Why sales teams shouldn’t chase shiny objects


It is tempting to chase the shiny new objects. But the challenge for local newspaper advertising sales is in the basic block and tackling that continue to be overlooked.

Yes, the following thoughts are less than sexy; they won’t make you feel hip or cool. But trying to sell augmented reality before a print and digital sale is executed correctly for a local advertiser seems misguided.

When we talk with local advertisers, they continue to tell us that the local newspaper sales representative, whether on the phone or in person, is trying to sell them products without understanding their marketing goals or their own business.

Some of the print and digital packages appear to be built for either the ease of selling or the local news media company’s profitability.

We also continue to hear that many sales teams do not understand the very products they are selling. Questions, particularly on digital products, are often not answered or, upon further exploration, found to be answered incorrectly.

These weaknesses are cited not just in our surveys of advertisers, but in many cases from advertising executives themselves.

For a recent presentation I made at the INMA, I interviewed a dozen senior advertising executives about their views on the priorities for advertising sales in 2013. Every one of them cited the need to improve the talent and capabilities of their sales teams.

So, how can progress be made here?

After many years of working with media and other clients in restructuring industries, success is driven by having the right people and right processes. Let me give you an example of how these two interact.

First, as advertisers change the way they buy media, newspaper companies have tried to reflect this change. One client recognised the increasing number of large advertisers buying print and digital together, particularly around major events or initiatives like a new product introduction.

They selected talented sales leaders to form a team to address this opportunity. These were clearly the right people.

However, the company did not set up clear guidelines on which advertisers these talented people could contact, nor when they could approach them. The compensation plans did not fully address how the rewards of such sales would be allocated.

So, the success of this team is often dependent on the personal relationships the individuals have built with their sales colleagues, thus limiting the upside for both the local news media company and their customers.

Another example is a local news media client who wanted to have a more aggressive sales team and used processes, particularly compensation, to motivate this change. A new system with much higher variable compensation was adopted. There were mass resignations in record time.

Turnover in sales team members who are not performing is a good thing. Raising the standards is also good. But a massive exit of salespeople within a very short period of time is highly disruptive. Some of these individuals had lifelong relationships with advertisers and could have been redirected to retention-oriented positions.

And where were these new, high-powered salespeople coming from? The new compensation package still fell short of what a good sales representative could make in another industry in that community.

Yes, I believe local news media companies need to innovate in their offerings. But a smart, fast, follower strategy — on top of a “well-oiled” sales organisation, with the right people and processes — will go further than chasing every shiny object.

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