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Ad Sales Stuck in a Rut?

Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM

You may have to reorient and re-incentivize your sales team.

By William Dunkerley

Selling is making a connection. But in publishing it's ultimately not between the magazine and the advertiser. It's between the seller and the buyer -- i.e., between the advertiser and the reader. Like I said in last month's issue, "the most successful sales occur when the salesperson succeeds helping the advertiser to find buyers."

Readers Respond

In response, I heard from a couple of anonymous readers, ad sales people, who disagree. Here's my interpretation of their point of view:

"As sales people, our very existence depends on how many dollars we bring in the door. We don't care if advertisers connect with buyers. Advertisers are not open to dialogue with us about that anyway. What's more, the advertisers don't even have the tracking means to measure the effectiveness of their advertising."

That reaction raises an issue that is problematic for a lot of publishers who maintain an ad sales team. While we don't usually air anonymous comments, I thought this issue should receive special treatment.

I've heard the quoted sentiments expressed a number of times over the years in various ways. And in my experience, if they are not dealt with effectively, that point of view can hurt your long-term sales outlook.

Meaningful Dialogue

First, it is hard for me to conceive of a successful sales effort in which the sales staff cannot engage the advertisers in dialogue. But I've seem some examples where they really couldn't. The situations often occur when:

--The salesperson is projecting a hard-to-like personality, and the prospects are avoiding him. Salespeople need to be likable.

--There's no dialogue because the salesperson is doing too much talking. The best sales presentations begin with strategic questions. When I hear salespeople begin a presentations with, "I'd like to tell you about our magazine . . ." I know they're off to a bad start.

--The salesperson takes a hounding, overly persistent approach. A publisher once told me about how this actually worked with a particular advertiser. The advertiser called the publisher and said, "Okay, I'll advertise. But on one condition: keep that obnoxious salesperson away from me." But that was a fluke. Salespeople need to respect reasonable boundaries.

--The advertiser can't make sense out of the sales message. Perhaps he's getting a canned pitch that is off target. Some salespeople actually sound like they are reading from a script. That can be a big turn-off for the advertiser on the receiving end of the presentation.

--The salesperson is calling the wrong prospects. If your salespeople are not calling on qualified prospects, they are wasting their time and the prospect's time. Certainly, a mistargeted prospect won't be interested in dialogue.

In general, if a salesperson is dealing with a qualified prospect, one who is a decision-maker, it should be possible to engage the person in a dialogue. I've found that a skillful probe at the start of the presentation most often leads to engaging dialogue. The salesperson should use economy of words, show an abundance of interest in the advertiser's needs, and construct a sales presentation on the fly that is targeted specifically to the advertiser's needs and interests.

Are your salespeople capable of doing that? They should be.

Efficacy of Ad Dollars

The salespeople quoted above asserted that advertisers don't know if their advertising really works. That may indeed be true in some cases. But any advertiser is going to know whether its sales are going in the right direction. Advertising may not be the only influencing factor in that trajectory, but it is one that the advertiser can control. A smart sales approach will home in on that.

And don't think for a moment that all advertisers are oblivious to the efficacy of their ad dollars. Recently, General Motors reportedly pulled a $10 million ad campaign from Facebook because it was ineffective. A lot of other advertisers have systems for tracking leads and sales. The metrics may not be 100 percent accurate, but it's a mistake to presume that advertisers are stupid when it comes to what's working for them and what's not.

What's more, helping advertisers to devise reliable ad result metrics can become part of an effective dialogue between salesperson and advertiser. Many advertisers will be grateful if the ad salesperson can mentor them. Getting an outside appraisal of how the ads are assembled -- the offer, the features and benefits, the message and targeting -- can be valued by advertisers as well.

Motivating Your Sales Team

Then, finally, there is the matter of what is motivating the ad salesperson. If your sales team members harbor the belief that their "very existence" depends on simply how many dollars they bring in the door, then I'd say you might have an ineffective system of incentives and rewards.

Selling ads that may not produce long-term results for the advertisers may be a short-sighted use of time. It's more beneficial to spend time with advertisers who will find success by being in your publication. Those advertisers are more likely to be with you for the long run, and they'll even stay with you during periods of unfavorable economic conditions. A lot of publications that fared poorly during the recessions failed to take that into account. Structure your system of incentives and rewards for the sales staff in a way that will serve both your short- and long-term needs.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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