Is your media sales team happy?

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


During the recent master class, I was thrilled to have present and to interview Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group in the United States.

He gave some interesting insights from his company’s research findings. News publishers that are outperforming others find changing the focus of the ad sales teams helps generate revenue — while reducing costs.

Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group, spoke during a recent INMA Advertising Initiative Master Class.
Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group, spoke during a recent INMA Advertising Initiative Master Class.

Quang argued that account managers are becoming far more important than ever as advertisers look for more first-party data to support their return on investment and need those account executives to proactively share insights, findings, etc., with said advertisers whilst developing closer relationships.

Then, internally, keeping those executives who are in those roles “happy” and supported will be key to having a strong future as far as the media house is concerned.

Economic factors such as inflation, reduced growth, and the war in Ukraine all have had an effect on the ad sales environment, as do trends in what consumers expect from us.

The Alexander Group surveyed people in high-performing media companies to learn how they actually do the above. Here is some of what they found.

Efficiency-driving profitability

Post-COVID, the surveyed companies are managing to increase revenue and expect this trend to continue. Not only that, they’re doing so with less sales expense (base salaries, commissions, travel, and other expenses) and most plan to focus on existing products — a surprise perhaps, as many would think building new products would be the way to go.

But no. Exploit what you can from your existing products — maybe via a relaunch, a repackaging exercise, more highlighting of the value they can bring.

Companies that realise this are leaning more on the account manager role, which has helped give advertisers what they really want — a high return on investment.

It was interesting to hear that high performing publishers are also spending relatively less time on presale negotiations and more on the post-sale phase, i.e. publishers that are still focussing on the initial sale are probably missing opportunities down the chain.

Productivity: How to best deploy the team

The Alexander Group’s research shows most publishers assign their accounts based on researching the market and finding opportunities in that market, segmenting those based on size and verticals, and then assigning within those segments.

Quang Do shared research on precision targeting and how it relates to productivity.
Quang Do shared research on precision targeting and how it relates to productivity.

The next step is to precision target.

The number of people within an organisation that have an influence on advertising buys varies. Larger advertisers may have many sections of buyers with independent marketing budgets at the media level or country level. And ad sales teams need to have the right skilled people find those additional budgets.

Quang said: “You need to be able to look your sales team in the eye and know that if I give you a goal, it’s attainable.”

Determine the account archetype

Not all accounts are the same, and there are a number of archetypes depending on the segments you focus on. We need to think about how advertisers establish their ad strategies and at what level. Who has the potential to consistently buy our media?

Then, it’s a three point action plan:

  1. Calculate the total addressable market and share of the wallet. How much is there to spend on media?
  2. Identify points of contact. Who controls the budget? Who has influence? Who sets the budget and who actually makes the purchasing decision?
  3. Launch and iterate. This is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing,” Quang said. “People do the buying, so it’s also important to recognise that people change jobs and the model has to be looked at continuously.”

Sound advice?

Beyond, what then becomes important is how we keep sales people happy. In essence, it’s all about salary and “more.”

Compensation: Is that enough on its own?

Salaries for account managers have increased about 20% this year, according to The Alexander Group’s research. The turnover rate has also increased for post-sales roles because the value of the role has increased.

Compensation rules have changed post-COVID.
Compensation rules have changed post-COVID.

It makes total sense bearing in mind the COVID factor. What was missing during the pandemic was being able to sit down face to face with advertisers and liaise, discuss, advise on their campaigns. There is a huge value in that, which has been sorely missed. The consultative sell is really important.

Another change seen by Quang is that executives are now saying they want their sales teams to be “happy” (previously they would be more likely to say they wanted their teams to be more productive). But this again makes sense considering publishers are investing a lot in the sales roles now, so they have a lot at stake in retaining people.

A high number of sales people who looked for new jobs during the pandemic, it seems, looked outside of their own company. So media companies will need to rethink career management, which is where the “more” comes in. Incentives, job roles, and team structures will all be on the table.

Salary is still massively important, of course, but sales people also tend to be ROI-based and want to feel like their efforts are worth it.

The point was also made that compensation should be team-based.

Changes in company career management are already having an impact. Many publishers are looking at who is eligible to participate in compensation incentives and what the different job roles involve. Many are becoming more team-based, paying when whole team succeeds.

A healthy work-life balance can also go a long way, with attractive family leave policies and hybrid work policies creating a favourable environment for employees.

“We have to understand that people want more,” Quang said.

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About Mark Challinor

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