This was the burning question that brought people together at the AOP’s Breakfast Briefing on 16th October - held at Google’s Tottenham Court Road offices. The session was facilitated by Raoul Monks of Flume Training and involved senior commercial leaders from The Guardian, Vice Media, Condé Nast, Ziff Davis, BT, Haymarket, Centaur Media, Dennis, CBS, Gumtree and Infopro-Digital.
Here’s a summary of the key themes that were covered along with a selection of views and ideas that were discussed around the table.
It became clear from the start of the session that many publishers are facing the same challenges. They’re in the midst of structural change whilst under huge pressure to drive revenues up and costs down. To further complicate matters, changes in advertiser buying behaviour mean that what works in sales, sales leadership and sales recruitment needs to change too. There is a lot that commercial teams need to get right if they are to succeed. It’s hard.
The first of our discussions explored what these changes in buying behaviour and sales excellence mean for publisher sales teams.
Three points came across very strongly:
1. We expect a lot from our sales people
The days of simply building rapport with customers and then waiting for the orders to come in are over. Today’s buyers are results focused and have a huge amount of choice. Sales people need to be able to deliver a sales experience that differentiates them from the competition. It’s not easy. One senior sales leader said: “We’ve got rid of loads of sales people. Now we have young grads and we’re expecting too much from them”. Another added: “Sales people need to be multi-skilled, but publisher sales teams are getting stripped back”.
2. Don’t get too tied up on what you offer
As advertiser solutions have become more complex, sales people have started to focus conversations with advertisers on the intricacies of what they can offer rather than on why they are the perfect partner. One of the group put it like this: “You have to be more focused on us as a brand rather than the tech. Programmatic is just the vehicle”. The group agreed that storytelling can be a powerful tool for sales people when it’s tailored to the buyer and focused on audience behavior.
3. What works for the advertiser is driven by what’s right for the audience
While everyone agreed that the only reason to recommend a solution to the advertiser is if it is effective at influencing audience behavior, there was also an acknowledgement that this doesn’t always happen: “The pressure to deliver numbers sometimes moves us away from doing what is best for the client and audience”.
The second discussion examined what changes in buying behaviour and sales excellence mean for how sales teams should be led.
Commission or not?
The conversation quickly became centered on remuneration and commission. Whilst the group largely agreed that the basic salaries of sales people today aren’t high enough, they were undecided on whether revenue-based commission was ultimately a good thing. On the one hand, there was the belief that sales people need to be incentivised to sell. On the other side, there was the suspicion that when revenue-based commission is removed, sales people can focus on selling the right campaign for the client, not simply the campaign that will make them the most money.
The entire group felt that collaboration with other departments was key to leading a top performing sales team. One Sales Director explained that for her: “…the most successful sales teams are the ones that work most closely with other teams within the business.”
Everyone agreed that meeting the needs of the audience should be the connecting point for inter-departmental collaboration.
The final discussion of the morning concentrated on recruiting the best sales talent.
Great salespeople look different today
The group agreed that the profile of a great salesperson has changed. There was much talk of the challenger sales model and what that looks like. There was a consensus that one of the key traits of a great salesperson today is the ability to push back when they feel that what the client wants isn’t necessarily going to help them achieve the results that they need: “People want more and more information and data - it isn’t always relevant. Why do you need global reach figures when you just want 50 leads?”
Behaviours are the new ‘little black book’
In the context that the traditional ‘relationship builder’ salesperson is now statistically the least effective profile, the attendees shared stories of how their approach to recruitment has evolved. Several of the group explained that they now look beyond the ‘little black book’ when recruiting. They use a series of methods such as verbal reasoning tests and group discussions to find candidates who they feel demonstrate those behaviors that are more closely associated with sales excellence. It seems that more and more this will involve looking for candidates outside of media.
The AOP breakfast briefing acted as a reminder that today’s publisher sales teams are operating in an environment that is changing and becoming even more challenging.
However, it also highlighted that some of our industry’s biggest players are actively embracing that change and adapting their whole sales approach to better suit this new landscape.
You can download the ‘Sales Excellence Benchmark’ here.
Paul Cruise, Lead Trainer & Coach of Flume Training @Flumetraining
About the AOP: The UK Association for Online Publishing (AOP) is an industry body representing digital publishing companies that create original, branded, quality content. AOP champions the interests of media owners from diverse backgrounds including newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting, and pure online media.
About Flume: Flume are the PPA’s Sales Training Partner. They drive sales performance through high impact training, coaching & consultancy to the publishing, media & events industry. They believe the way clients buy has totally changed and what works in sales will never be the same. Through challenging the conventional approaches to both sales and sales training, Flume help businesses rapidly increase revenue and maximise the return on training budgets.