Business headlines reveal a robust discussion on the role information and technology play in the advertising sales process. Editorials question whether advertising sales people are still necessary. Others predict a future where advertisers simply “log in to evaluate, plan, and purchase multi-channel advertising.

While there have been dramatic changes in advertiser behaviour (spending), the way in which news media organisations sell advertising has not kept pace with those changes. Specifically, using information and technology to maximise the effectiveness of internal and external advertising sales staff.

There is compelling evidence that “data-driven marketing” provides a significant return on investment.

Data-driven marketing continues to be a worthwhile investment for companies.
Data-driven marketing continues to be a worthwhile investment for companies.

A September 2016 eMarketer article reported results from research conducted by the Direct Marketing Association and Winterberry Group. That research revealed that 40.9% of marketers surveyed said their organisation’s revenue grew over the first two quarters of 2016 as a result of data-driven marketing activities.

Our experience with news media organisations reveals that when information and technology support ad sales, it increases revenue at a lower cost and improves the effectiveness of the ad sales staff. The challenge for most news media organisations relates to knowing where to start. As a general rule, the most successful initiatives start with the end in mind.

Those with their feet planted firmly on the ground realise the last thing you want to do is purchase sales automation software and turn advertising sales staff into data entry clerks.

The journey to data-driven marketing nirvana must be approached in phases to not only demonstrate proof of performance, but also educate sales staff — and obtain their buy-in — on the role and value information and technology play in helping them achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals.

It should come as no surprise that this journey starts — and ends — with translating data into relevant business information that generates the knowledge required to change the way news media organisations sell advertising.

Answering the question “Who are our customers?” immediately leads to answering the next logical questions: “Who aren’t our customers?” and “Who are our best advertising prospects?”

Most of the information and technology required to build an initial database of advertisers — and prospective advertisers — does not require a significant investment. It starts with using available information (generally found in a news media organisation’s billing system) to identify current advertisers and their behaviour.

With this information in hand, news media organisations can immediately apply this information to support current advertising sales efforts. This can be done through multi-channel outreach programmes that target current and past advertisers in support of internal and external advertising sales efforts.

Whether employing direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail, or online micro-sites, data-driven marketing is used to extend the reach of the ad sales force and manage relationships with existing and potential advertisers at a lower cost.

This initial data-driven sales support results in freeing sales staff to concentrate their sales efforts on those advertisers requiring a greater sales effort and adjusting sales costs based on potential return on investment.

This leads to the realisation that, while all advertising must be “sold,” not all advertising products generate the revenue and profit margins to justify the expense associated with personal selling. This oftentimes is the most difficult concept to comprehend.

The next step in the data-driven marketing journey involves employing technology that uses available information to support advertising sales staff.

Whether implementing an automated classified advertising e-mail renewal programme or establishing a programme to support special section advertising sales, the end result should be reaching the best advertisers and prospects with relevant advertising options and providing them the opportunity to not only raise their hand, but actually purchase advertising products and services.

With proof of performance — demonstrated ROI — news media organisations can then begin the process of evaluating the financial return associated with implementing robust sales force support software solutions.

Just as some advertising products and services cannot justify the expense of personal selling, the cost to implement “sales force automation” cannot be justified for all news media organisations.

What can be justified is an initial and ongoing investment in data-driven marketing to increase the effectiveness of existing internal and external sales staff — selling more for less.