As the entire world seemingly rushes to embrace the latest iteration of generative AI, whether ChatGPT, Bard or the many similar apps, media sales teams must take a more measured approach. That starts with realizing it is a tool and is not the answer to all needs and challenges. Additionally, the parameters of its use and protections from its erroneous and malicious misuse are not yet set.
ChatGPT, for example, describes itself — according to Donna McGeorge’s “The ChatGPT Revolution: How to Simplify Your Work and Life Admin with AI” — as “a sophisticated computer program that uses a type of artificial intelligence called natural language processing to understand and respond to human language. It has been trained on a vast amount of knowledge to generate responses to a wide range of questions and topics.”
As with any new tool, training is required to understand the results generative AI delivers and how to communicate with it in a manner that produces good results. According to Trey Morris, consultant at The Center for Sales Strategy, this has been the most challenging part of the learning curve among the sales organizations he has worked with for the past six months.
“Salespeople know they need AI and are using it to some degree, but they’re not using it properly. Many don't know how to enter the prompts to receive the desired results. That being said, I have been amazed at how fast generative AI has advanced and how salespeople have been able to adopt and use it in their sales process,” Morris said.
A counterintuitive trend that Morris and Kevin Berrier, director of the MD/DC Press Association (Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia), have noticed is that older sales reps seem to be more willing and excited to use generative AI than younger sales reps.
Berrier conducted training sessions with association ad managers and ad reps in 2023, which will continue in 2024, and found that older reps approached him after a presentation and asked for more information.
“Veteran salespeople know the process of the sales and marketing funnel. They can see how it might be impactful and help close a sale better or review and optimize a presentation. Whereas younger, less experienced salespeople aren’t as knowledgeable about the sales process. Once they see what generative AI can do, it jolts them into learning the sales process more quickly. If you can convince younger salespeople to adopt generative AI early and incorporate it into the sales process, they will sell many more ads and help many businesses in their communities,” Berrier said.
Morris, like many other sales consultants, recommends sales organizations focus on using generative AI for lead generation, more effective communications with prospects and clients, creating customized sales strategies and building a salesperson’s professional brand — all of which will lead to a more efficient sales operation. He also says using generative AI will help local media sales reps promote themselves as marketing consultants who can help advertisers use a robust media mix more effectively.
“AI gives you the ability to look beyond selling spots and dots. You can become a marketing expert. I have been absolutely blown away by how ChatGPT can build a marketing strategy. Most local media are selling more than their channel or platform. Using generative AI can give a salesperson the information and expertise in other ad media even though they’ve never previously sold them,” Morris said.
The human element
Although many people are concerned about generative AI taking their jobs, it is more likely to change the nature of work. Zack Kass, AI futurist and former head of Go-To-Market at Open AI, says AI is already reducing the amount of “busy work” in many jobs, which is often a significant portion of a media sales rep’s average day. As AI continues to do more busy and computational work, Kass expects most people’s lives and work to become more human.
Kody Klenow, vice president of sales for local SMB national at Lee Enterprises, and his team used AI to create what it calls an agency in a box. A sales rep or agency can develop a proposal based on approximately 50,000 campaigns that have run through that platform. The system learns what types of tactics are performing for different industries.
“You can edit the results, maintain the human touch and discuss with a client that a particular tactic doesn’t fit an exact need. Our best sellers are working with their clients to build a proposal in real time using this technology. Advertisers don’t just have to trust the rep. They can trust the data from 50,000 other campaigns. The system has generated huge revenue for us, and we are now selling that system to other media outlets and agencies,” Klenow said.
Berrier agrees the human element is essential when using AI because, as he said, “AI does hallucinate. Reviewing the information AI generates takes much less time than starting from scratch.”
“Use AI as a tool but without it dominating or using you. Don’t fly blindly and rely wholly and solely on AI; grassroots sales tactics and best judgment are still necessary. Inundating prospects and clients with emails will not push the needle further for you, despite how much value proposition AI is baking into those emails. They can become too salesy. I don’t think it has yet revolutionized that sales aspect,” Berrier said.
Advice for using generative Ai
Morris, Berrier and Klenow advise advertising sales teams in all media to use generative AI slowly. They also recommend news outlets, especially smaller, local operations, to consider contracting with a generative AI specialist or expert to introduce sales reps to AI and possibly provide a training program.
Morris thinks generative AI probably helps smaller media outlets more than the larger ones because the smaller ones have limited staff and resources. AI will help the reps at those smaller media outlets be more efficient and produce more sales activities and results.
The MDDC Press Association also operates a legal hotline, connecting members to media law experts at Ballard & Spahr. Berrier suggests anyone concerned about the legalities of integrating AI into their workflow consider asking a law firm with similar expertise about using AI and learning the potential legal pitfalls.
“I always caution anyone who speaks with me to walk before you run, tiptoe before you walk. Be comfortable with generative AI's strengths and understand its weaknesses to better identify when there is a crack in the armor. I always suggest using it personally first to see how it works. Ask it for a great banana bread recipe to understand how it works,” Berrier said.
Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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