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Gannett shares 5 lessons learned by asking advertisers what they want

30 June 2014 · By Michelle Krans

Gannett asked more than 1,000 decision makers at small- to medium-sized businesses across its national markets what they wanted from a media company. Their responses? Great experiences, simple pricing, more audience information, better sales training, and ROI accountability.

When you think about being customer-centric, it doesn’t sound revolutionary. In an age of tight resources, being customer focused is crucial for success. But what does being customer-centric mean to our clients?

We decided to ask them.

We initiated customer research with more than 1,000 decision makers across 11 markets to understand their pain points and expectations. We had them tell us, in their own words, what they needed and wanted from a media partner.

In essence, SMBs told us they wanted:

  • Help managing the complexity of their media and marketing investments.

  • Partners who truly understand their business.

  • Proof that their investments are paying off.

Armed with that information and with a plan in hand, we went on the offense to launch a series of initiatives to enhance our customer-centricity and grow sales – for our customers and for ourselves. Below are the top five things we learned from our effort:

  1. Stop worrying about creating a world-class sales force and instead focus on creating a world-class experience for your customers. Provide a clear demonstration of insight and value. Our customers have seen the power that comes from connecting all the pieces to deliver the right message at the right time and place. We continue to place enormous focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our sales organisation.

    The expectation is that through these improvements, our sales force will be in a much better position to add value for customers. They will be better prepared. Enable your sales force to go on the offense, using creativity, judgment, and insight to provide true value to our customers. Apply industry best practices and analyse data to make sure your media and marketing investments are working hard and working together. It’s the best way to outsell your competitors and grow your share of spend.

  2. Review pricing strategies. Pricing must be simple to teach to your staff, simple to sell, and simple to buy across all platforms. Make it a game-changer. Create unprecedented value and return on investment (ROI) for customers. For sustainable results, advertisers must commit to multiple weeks, and your rate structures need to reflect that.

    If your legacy pricing does not encourage customers to get on the right plans for their needs, change your rate structure. At Gannett, our deep dive into creating an all-new pricing initiative is contributing to our obsession with selling solutions that resonate with customers and get results far more effectively than the competition.

    Our goal is to sell impressions and optimise across all our multi-channel platforms, from desktop and mobile sites, e-editions and social media, to tablet apps and print. We also are a digital-marketing company with sophisticated tools for search marketing, targeted e-mails, an enhanced social media presence, and digital display ads.

    Our overall strategy is to be platform agnostic. The aim is to set the price/value equation so that it is in line with delivering effective, integrated marketing and media solutions.

  3. Change the way you talk about your media audiences. We should be shouting from the rooftops about the value of an engaged audience. Our media consumers are the real influencers in the community. They are the shoppers, civic and business leaders, engaged moms, voters, trendsetters, and the ones with the most buying power.

    The need here is to very effectively brand our audience and state its value beyond reach numbers. This is compelling enough to make a difference in the value we serve to clients and it gives us a strong competitive advantage.

  4. Improve training to give your sales team deep product knowledge and an understanding of your sales process. Arm your sales reps with a succinct and compelling way to truly distinguish what you offer from the 29 other people calling on local businesses every month.

    Have a full roster of sales and sales leader training and certification programmes for new and existing sales teams. Introduce a formal on-boarding training for all new hires – one for sales reps and one for managers – to give them deep product knowledge and an understanding of the sales process. Focus on digital training, too.

    For example, our digital certification programme via e-learning modules has been a real boost for our sales force. Digital training goes beyond expanding product knowledge; it helps staff become digital-media experts and more relevant to customers.

  5. Once the sale goes through, be accountable for the customer’s ROI. Be obsessed with customer results and building customer loyalty. Put some formal guidelines around the work, including the creation of core competencies around the account management position, and deliver real value to your customer.


    We are taking a very deliberate approach to the sales support function, and in particular, the role of account management. The account manager, as well as campaign optimisers, is the key to building our successes in the follow-through stage of the sales cycle.

    Once the sale happens, a new set of work begins – and that is to be accountable to the right return on investment for the customer. Advertising clients will choose bigger and bolder campaigns if you build on the success of the initial campaign.

    Deliver consistent, meaningful metrics that connect the dots and truly tell the story of the customer’s campaign performance because that’s key to retaining and growing revenue across all platforms.

Our success is wholly dependent on our ability to deliver value for our customers. That means delivering a better buying experience for customers, having sales reps that are prepared and insightful, and delivering better outcomes. Keep developing those business-building ideas that lead to measurable ROI. And keep exceeding customers’ expectations.

And if that’s done, you will gain share. Your top line and bottom line will improve. That is the win-win. And that is our focus.

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Every conference has a keynote presentation, that one speaker who connects the dots on a key industry issue and brings clarity to chaos. That is what we aspire to do with the Keynote Blog: identify the top strategic issues facing the news media industry and marshal the smartest people behind them. This blog represents INMA’s “keynote presentation” for the month. Begun in January 2013, this content previously resided in Ideas Magazine; for an archive of past magazine cover stories, click here.

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Dawn McMullan is the editor of the Keynote Blog and senior editor for INMA. If you are an INMA member and would like to contribute a keynote blog, please contact Dawn directly by clicking here.


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