A Sales Force to be Reckoned With

By: Nu Yang

A Sales Force to be Reckoned With

Search engine optimization. Social media management. Mobile. Pay per click. Google AdWords. These are terms that today’s newspaper sales person should be knowledgeable about when speaking with clients. As the advertising landscape transforms and the needs of the customers shift to where the readers are, sales people are arming themselves with the right skills in order to get the best results. Whether it’s repackaging their print classifieds section or training their sales force, publishers are investing in the continued growth of their printed and digital products and finding success.

Assembling the Tool Kit

To collect the right tools, sales teams need to partner with the right people. With 30 years of experience, Sales Transformation Now (salestransformationnow.com) co-founder Mike Centorani has helped more than 20 newspapers, Yellow Pages publishers, direct mail companies and search companies throughout the U.S. and in 17 countries. He considers change itself the biggest challenge for advertising sales staffs.

“Twelve to 15 years ago, newspapers were able to go out and pitch projects to advertisers. It was a necessary evil for them because they knew they had to be there in order to reach customers,” said Centorani. “As traditional media usage drops off, traditional media sales reps are not comfortable with the transition or with selling digital products. They either retire or move into other industries.”

His solution is to “train (reps) to become product experts.”

“Often, it’s a data dump where they get too much information too soon,” he said. “They could have 40 products to sell. What they need to do is spend a lot of time in the sales process.”

Centorani encouraged sales reps to do a “deep dive” into the company. “Normally, a customer-needs analysis asks business-related questions like, ‘What’s your advertising budget like?’ Instead, they should take it from a consumer’s approach and ask specific questions significant to the business.”

To do that, Centorani said sales reps should know the business’s focus areas. “How they make money, where they would like to be, drill down to their separate businesses and individual profit centers,” he said. “Yes, it’s more work, but you need to attract and keep clients…sales reps usually want to sell the smallest package because it’s the easiest to sell, but that doesn’t lead to a lot of renewals.”

According to Centorani, sales reps tend to be impatient, but he suggests they learn discipline and patience. “They make quick conversations and quick sells, but was it the right sale?”

At the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., vice president of advertising Stephanie Boggins manages a department of 72 with 25 outside sales reps. She and Centorani have worked together for more than a year. Prior to that, Boggins said “We had a gap in our sales process which was inhibiting us from garnering the amount of new business we were looking for.” Since applying Centorani’s sales process, Boggins said she has seen “incredible improvements.”

“We started closing larger campaigns, more new business, asking better questions and the feedback from customers has been phenomenal,” she said. “We are seen as true consultants.”

Before starting 360 Ad Sales (360adsales.com), chief executive officer Ryan Dohrn spent eight years with Morris Communications as general manager, interactive. He currently trains and coaches more than 60 media companies each month.
Dohrn said the biggest challenges he sees with newspaper sales teams are the veteran sales people who are having difficulty grasping digital, but it’s not the products causing confusion.

“(Sales teams) need to sink their teeth in and understand the products for the advertisers,” he said. “They need to create multimedia packages. If the sales people can’t see that, the business will suffer. The secret is they need to instantly understand how multimedia packages can benefit advertisers. Publishers used to operate with their gut—that used to work—now it starts with the readers and what they want.”

Even though “advertisers are fleeing print for digital,” said Dohrn, sales people are constantly requesting help on “how not to cannibalize print for digital.”

“The problem is marketing,” he said. “Look at where you live and at advertisers like car dealers and jewelers. They’re everywhere. They understand marketing 101. You need to advertise in multiple ways on multiple days.”

To be successful, Dohrn said sales people need to help advertisers understand multimedia. “Offer a better affordable package that includes print, social media and video. Don’t make it print verses digital.”

As president of Classified Executive Training and Consulting (classifiedexecutivetraining.com), Janet DeGeorge specializes in print/online and display classified advertising sales strategies for newspapers and their websites, including sales training of inside and outside sales reps, training of new classified managers, and redesigns of print and online products and rate packages. Previously, she spent 13 years with the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News managing the inside sales team. 

“The biggest change post-recession is lack of sales staff. There are not enough feet on the street, not enough inside reps making outbound calls to get back to pre-recession revenues,” DeGeorge said. “Sales staff cuts have to be replenished in order to get the money back again.”

Getting new business is also a large concern for newspapers, according to DeGeorge. “We are not talking about selling one advertiser one time, but taking the step-by-step procedures to grow customers who will advertise every week in print and online. Concerns also range from what I call ‘1999 rates’ (too high) to online and print products that need entire makeovers in order to make them sellable again.”

When the Grand Junction (Colo.) Daily Sentinel wanted to “punch up” its advertising offerings three years ago, publisher Jay Seaton used DeGeorge’s consulting services to help his 25 advertising staff members. Like other newspapers in the country, the Daily Sentinel was seeing a decline in its classified section.

“It wasn’t because of Facebook or Craigslist. It was because our offerings were too small,” Seaton said. “And our type and presentation was too small. There was too much data in one space. We learned to repackage and redesign the layout to become more reader-friendly.”

He added, “Our classified sales staff learned sales tools we didn’t have before. They were able to sell ads that used to be $75 to $100 for $250. Since we were able to up sale more aggressively, we made more revenue. The repacking and redesign gave us a forum to sell and it made an impact.”

DeGeorge said Seaton’s entire advertising staff was motivated and focused on change. “They took my planned strategy for them step by step and rebuilt new strong products in employment, auto and real estate. Even today, years later, these products are as strong as ever.”

When Local Media Association (localmedia.org) wanted to build out its training division, the organization hired Amie Stein as its training and development trainer. During her sales and advertising career, she has worked with the E.W. Scripps Co., Journal Register Co. and Lee Enterprises.

Many of the challenges she sees sales reps facing are technology-based and deciding which platforms are the best ones. “SMBs (small-to-medium businesses) are navigating through a lot of clutter. They need strategic partners to not just sell them ads, but help them adapt to changes.”

Stein said building relationships with advertisers plays a big part. “You’re able to fine-tune their goals and customize strategies to obtain them.”

Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune digital sales manager Ron Belyea is now a Google AdWords certified partner, thanks to Stein. His team of 10 includes a digital specialist and digital account executives.

Belyea considers pay per click as one of the industry’s greatest challenges. “Before, Yellow Pages were our biggest competitor, now when people search for services, they go right to Google,” he said. “Knowing Google AdWords makes you stand out among your competitors and understand the client’s campaign better.”

Through a webinar course, Belyea said Stein was able to simplify sample tests and exams so that a sales person could understand it. As a result, Belyea passed his certification exam on the first try.

With pay per click, Belyea understands it’s like “stealing revenue from someone else,” so sales people should make sure they have the right training to get the clicks.

“It’s little things like someone looking for eyeglasses, who types in ‘glasses’ in the search bar, but instead wine glasses come up,” he said. “Those are things you wouldn’t normally get in sales training, but you would with Google AdWords.”

“Climbing Mt. Everest”

If publishers want a successful sales team, they need to hire people with the right skill sets and cultivate their current staff with incentives and extended learning.

Dohrn advises publishers to hire sales people who can be educators. “New products come out every day and they need to be able to teach people about them.” Communication plays a big part, but Dohrn said sales people should also “listen more and talk less” in order to find what advertisers need.

During his training sessions, Dohrn helps sales people identify their “D Factor”—the one thing that makes the salesperson different than every other sales rep out there. It all comes down to their sales process and their organization and time management skills.

“Each sales person should have three to four success stories to share with clients,” he said. “They need a comeback for each objection. It doesn’t have to be about money or figures; don’t think dollars signs. It can be something as simple as saying, ‘Well, this company has been with us for 15 years’ and go from there.”

According to Centorani, the number one thing SMBs wish for is a sales rep that understands their business/industry. “They want someone to speak their language…connect to the business owner with the desire to help the business succeed, not just sell to them, but to help them.”

 Keeping a skill tracker is a part of Centorani’s training process. His skill tracker tool allows managers to track the progress of their sales reps and assess each rep’s skills individually. The skill tracker’s goal is to help each rep move one step to the next, moving them from left to right on the chart, tracking the sales call to securing the sale.

Since sales reps need to be great at a number of different skills, Centorani said the skill tracker focuses on the process and not on the results. Managers know where each sales rep stands on the chart and can work on one sales rep at a time to help them improve, similar to a coach working with an athlete. He suggested that management meet with sales reps at least twice a month to track their progress.

“When I ask, ‘Did you have a good day?’ and you say, ‘Yeah, I made a lot of sales,’ that’s not a good day,” Centorani said. “If you moved one sales rep one block to the right (on the skill tracker), that’s a great day. That’s a longer term investment.”
Centorani said when he meets with newspapers, he meets with upper management members first while the “sales reps are the last piece of the puzzle.”

“We take care of the frontline managers first,” he said. “If we don’t, then after we leave, it’ll be like taking the foot off the pedal. From the CEO down, consistent training should be in place.”

At the Daily Sentinel, Seaton said, “We try to bring in someone for intensive sales training every other year. We use webinars with regularity, and though we try to incorporate at least one piece of sales training per week into our sales meetings, we are not as perfect as we would like to be. I believe that continued coaching of a sales force — no matter how seasoned — is essential. Great baseball hitters get coached on a daily basis. Why shouldn’t our sales people?”

For Belyea and his digital sales team, “it’s a hard mix to find the geek in a sales person’s body.”

“You need to find that passionate person whose eyes will light up when they’re talking about Facebook, but they also need to know how to create a successful Facebook campaign,” he said.

Once all the training pays off, keeping sales reps motivated and rewarding them should come into play. At the Commercial Appeal, big and small successes are celebrated. Boggins has rewarded her team with department karaoke, happy hour and a fiesta.

“Just a high five and a shout out can make all the difference in the world,” she said.

“Goals should be based on trends and budget, not last year,” DeGeorge said. “Incentives, contests, prizes, on the other hand, should be based on personal bests. If prizes only go to the top seller, the same person wins every time. On a personal best basis, the incentive is to beat your own best, not outrun a co-worker.”

Dohrn recommended motivating sales reps with a great work environment. “Look beyond compensation. Look at giving them more days off, more vacation time, a good parking spot…or send them to classes or create book clubs centered on business books so they can keep up with the latest sales expertise.”

Office culture is also important to Centorani. “Set up an environment where the rep knows they’re getting better. Help them be successful. If they love what they’re doing and are helping customers, the money will take care of itself.”

He added, at the same time, let reps know it’s okay to fail. “Still praise them and help them get better…if they don’t hit their quota, learn from it…go back to the skill tracker and work on one skill at a time.” And when they show improvement, “Make them feel like they climbed Mt. Everest.”

Why Change is Needed Now

As the advertiser’s needs evolve and the skills of the sales force adapt to these changes, there are certain things sales managers and their reps should keep an eye on.

“Look hard at separating your print and digital sales teams,” Stein said. “If your digital revenue is 20 percent or more of your core revenue, consider spinning them off into separate sales teams and working in non-traditional ways.”

Belyea said print and digital teams should work collaboratively. “Don’t pit print versus digital. It should not be either/or, but it should be shared commission, doing what is best for the client.”

Dohrn said as much as sales reps need to focus on new business, they also need to focus on retention. “Many don’t have a formal strategy. They need to keep in contact with them, invite them to events, take them out to lunch…some reps think sending a Christmas card once a year is enough, but they need to formalize a retention plan to be successful.”

“Every newspaper needs to modernize their print and online products in order to stay relevant. That means from the front page to the last page,” DeGeorge said. “Advertising sections need to be redesigned and modernized as well. Every newspaper needs to bring their best artists to the table to clean up their print and online sites.”

Centorani said publishers have no choice but to change. “Being a necessary evil is gone. You either change or you won’t be around in five years. Become a long-term advisor and partner with SMBs and focus on the end result.” If a relationship is not built upon first, advertisers are more likely to leave after three months if they don’t see results, he said.

Newspapers should also think about the future of their sales force by recruiting millennials to join their team.

“Older publishers don’t understand that millennials are a phenomenal workforce,” Dohrn said. “They’re big on contribution and not always motivated by money, just a good work culture.”

At LMA, Stein is also involved with Career Connect, a recruitment program focused on connecting soon-to-be college graduates from advertising, business and sales programs with their media partners. “Be open to hiring different types of experiences,” she said.

Seaton said in Western Colorado, print is still a powerful advertising medium. “I remain dubious about the next shiny digital thing…I’d rather focus on good management, execution and customer service…the days where we sit around waiting for the phone to ring are long gone. We need sales reps who will manage sales aggressively hand to hand.”

“It is all about relationships,” DeGeorge said. “People like to do business with sales reps they like and trust on both outside and inside sales. There are so many choices for business owners for their advertising dollars. A smart, well-trained sales rep knows how to guide the business owner to choose them and their newspaper products.”

According to Boggins, the role of the sales rep will continue to change. “Sales reps have had to truly make that evolution into consultants…we have really changed our culture and our sales environment so that we are constantly striving for the ‘trusted advisor’ status with our customers.”

These changes will not slow down, Stein said, and sales reps should be adaptable. “They should not be threatened by (change), but invigorated.”

Top 10 Critical Sales Questions

1. If we could create the perfect ad for you, what would it look like and what would you want to happen from the ad?

2. How many times does a new customer of yours need to see your advertising message before they make a decision to do business with you?

3. What are the three main goals you are trying to accomplish with your advertising? Be specific. How long have you been trying to reach these goals?

4. What ad campaigns/types of ads have worked for you over the last 12 months to meet your goals? Why did the ads work? What ads have not? Why did they not work?

5. Are there any new products or services you will debut in the next six months?

6. How does social media play a role in your advertising campaigns?

7. Do you have any video to promote your product/service?

8. Do you have a system in place to track your advertising? Dedicated call-in numbers, special promo codes, unique web sites, unique URL’s, dedicated promo cards, coupons?

9. What is your budget to reach your advertising/marketing goals?

10. If I can prove to you that we can help you meet your goals (described in #3) for the budget you have specified, would you consider running a multimedia ad campaign with us? Ask for the order!

Source: 360 Ad Sales

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One thought on “A Sales Force to be Reckoned With

  • September 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    At what point will you stop quoting consultants who truly haven’t a clue on the classified advertising business. We have been hearing this crap for years and the newspapers who spend their money are foolish. If your vp of advertising or classified ad director doesn’t understand rates, advertiser needs, training etc. I believe you have the position filled with an empty suit. If these consultants are so wonderful, why has the ad business gone down the toilet each year…come on now, they pick a point in time and compare apples and oranges. They may as well sell the newspapers snake oil.


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