An ad tech veteran with two decades of industry experience, now serving as the Head of US Sales at Yahoo, Alia sets a high bar for leadership excellence in our industry. She comes from the “Ad.com Tree” of ad tech, where so many prominent leaders in the space started their careers.
We chatted with her recently about the attributes that make for a great media salesperson, why the last identity solutions standing will be based on direct consumer relationships, and why she would be a high school guidance counselor if she couldn’t work in digital advertising.
As a sales leader, what do you think are the most important attributes for success in media sales?
We talk about Rabid Customer Advocacy a lot. (It’s capitalized! Because it’s a thing!) The best salespeople are singularly focused on customer success; it becomes an obsession. Really great salespeople get energized by working with product teams to develop and prioritize new and bespoke solutions, getting creative with packaging and commercials, and going to bat for our clients first, every time. There are folks on our team who have badge access to their clients’ HQs, and they’re treated like an extension of the team. That’s what makes me most proud: when it’s clear our client and agency partners trust and value us as part of their own teams. The other important thing is the capability to always find a workaround through creative problem-solving and maintaining close relationships internally. There’s ALWAYS a way to make it work. Successful salespeople are close with partner orgs internally, and as a result, they get a higher level of creativity and collaboration from those teams.
You’ve been in the industry for 20 years, starting at Ad.com in 2002. What are you surprised has not changed over the past two decades?
Everything right and wrong with the ad industry revolves around how we treat the consumer. While the industry has evolved a lot thanks to the advent of digital and programmatic, as well as the introduction of new devices—we’re still not necessarily seeing the industry lead with consumer needs first. That sounds a little loaded, but it really breaks down into delivering what the consumer wants to see, how they want to engage, and what value we can bring to them. Some brands and vendors are doing it right, but as a whole, there’s still a long way to go.
How do you stay on top of developments in such a fast-moving industry? Are there certain trades you read or people you follow on Twitter?
Quite clearly, I’m an avid U of Digital reader! I’m a Twitter voyeur too; I follow ad tech influencers and founders and end up down the rabbit holes of the pertinent topics. Of course I read the trades, and I also have a crew of brilliant industry friends I can call, Slack, or text to get opinions when the topic is particularly nuanced. I’m a collector and curator of input and opinions by nature; I love crowdsourcing with smart and competent industry friends.
Are there any domains within digital advertising you think are poorly understood, even by people working in those areas?
I think people generally understand what’s going on with identity, but perhaps they’re putting off what actually needs to be done. We just got a(nother) reprieve on cookies, and so identity is getting pushed down to the bottom of the priority list for some clients, instead of them taking the extra time and getting organized around the data and targeting upgrades we’re going to need for a cookieless future. I’m a bit of a procrastinator by nature so I understand the desire to hold off until the last minute, but advertisers shouldn’t wait on securing their identity plans. I think the industry has also realized that the fix for identity will be within a portfolio model, not a single solution. With the influx of privacy legislation and consumer preferences (and rightly so), the last solutions standing will be those based on direct consumer relationships.
If you couldn’t work in digital advertising, what would you be doing?
I’d be a high school guidance counselor. I love connecting with people and helping provide perspective to solve problems; I find so much satisfaction in talking through how we choose to react to situations, people, and opportunities. One of the most gratifying parts of my job today is working with my team to help everyone find the best outcomes and drive the most collaboration.
Who do you most admire in the industry?
So many of my early Ad.com and Millennial colleagues are doing big things in our industry—running huge businesses, leading major product orgs and sales teams. Some have switched gears and taken ad tech principles to other industries like commerce, healthcare, finance, and entertainment, and I love watching their success. I came into ad tech with a bunch of kids in the early 2000s, and now so many of those colleagues are leading the industry. We had a rare opportunity to grow up with ad tech; the last 20 years have been such a steep curve of opportunity and growth. I’ve received more than my fair share of good counsel, tough love, and opportunity from so many of my leaders and partners through the course of my career. This industry has been such a privilege to be a part of.