong foundation before they launch their campaigns.
Next, we set up the targeting features that will help them achieve their objectives. Every marketer has a specific goal they want to achieve, and we help them identify the best path to success. Overall, we just want to make sure they’re leveraging every single opportunity that is available to them.
The third step revolves around the more creative aspects, namely messaging and imagery. We ensure their copy and image are optimized so that advertisers can communicate with Quora’s audience in the most impactful way possible.
You grew your team during a crucial stage of Quora’s monetization plan. Could you share your top three insights with us?
We’ve introduced some new structure and elements to the sales process — right from the sales targets to our SLAs for account managers. There are several processes that we wanted to optimize. We were supported by the data team throughout the process so we got a sense of what worked and what didn’t. I would say data-driven decisions won over gut feeling.
The second crucial aspect was getting the basics of a CRM established from the beginning. This was essential because we were and are scaling so quickly and we needed a solution that could grow with us. Having a clear CRM system in place from the start saved us hundreds of hours of technical debt down the line and keeps things running smoothly.
The third important insight has to do with always thinking about where we want to be a year from now and managing our current activities to make sure we’re on target to get there.
In addition to those three, working closely with Business Marketing has been key to our growth. Our Marketing team ensures that we are all on the same page about our goals and processes and works with us to create strategic opportunities with new clients and partners.
What would you say is the underlying principle that your sales team follows?
“Everyone at Quora believes in the bigger purpose that while we may be selling ads right now, we do not forget that the end goal is to really share and grow the world’s knowledge.”
We want knowledge to be accessible to everyone, and I think that everyone on the team has a passion for making that happen. We strive to stay connected with the way all of Quora is evolving, not just the ads platform.
The majority of us also actively write on Quora, which allows us to put ourselves in the user’s shoes and see firsthand how the decisions we make impact the overall experience of people visiting the site. By viewing our roles as a piece of Quora’s overall mission, we stay grounded and focused.
What are the next steps that you have mapped out for your team?
From a team developmental standpoint, it’s just about growing our sales initiatives. One of the ways we’re doing this is by growing our presence on the East Coast starting in 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sales team doubles over the next few months. It’s a very exciting time for us.
Apart from that, we are just going to continue making sure that the team is well-equipped to reach our revenue goals. Our sales framework is going to become more sophisticated, especially when it comes to outbound.
We are also going to have more data support so we can better understand our advertisers and their needs. Over the next two years, we’ll be looking to develop further conversations and relationships with advertisers beyond North America and India as well.
Tell us more about what you look for when you’re hiring for your team.
We want to ensure that they are in line with our company mission. They need to demonstrate drive, agility, and awareness — these are some attributes that we really value as a company. It’s also important to hire people who are independent, self-starters.
Quora employees need to be able to think outside the box and feel free to challenge the status quo. They need to bring ideas and insights to the table surrounding how things can be done differently so that we can keep innovating at a fast pace. We also like people who tend to make data-driven decisions, as opposed to relying solely on intuition.
Whether it’s someone who has joined the team in their first job, or someone seasoned, they need to look for opportunities to improve a process or sell a narrative. It’s crucial for them to be able to voice their concerns. They are all the voice of Quora and they represent Quora to advertisers. They are the closest people to our customers, so it’s very important for them to feel motivated to keep improving our offering.
Finally, I think it goes without saying that we look for people who have a positive attitude, are easy to work with, and treat others with respect.
In your opinion, what is the most misguided approach to sales? How does your practice differ?
This is something we tend to discuss on an ongoing basis.
“We receive emails from a lot of people trying to sell things to you — some of them are much better at providing insights and an actual call-to-action than others that are merely looking to pique curiosity.”
We try to avoid the feeling that we are trying to sell them something. Instead, we focus on communicating how we can help potential customers reach their goals. Whenever we reach out to businesses, we try to customize the message as opposed to sending out a mass email that goes out to thousands of prospects. This personalized approach lets businesses know that we are able to take their specific needs into consideration.
What are the three metrics that you look at every day to stay on top of your goals?
Revenue and revenue per thousand impressions (RPM)
Growth week-over-week and day-over-day
Number of active advertisers
What would you recommend for a sales read?
From a book standpoint, ‘Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,’ by Kim Scott. In addition, there is a large amount of great content on Quora itself pertaining to sales strategy written by people with years of experience.
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