Are Your Salespeople Ready to Sell Integrated Proposals?
Everyone involved in creating media is affected by major changes in the methods of delivering content to readers. In turn, the demands of today's buyers have changed, which can be a serious challenge for any publisher whose salespeople fail to respond to those changes.
In our arena of the advertising sales space, most agency RFPs submitted to publishers now routinely request proposals that integrate various media products. Many salespeople learned their craft by selling one or two products. But now buyers often want multi-platform, multi-product, integrated marketing solutions, and significant revenue can be lost by salespeople not equipped to create and sell them. Magazine salespeople must be able to sell everything from a brand's traditional print products to digital and mobile products, webinars, events, native advertising, branded content, and more.
To better understand how this current situation affects the buying process, my company partnered with Kantar SRDS in October 2013 to conduct a study of media planners and buyers from all types and sizes of advertising agencies. Respondents to the survey reported that, on average, they work on four clients and five brands.
We found that 84% have digital media responsibilities along with responsibilities for one or more other media types. 61% of respondents said they are responsible for six or more media types and almost all (94%) are responsible for planning across three or more media types.
Buyers are simply too busy to meet with several different sellers from the same media brand, so today's ad salespeople are increasingly responsible for presenting all the offerings of their brands. However, the sellers' knowledge will probably be stronger in some areas, weaker in others. Thus the question for sales management is, how do you hire the right people and prepare them for today's sales environment?
Here are some changes my company has made to meet these challenges.
Now we must place less emphasis on specific experience and personal contacts and more emphasis on the desire to learn and grow in the new era. We need people who want to sell the whole brand. We welcome salespeople with all types of media backgrounds, but the most important thing is the ability to understand, learn quickly, and sell the benefits of the elements including those in which the salesperson is not experienced.
For instance, we've been testing sales candidates for years with an industrial psychologist, Dana Borowka of Lighthouse Consulting, but the criteria are changing. In an interview for this article, Borowka said, "In today's world no one can afford to hire anyone less than an A or B player. Companies need individuals who are quick to adapt, have vision, are focused on the market, will help the client get what they need and close the opportunity, and will track, track, and track! All this while multitasking, staying focused, and constantly moving forward."
We invest in formal training as needed, providing company-wide webinars and individual sales training when we believe that performance can be improved. We spread needed skills to our salespeople by bringing in people with diverse backgrounds and encouraging them to work together in teams. For example, we hire people with digital or print sales experience, but we do not restrict them to digital or print sales, because we want their expertise to inform the other salespeople. We also generate ideas through structured "jam sessions," where any salesperson that gets stuck can call a brief meeting of available staff to brainstorm.
We do not try to teach salespeople to be technicians for each medium they sell but we do insist that they understand how the various products work individually and how they can be integrated to meet advertisers' goals. We don't want salespeople writing code or getting too deep under the hood. We do expect that our salespeople will be up-to-date with information in the trade press and to learn from other people in the industry. Above all, we want them to listen to their customers to find out what they are interested in right now and for the future.
Timing and Follow-up
We used to say, "Sell them the way they want to be sold." Now, it is just as important to contact them the way they want to be contacted. One buyer prefers phone calls and considers mass promos to be spam. Another prefers email and wants to be informed of everything we are doing. The salesperson must be able to use all available methods and tools to stay top of mind (email, email blasts, events, programs) and be organized enough to keep track of who wants which kind of touch. Follow-up is essential because opportunities are so scarce so we use a CRM.
Challenges in the new environment continue to increase, and we must be willing to recognize that what worked before may not be effective tomorrow. It is harder now to do consultative selling when time and contact with buyers is often very limited. Salespeople must be multi-faceted, because creativity is more important than ever just to keep the buyers' attention.
James Elliott is president of the James G. Elliott Co. Inc., a national magazine advertising sales outsourcing firm for publishers. He is past president of the Magazine Representatives Association of Southern California.
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