Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Time for a sales tune-up

Though newspaper ad sales have been sliding steadily for 5½ years, many publishers have yet to take a deep look at the four components necessary for a healthy and forward-looking revenue program. They are Products, Process, People and Pride.

If your sales are not where you want them to be, this is what it will take to fix them:

Products

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.

Process

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

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.

Pride

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

3 Comments:

Blogger jlindauer@dailypost.org said...

Absolutely spot on.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Janet DeGeorge said...

This is 100% accurate. If is sounds simple, it is because, it is simple. Just do it.


Janet DeGeorge, President, Classified Executive Training & Consulting.

12:08 AM  
OpenID watershedchronicle said...

Per your second point on processes, you are totally correct, salespeople need to sell and not push paper. Unfortunately, the trend I've seen is the exact opposite, and part of the cause relates to your third point of tracking sales efforts. When working for a regional weekly magazine a few years ago, we had previously set up a system that did precisely what you suggest. We had design staff and sales assistants that handled ad creation, changes, paperwork, billing, etc, and the sales staff spent all their time selling. It was a system that worked very well.

Then, our parent company dropped a ton of money on some useless sales tracking software, and worse yet, required each sales person to log in, enter copious amounts of data about their daily routines and customer contact, and spend a set amount of time there or risk cuts in commissions. Not surprisingly, with sales staff stuck at their desk more, sales declined. Then, using the declines as an excuse, they laid off the sales assistants, dumping follow up and paperwork on the sales staff too. Sales continued to drop, so they outsourced and consolidated the design staff so our customers and staff no longer had first hand interactions in ad changes and the sales staff had yet more clerical work dropped on them. Sales soon cratered.

Where we once had a thriving process that worked smoothly and increased sales, we ended up with a quagmire of paperwork, lessened customer service and rapidly declining sales, all because our parent company dumped a joke of a sales tracking system on us that was supposed to improve efficiency and increase sales but did just the opposite. salespeople need to sell and not push paper. Unfortunately, the trend I've seen is the exact opposite, and part of the cause relates to your third point of tracking sales efforts. When working for a regional weekly magazine a few years ago, we had previously set up a system that did precisely what you suggest. We had design staff and sales assistants that handled ad creation, changes, paperwork, billing, etc, and the sales staff spent all their time selling. It was a system that worked very well.

Then, our parent company dropped a ton of money on some useless sales tracking software, and worse yet, required each sales person to log in, enter copious amounts of data about their daily routines and customer contact, and spend a set amount of time there or risk cuts in commissions. Not surprisingly, with sales staff stuck at their desk more, sales declined. Then, using the declines as an excuse, they laid off the sales assistants, dumping follow up and paperwork on the sales staff too. Sales continued to drop, so they outsourced and consolidated the design staff so our customers and staff no longer had first hand interactions in ad changes and the sales staff had yet more clerical work dropped on them. Sales soon cratered.

Where we once had a thriving process that worked smoothly and increased sales, we ended up with a quagmire of paperwork, lessened customer service and rapidly declining sales, all because our parent company dumped a joke of a sales tracking system on us that was supposed to improve efficiency and increase sales but did just the opposite.

10:35 PM  

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