Time for a sales tune-up
If your sales are not where you want them to be, this is what it will take to fix them:
Only $3.50 of every $10 spent by local businesses on advertising goes to traditional newspaper advertising, according to a national survey conducted by Borrell Associates.
With merchants of all sizes moving away from costly, reach-based media like newspapers and toward the inexpensive and targetable digital media, it is unrealistic to believe newspapers can maintain their share of the local ad spend by simply improving the way they sell their flagship print and web products.
As the Borrell survey found, $1.50 of every $6.50 not spent with newspapers goes to maintaining a company’s presence on the web and in the social media. Another $1.50 is split between Yellow Pages and radio. One dollar goes to direct mail and another dollar is divided evenly among broadcast television, cable TV and billboards. The balance goes to everything from signage to Little League T-shirts.
To reach advertisers where they are – and where they increasingly will be in the future – publishers must offer a wide variety of marketing and customer-acquisition services. These include but are not limited to, web and mobile site development and hosting; search-engine optimization; online ad placement on third-party media like Google and Facebook; print and electronic direct marketing, and social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and whatever comes next.
Without a comprehensive, digital-rich product portfolio, newspapers will be left with shrinking scraps of business as their advertisers shift more of their dollars to pixels from print.
Takeaway No. 1: Salesmanship can’t substitute for products that don’t meet customer needs.
Owing to the premium prices newspapers historically have charged for advertising, publishers almost always have offered high-touch, and therefore high-cost, customer service.
The classic newspaper sales cycle includes the free production of spec ads, multiple (often in-person) sales calls, unlimited copy tweaking before ads go to press and even costly outings for clients.
But these practices are becoming increasingly unaffordable at a time that newspapers are battling not only declining ad volume but also extreme price competition from a growing array of digital competitors. Google and Facebook require advertisers to buy, build and monitor their ads entirely on their own, while leaving a credit card on file so they can be billed in real time.
Newspapers can’t go cold turkey on cold-calling customers, especially when they need to educate them about the broad product suite suggested above. But publishers can take the time – and invest the funds necessary – to streamline back-office and production systems to free reps to sell, instead of processing paperwork, policing billing and tinkering with ads.
In many cases, this means automating antiquated ordering, production, scheduling and billing systems. In most cases, it means differentiating the duties of ad staffs so sellers can sell and production specialists can take care of the rest.
With duties carefully aligned and assigned, managers will have better visibility into the productivity of each employee, making it possible to address inefficiencies and deficiencies.
Takeaway No. 2: Sales people need to sell, not shuffle papers.
People are the strength of every organization and newspapers can’t afford weak people at a time they must be more nimble than ever at diversifying their ad bases by introducing new products.
To build strong organizations, publishers have to establish – and enforce – clear performance metrics, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
While sales productivity is one of the easiest things to measure, it will take more than holding reps and managers to gross dollar targets. Their incentives must require them to recruit a certain percentage of new advertisers and to demonstrate their ability to sell new products.
To make reps as successful as possible, publishers need to provide them with the product s and sales training they need to be comfortable and competent in selling print, online, mobile, social and direct-marketing media.
When training fails, managers have to move people into positions where they can make a more positive contribution – or out of the organization to make room for someone who can.
Takeaway No. 3: If people are your strength, you need strong people.
In a talk not long ago to newspaper executives, television sales guru Jim Doyle chided the group for allowing “others to position your product” as a tired and ineffective medium. He is right.
With a full suite of advertising products, a newspaper can be a powerful marketing partner for almost every business in town.
Takeaway No. 4: You can’t sell with confidence without conviction in the product.
© 2011, Editor & Publisher