Moving the Needle to Win Business in 2021


Selling advertising in a post-COVID world is going to be daunting and challenging for most salespeople. Teams that are willing to make changes will see some level of success, but those that are not willing to make any changes could be left behind. One of the most constant themes I have seen during my 30 years in media is the constant effort of media salespeople to try and redefine insanity. My observations indicate that insanity does not need a new definition. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is just not smart business. We are very often plagued by the thought process that if we just work harder, we will get over the inevitable speed bumps in front of us in the media sales landscape. I have found that during COVID-19 there is some truth to this, but if you just work harder and keep doing the wrong things, you will truly not achieve the success you desire.

The first thing really to think through is what does post-COVID mean? We can almost set that debate aside because the term itself could be argumentative. Will we never be fully and completely over COVID-19?  Physically, emotionally, or mentally?  But we do need to move forward or risk a sales disaster. For me, it is more of a sales mindset. We will never forget COVID, but we can sell forward in a positive way. Adjusting our attitude to better control the sales narrative is critical. Using words and phrases like “bounce back to business” or an email phrase like “I want to help you re-ignite your business” can be a great step in the right direction.   Subject lines like “COVID recovery marketing plans” or “Business bounce-back ideas” can help move the needle.  

The next focus point that I feel we need to tackle in the local media advertising landscape is to rethink the phrase “You need to work smarter and not harder.”  Of course, there are ways to work smarter but hard work is part and parcel to the success of the local media sales representative. It would be impossible to work less and still make good money on the local media landscape. Of course, we all want to be smarter about what we do. That is probably one of the reasons that you're reading this article. I'm a believer that when you stop learning you begin to die in the business world especially as it relates to sales. Smart work and hard work will pay off in media sales.  

One piece of hard work is prospecting. Nine out of 10 salespeople I coach are working less prospects than they need to make their goal each month. We need to be working larger lists of advertisers in a more deliberate way. I like to refer to it as polite persistence. In a time of uncertainty and economic unrest, it is easy for salespeople to feel like they are being annoying or bothering a business owner. If we were selling a service or a product that was not meaningful or useless, I can understand why some might feel this way. But we sell marketing opportunities. What we sell is deeply meaningful and can impact a business in vibrant ways. I like to reach out to business owners that have not run with me in a very long time every three business days in an effort to set up a meeting. Remember, most business owners only wish they had a salesperson that was persistent. Subject lines like, “New idea for you” or “COVID marketing plans?” can help move the needle. 

The next area where we need to focus on is making it easy for advertisers to buy our media options. While this might seem extremely obvious to most, I consistently observe media salespeople that present a multimedia buffet of options to advertisers, or they are waiting to meet with an advertiser to create a customized marketing plan. Buffet selling and customization are just not working in a COVID landscape. Advertisers want to be lead. The reason we take a needs assessment approach is that we have bought into the pre-COVID consultative sales philosophy. We feel we need to find out what the advertiser wants before we can deliver.  Think that out carefully. I am not suggesting we are not consultative, but if we deliver what someone wants and not what they need to recover, we are selling them short. I am scared of needs assessments that focus more on what the advertiser wants and not want they actually need to do get customers. Come on fellow media sales warriors, let’s lead clients to success. What I've observed, especially during COVID, is that advertisers want us to tell them what to do. They truly don't know what to do. They want our help.

I have moved to a show-and-tell recommendation-based selling model and so have most of my media clients. From small town America to major cities, media sales reps that are recommending the best media choices with three pricing options are doing far better than reps that take the customized media option approach. Sure, I'm still going to ask some good questions, but I'm also going to recommend the appropriate media products for a business of their size and scope in my community. I'm going to offer that to them with three different levels of pricing. I want to make sure that I'm presenting options that we know will work and we'll give them excellent ROI. Business owners are emotional right now (and rightfully so). Selling off of a data card or with our readership information is probably not the best way to go these days. Instead, we need to use stories and examples of other business owners that are recovering with our help to drive the conversation forward. Then, we back that up with data. The problem is that most ad selling representatives are data-driven. They bombard the advertiser with data points.  Using data to sell an emotional person comes off as you trying to prove them wrong. Instead, my favorite phrase is to say, “Let me show you three examples of business owners like you that are recovering a portion of what they lost during COVID as one of our premier marketing partners.”

Selling in a post-COVID world is not impossible. We just have to recalibrate or reinvent a bit.  This might require some more training. This might require a different mindset. It might even require that you abandoned some of your old school sale strategies. Experimentation in sales is not bad. But always be looking for repeatable patterns of success and repeat them. Also be looking for things that don't work, and figure out how to remove them from your sales game.

Ryan Dohrn is a 30-year veteran media sales pro and marketer.  He is an Emmy Award winning motivational speaker and is a sales coach to more than 200 media companies. Find him at


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