Digital structure is a hot topic these days in our industry, and everyone has an opinion. The reality is, nobody can truly say they have figured it out. If they had, we would all be adopting that plan.

So the question continues, “Should you have an integrated print/digital sales team or have a separate digital sales force?” The answer, as I see it, is “Yes.”  

The true head-scratcher for me is those who are so steadfast in their belief – one way or the other. Why do we feel the need to lock ourselves into a particular strategy with no room to maneuver? Do you think our pure-play digital peers are close-minded about how to grow as a business? They improvise, overcome, adapt ... (two points if you can name the movie that quote is from).

The structure of your sales organisation needs to be a living, breathing thing capable of evolving as the scope of your business changes, based on the competitive nature of the market. I have said it before and will say it again, you have to be willing to try new and different things, knowing full well that if they fail, you’ll fail fast and move on.

Using the fan-favourite sports analogy, if you build an offensive game plan in football and find the defense adjusts and compensates for it in the first half, you don’t just blatantly stick with the same plan for the rest of the game. You make adjustments at halftime to better position your team to win. Football, like our business, is a game of inches.  

I have been testing a number of structural dynamics, using combinations everyone reading this has thought of. I have constantly adapted the model based on the directional nature of our business, and it is fair to say we are still in the first quarter of the game. 

Currently, here is what I am seeing work best at Digital First Media:

We employ an integrated sales model in which all 1,100 client-facing salespeople sell all platforms and all products to their advertisers. This allows us to create a complete, audience-based solution to best fit that advertiser’s needs. We do not limit opportunity for our sales organisation by placing people into silos.

In addition, we have built our structure to assign a digital asset that works with the local sales teams, typically at a ratio of 1-to-7. That asset has three primary duties:

  1. Assist the local team on four-legged sales calls to maximise digital revenue.

  2. Target new digital business and sell independently.

  3. Train the sales teams on all new digital products and initiatives.

In essence, we have combined a few concepts together into a hybrid model, with the underlying focus of hitting our digital goals by using the best combination of resources.

Digital assets are responsible to deliver the combined revenue from their team’s goal and their individual new business goals. The hybrid model allows them time to properly build a new business pipeline, while generating dollars immediately with the existing sales team.

With the number of salespeople we have, and the number of products we launch, it is very difficult to properly train everyone effectively.  Our training focus lies with the digital assets, and this train-the-trainer mentality allows us to reach everyone in a timely manner. The training is then put into real-time action through four-legged sales calls.  Nothing better than seeing the sales approach in action.

As this structure matures, the digital assets will move down one of two paths. Once their new business reaches a certain, self-sustaining threshold, we can have them focus on that exclusively. In effect, we have given them the opportunity to properly ramp up their selling effort while seeing contributions from day one.

The second option is to replace an underperforming multi-media salesperson with a top-flight digital expert. This career pipeline allows us to focus on hiring people with a high digital IQ and constantly feed them into the organisation.

We need to stop acting like an aircraft carrier and start acting like a very maneuverable fighter jet. Then we are all better positioned for victory.  I expect a big fourth quarter rally that will surprise all of our industry’s doubters!

Until next time…