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Building a winning local media sales playbook

In the digital era, direct selling is dead. The modern media buyer no longer has the appetite for product monologues from overzealous salespeople.

In fact, a recent survey of 3,000 advertisers by Borrell Associates found local businesses overwhelmingly prefer dealing with relationship-oriented media reps with the skills to help them craft a clear marketing strategy tailored to their unique circumstances.

This is a huge shift from the transactional approach of selling ad inventory. It requires local publishers to pivot to a playbook that puts a business’s holistic digital needs, along with exceptional service, at the center of an organization’s culture.

In this article, sales leaders Robert Walker-Smith of Knight x Local Media Association BloombLab and Samantha Johnston of Strategy Hound, LLC spell out the critical elements for building a playbook that addresses what advertisers are demanding and lifts up teams to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. 

WATCH the on-demand webinar: Building a winning local media sales playbook

The fundamentals of a media sales playbook

When it comes to defining the critical elements that should make up every local media sales leader’s playbook, Johnston shares the three key pillars she returns to again and again: 

 

  • People: Do you have the right talent in the right positions? Are you cultivating behaviors that move the needle for your organization?
  • Process: Are you consistently improving your best practices?
  • Systems: Do your systems work correctly? Are you listening to your sales teams and if they’re saying the systems don't work? Are your systems creating barriers between your sellers and their sales?

 

Walker-Smith defines his own set of elements that make up a winning local media sales playbook: 

 

  • Leadership: Is there heavy involvement from the top down to drive digital revenue?
  • Culture: Do you have a read on the current culture in your organization, and what levers you can pull that will affect change?
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  • Digital revenue champions: Do you have a process for identifying and calling out the players on your team who are championing digital products?
  • Consultative selling: Are you offering as many solutions as you can and working with your prospects and clients to have honest conversations around the products that are the right fit for them?
  • Collaboration: Rather than working in silos for the different media types, are you working together as one unit to provide a unified experience and solution set to your advertisers?
  • Celebrate: Are you celebrating even the small wins that get you to the bigger ones? 

What should the local advertiser buying journey look like?

Media sales leaders should be training their team with the client relationship in mind first. It’s not just about closing a deal or making a sale but rather the strength of that relationship will depend on the steps you took to get there. 

Walker-Smith takes a consultative selling approach with his team, recommending an “ask, educate, deliver methodology. 

“We want to have transactional sales, and at the end of the day it is transactional but you want to have relationship sales that really are grounded in thought and knowledge,” he says.

Media sales leaders can coach their team to begin conversation with advertisers by asking questions like: 

“Tell me about the other forms of marketing and advertising that you're doing right now?”

“Who's coming to your business right now? Who do you want to come to your business?”

You can then begin to educate clients on the solutions that might meet their needs. Walker-Smith also recommends not shying away from integration. He suggests that even though your teams may be used to selling traditional print, or traditional radio advertising but your clients need TV to meet their specific it doesn’t mean you can’t find a partner and be able to offer them the entire package, including of course complimentary digital solutions that work so well with a more typical local media ad buy. 

Advertisers are shying away from working with a longer list of specialized vendors to meet their promotional needs. Local businesses no longer have the time to spend with someone selling them TV, another rep who sells radio, and someone who can come in and offer digital ads. They want one source, one expert for all of their marketing and advertising needs. Someone that can help them create a cohesive and complimentary campaign that actually moves the needle. 

Johnston agrees consultative selling is one of the best approaches to local media sales, and offers her own set of questions that really help her sales teams dig in an get to the root of what advertisers need: 

“What are your key business challenges?” 

“What could I do to make your world better?” 

“If I could solve one problem for you, what would it be?”

“You're hearing local businesses continue to say that they don't want to see a product specialist. They want whoever comes in, to be their person to hold their hand through things, give them creative ideas. [Another] thing that we're hearing now more than ever before, is “educate us, help us understand what it is we're investing in”, so I think those things are keys as well.”

Samantha Johnston

Founder & Lead Strategist, Strategy Hound, LLC

Building sales teams to effectively grow digital revenues

It’s critical for media sales teams to understand the importance of diversifying revenue streams and growing beyond the traditional offerings they’re used to. Not only will it lead to a better buyer experience, revenues will undoubtedly benefit. Here are a few tactics you can implement to help bolster the success of sales teams selling digital products in your catalog. 

 

  • Thirst for prospecting: Use data to identify suspects for prospecting. Encourage reps to run Google searches on verticals in your area to identify potential prospects. Reps can also lean on LinkedIn to research who the right stakeholder is within that business before they reach out with a message or a phone call. Using this tactic will ensure a higher rate of success.  
  • Focus on volume: In order to fill your pipeline Walker-Smith proposes instilling a “20 and two” rule. Reps should be making 20 calls each day in order to galvanize two appointments. Two appointments will work out to 10 appointments per week and that will get your pipeline to the point it needs to be where you can begin your consultative-selling approach.
  • Offer a digital incentive: Give your sales teams a reason to sell digital and tack on a higher commission rate to digital products so it benefits everyone involved. Local advertisers need digital to succeed, your local media organization needs digital revenue in order to survive and thrive, and your reps are earning by selling these digital products as well.
  • Implement social selling tactics: Encourage your teams to develop their own personal brands online. You could provide examples and coaching on ways to improve their LinkedIn profiles, or ideas for posting on social media. The brands they are presenting should be polished and professional, so that when their prospects turn around to do some digging your reps have positioned themselves as the expert.
  • Instill a culture of education: Work with your teams to ensure they are working on leveling themselves up professionally at every opportunity. Provide them with industry relevant publications they can subscribe to. Ensure they’re seeking opportunities to learn about the latest cutting edge digital technology that their local business clients could be leveraging in their marketing and advertising strategies. Keep the need to upskill a top priority in order to stay ahead of the competition and latch onto trends that can help advertisers be more successful.  
  • Needs-based selling: Coach your reps to never walk in the door, have a conversation or show up for an interaction with a prospect empty handed. Train your teams to add value at each and every step of that interaction with the prospect, whether it’s a report they’ve pulled or even some sales intelligence insights they’ve obtained to help spell out a need and solutions for the business.
     

“Coach your teams to take the time to do pre-work before they’re making a prospecting call. I think that really is part of the magic. It's really hard to solve business problems if you don't know anything about the business. Paying attention to their businesses, doing research and developing that mindset to provide value to the client at every interaction is critical,” Johnston says. 

Ensuring your teams have the right tools, technology and training to grow digital revenues 

“There are so many things that derail us from the moment that we walk in the door in the morning, from emails, to phone calls, to whatever ads that didn't run correctly. I think that having that dedicated, devoted training time as a team is one of the most critical components.”

According to Johnston, facilitating the training sessions is not enough. You need to make sure that your reps understand what you’ve taught them. They need to hone their craft with continual practice and development. 

Walker-Smith agrees, adding that a culture of education and training needs to start from the top down, with leadership making it a priority.

“Short training sessions tend to work for me, so 30 or 45 minute microbursts of training scheduled on a regular cadence, I’ve found make the most impact. Engage your reps to ensure role playing is taking place also. It’s much easier to take a no from someone you know rather than once you hit the streets.”

Robert Walker-Smith

Digital Revenue Director for the Knight x LMA BloomLab, Local Media Association

Bridging the knowledge gap between traditional media and digital products 

When it comes to upskilling a media sales team to begin or standardize selling digital, it’s important to approach that transition with empathy and understanding that change is scary. Local media companies will undoubtedly have reps that have been selling traditional media their entire careers, so an introduction of digital products needs to be done in a calculated and structured way. 

“Walking out into a world where you're trying to explain something that you don't really understand is a very scary place to be. Encouraging your team to conduct four legged calls with a sales leader in your organization or a digital expert is one way to not walk off the cliff. They’ve got someone there who's going to jump in and support them, and someone who can critique the interaction and constructively help them get better,” Johnston says. 

Johnston points out a common mistake that sales leaders make: sending their teams down a learning track for digital products that has no opportunity for practice or real world application. This makes it difficult for them to retain the information. Without that practice it makes it difficult for reps to feel confident in the digital products they’re offering and how those can help the local business prospects they’re speaking with. 

“Not having a deep appreciation for the legacy side of the house I think is where we really go wrong. It becomes an and/or conversation. Either you have to sell digital or you have to sell print or newspaper. There are still advertisers that are buying newspaper, TV and radio ads. Digital is complementary to, not in competition with,” says Walker-Smith.

Recruiting and the right people for your team 

Rather than focusing on prior experience in traditional or digital media sales, Johnston and Walker-Smith agree that the core skill set media companies should seek in a potential recruit includes: 

 

  • Low call reluctance 
  • Energy and enthusiasm to sell 
  • Highly coachable 
  • Exceptional listener
  • Competitive/hunter mentality
  • Accountability 

 

Media sales leaders should actively seek out these qualities and instead train for the knowledge these individuals will need to do their jobs well.

It’s also recommended that leaders are always recruiting. Some of the best talent is not pulled from a pool of job applicants. They’re being held onto, fiercely, by your competition. If you can seek out these individuals and offer a relatively attractive culture, benefits and compensation package, you can grow an extremely talented team quickly. 

Taking time to understand what motivates your team, is another element to keeping the talent you do have. By having thoughtful conversations with your reps about what drives them, you can identify the best ways to reward their good work and ensure they’re feeling fulfilled and happy.

The recipe for local media sales success

Overall three primary themes emerge when examining the critical elements of a winning local media sales playbook: people, product, education. 

Sales leaders need to ensure they’re seeking out and holding onto the people that have an enthusiasm, energy and tenacity for growing relationships and supporting local advertisers  to succeed in their community.

Media sales teams need to offer a wide range of products and services, including digital solutions that complement the traditional media offerings, in order to diversify revenue streams and help create a more complete experience for advertisers. 

And finally, sales leaders need to focus on educating their teams on the latest trends in the industry, offering real world opportunities for reps to hone their skills and retain that knowledge. Reps can use their new knowledge base to provide value and educate local business clients on how they should be thinking about their marketing and advertising strategies.

About the Author

Nicole Lauzon is a Content Marketing Manager at Vendasta and has spent the last decade of her career helping local businesses tell their stories. Kickstarting her professional journey as a writer and producer for a major Canadian television network, Nicole would later spend five years as a PR Agency Creative Director, managing brand journalism, social media, blog and video content for corporate, non-profit and local business clients. Whether Nicole is marinating over her next piece of writing or enjoying some down time with her family, she likes doing it in floral print.

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