There’s no arguing that the way consumers and businesses buy today has changed dramatically over the past decade with the evolution of the Internet, the proliferation of information, and increasing financial pressure on business.

Classified advertising has migrated to the Internet with self-service advertisement placement and search capabilities.

A considerable amount of display advertising has also migrated online as well. A recent survey of media executives suggested that future growth in programmatic advertising could lead to the extinction of advertising sales staff.

Some argue that these changes have led to the devaluation of the sales function and its role in ensuring the news media organisation’s ongoing financial success.

Do news media organisations need “sales” staff?

To some, “sales” is a dirty word and a less than admirable profession. “Sales” connotes pushy, aggressive, and unethical behaviour focused on closing the deal at all costs for personal gain, regardless of whether the transaction truly benefits the buyer.

Followers of this school of thought will argue that decision makers no longer have the time or patience to be sold. They’ll quickly follow with the argument that, because of the Internet, buyers have access to all the information that was previously delivered by sales people, making them obsolete.

Granted, it would be hard to find anyone who hasn’t had a bad sales experience. But the pushy, aggressive, and unethical behaviour associated with sales people are likely the result of individual behavioural issues, lack of training, and/or sales compensation methods.

Throw a bunch of ill-trained, commission-only people on the street, retail floor, or phone and you are asking for trouble. Ask yourself what you would be willing to do to put food on your table?

Ask 100 people if they like to be “sold” and few would agree. To be “sold” is a sign of weakness and suggests the buyer was tricked, manipulated, or coerced to buy something he did not want or need.

The truth is professional sales people are adept at discovering and understanding a prospect’s needs and positioning their product or service in relation to those needs. Their customers never feel like they have been “sold” but rather that they have been “served.”

Oftentimes those predicting the extinction of sales people serve to benefit as a result of the sales functions demise. In-bound marketers view sales staff as nothing more than overpaid messengers and believe that success only depends on providing a better product at a fair price. They believe that real relationships are only established by the customer service team, not sales staff.

Content marketers profess that everything begins and ends with content and that sales staff only serve as guides.

The truth is that professional sales staff is more important than ever to the financial success of news media organisations. Those organisations that hire inexperienced sales staff, do not provide adequate training and development, and pay as little as possible, are destined to fail.

You may not need a sales person to sell an online classified ad, but for more complex and higher-priced products and services, nothing can replace the value of a professional sales staff.

A case in point is the fact that many predict the fastest area for revenue growth for news media organisations is offering local advertisers integrated marketing services. News media organisations are becoming hybrid media/advertising agencies offering expertise in brand strategy, creative, SEO, Internet advertising, and more.

News media advertising sales positions have traditionally been entry-level positions with high turnover. You either were successful or failed quickly. As a result, most local advertisers dealt with a “sales person du jour” with little or no opportunity to develop a working relationship.

News media companies offering integrated marketing services face the challenge of recruiting and hiring more skilled sales professionals. Future advertising sales staff must be capable of grasping the intricacies of digital advertising channels as well as developing long-term relationships with local advertisers.

News media organisations won’t be doing away with sales staff anytime soon. In fact, the sales function will become even more important in the years ahead as news media organisations continue to expand their offerings of more sophisticated products and services to local advertisers.