Today, advertisers are opening their pocketbooks for programs that produce clear returns on investment, and they are asking for online advertising proposals, custom publishing programs and innovative ideas. But field salespeople, tempered by years of diminished expectations-for some, their entire b-to-b careers-may have difficulty going after big-budget integrated programs. What can management do to motivate salespeople to go after these opportunities?
Dan Bagan, VP-publisher of Supermarket News, said it may not be possible to change the mind-set of all your salespeople when you change the selling strategy. "We turned over half of the sales force," he said.
Bagan said that, when he took over the reins at Supermarket News four years ago, "we made a commitment to continuity advertising. We implemented that plan by continually striving to get higher in [the advertiser's] organization. We used every asset we could to get the meeting." At the presentations, which Bagan attended, the focus was on the advertisers' desire to reach the top-level executives in supermarket chains: "Even the biggest [advertising] companies only meet with [top supermarket executives] a couple of times a year. We reach them every week."
Bagan and his team would compare continuity programs to direct response mechanisms. " `When was the last time you saw a CEO fill out a bingo card?' I would ask," he said. Bagan also insisted that salespeople walk away from single-page insertions. "We took some hits in the beginning," he noted, "but we still increased market share-and we were up significantly more, percentage-wise, in profit."
Dan Dignam, publisher of CMP Media's CRN, serves a tech-savvy audience of resellers of computers and services. Although advertising spending by technology companies has shrunk, dollars migrated toward CRN as companies returned to the reseller channel or developed strategies to use it for the first time.
"The Web business in this group, CMP's Channel Group, has grown year after year by 30%," Dignam said. CMP has gotten salespeople to aim higher during the downturn by leveraging corporate resources "to create larger, more comprehensive online programs," he explained. "For example, we did a project for Intel around mobile software, and we created a Web site" using resources from CMP's channel, developer, networking and end-user communities and attracted all those audiences.
"CMP has a centralized department called CIMS [Custom Integrated Media Solutions] that creates the package, the look and the feel," Dignam said. For major technology accounts, CMP devotes a point person to represent the company and bring together sales, publishing and support people for a project proposal. Once the template is created for an initial customer, field salespeople can sell the concept more widely.
"You've got to create something that's repeatable for the salespeople but something that can still be customized," Dignam said.
He encourages salespeople to put effort into larger, riskier programs. The salesperson's commission rate is higher on custom programs-and the teams that do the best job working across groups share an award and bonus, Dignam said.
At CXO Media, having "product champions" for online and event projects helps give field salespeople the support to sell bigger-ticket programs, said Ellen Romanaw, exec VP-sales, custom publishing. Producing Internet and event programs requires expertise, and "our product champions really know the ins and outs of these programs," she said.
CXO Media communicates the value of integrated programs by reminding advertisers how C-level executives "use a variety of information sources over the course of the buying cycle, and the vendor needs to be in all of them," Romanaw said.
Romanaw runs companywide sessions on selling integrated programs. "What we're selling is access to an influential audience. We want our message to be consistent verbally and in writing," she said. "So we take people through how we do [requests for proposals], the kinds of questions to ask and how to present the programs. We don't want anyone going out with a laundry-list approach."