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'My Sales Staff Can't Sell Online!'

The scariest six words in media.


Josh Gordon By Josh Gordon
06/23/2008 -14:55 PM






For me, these are scariest six words in media today:

"My sales staff can't sell online."

When I hear these words, I shudder. Somewhere behind the great walls and pleasant reception area of a media company a sales staff is in pain.

If you know of an organization using these words please pass this post on to them. You will be doing a good deed helping those in need.

If you work at a company using these scary words this unsolicited evaluation and advice is for you:

1. Your online products stink.

When I meet a sales staff with a "low online sales IQ" I usually find a company that also has a "low online product development IQ." Unlike print, most online advertising is sold on renewals. If an online product does not generate results, it will generate little repeat business and sales will tank taking the enthusiasm of your sales staff with it. If you are not getting online renewals you probably have a product performance problem, not a sales problem.

The most common misstep new online publishers make is to pin their hopes of online riches on selling banners on their newly launched Web site. But new Web sites typically take time to build an audience and rarely generate much traffic or results. As the goal of "immediately monetizing our Web site investment" fails, frustration sets in. A better approach is to use the Web site as a base to build out products that can generate revenue that do not depend on robust Web site traffic: Webcasts and newsletters.

2. You are losing business to online objections.

There are a lot of different online media products (newsletters, Webcasts, e-blasts etc.), each with its own unique set of objections. As you move to digital media your sales staff is going to get hit with a lot of new objections. If they don't know how to respond, sales will fade.

The most common objection is "your media did not generate enough clicks." The number of clicks per dollar content-oriented media, like yours, will never match number of clicks your advertisers will get by spending the same money on "search." This is where the "sales" part of "media sales" comes in. Are your salespeople really ready to overcome objections like "I can get more clicks per dollar from search"?

3. You are losing business to competitors you don't know.

The largest largest online ad category, by far, is "search" which barely existed ten years ago. Most media buyers have a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude with sharing their search plans with media salespeople. But if you train your sales staff to ask about "search" on their calls you will start to hear the loud sucking sound of your ad dollars going elsewhere. Search gets more credit for selling products and services than it should. When your sales staff starts to ask about search on calls they will find it is getting credit for sales to your audience that your media is actually making.

In addition, online "pure play" companies are siphoning off money. Just because your page counting service does not track them does not mean they are not taking money away from you. Most importantly they are staking out online space you will desperately need to grow, and someday possibly need to survive.

4. Your pricing needs revising.

Question: Which takes more effort to sell, a $10,000 ad page or a $1,000 ad banner? Answer: It takes about the same amount of effort.

If this is true, why waste the time selling banners?

If this conversation sounds familiar you should revisit your pricing. Web products like newsletters and fixed banner positions are often best priced like annuities, not traditional media. The goal is to encourage long term media commitments by offering discounts.

Is it really worth your salesperson's time to going back and forth fighting for premium pricing on a $1,000 banner? No. The annuity approach says; sell it for less but demand a 6 to 12 month commitment. Lock in the buy and then have your salespeople shift the time they would have spent fighting over a couple hundred bucks to launch another online product. The annuity approach advocates launching many online products priced to sell quickly with discounts for long term commitments. You make up for low prices with high volume. Your salespeople make lots of money because each sale is easier to make and carries a long term commitment. If you doubt this approach works there are a lot of very rich insurance salespeople in this world who will tell you it does.

Look, if your your salespeople "can't sell online" today something is getting away from you. Online ad sales nationwide are growing at a torrid rate, up 18.1 percent first quarter over last year. If you are not seeing significant growth in online advertising, don't blame your sales staff.

Worst case: you have given your salespeople products that don't generate response, not trained them to overcome the new objections they are hit with, not helped them identify their new competitors, and priced their products for short term selling.

Now you say, "My salespeople just can't sell online." If the above describes their situation, you are probably right.

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Josh Gordon By Josh Gordon -- Josh Gordon is president of Smarter Media Sales.com where he works with publishers to maximize their online and print revenue through training, consulting, and representation.

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