Modernizing the Media Salesforce

By the Media Ad Sales Council

Never has the adage “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way” been more relevant than as it relates to today’s media sales realm.

Faced with a shifting business paradigm, a rapidly transforming workforce, and ever-present technology evolutions, media sales executives have little time to lament days gone by as they set their sights on evolving to ensure success today, and tomorrow.

To be sure, two plus years since the outset of the pandemic and the script has definitively flipped across a swath of different industries. Face-to-face meetings are conducted through screens. The productivity—and fun—of in-person interactions with colleagues is no longer a given. Sands are shifting around both the job market and the “quiet quitting” trend, and financial uncertainty is bending consumer habits in new directions. But it is not doomsday, just a new reality that requires an innovative approach.

Media sales teams have their own specific challenges -and opportunities- to modernize. The Media Ad Sales Council (MASC), founded by Matrix and comprising thought leaders from across the industry, has identified the key areas media sales teams should be assessing, rethinking, and acting on.

For one, shifting sales management structures and higher churn, coupled with positions often staying open longer, is taxing an already-slim sales force comprised of leaner departments having to do more with less. At the same time, rapidly accelerated consumption habits means that the sales force has evolved from selling a simpler bundle of products and services to a more complex offering including social, streaming, CTV, and OTT. The evolving business calls into question the optimal ways to structure sales teams, and whether a homogenized, cross-training environment is now better than specialized mentorship. Sitting above all the changes are technology advances that both unlock new options and require new expertise.

The Great Talent Search

Getting account executives in the door, and holding on to them once they arrive, is not easy these days. The hybrid work environment is here to stay, and that has created a push-pull situation for media salespeople who tend to be extroverts, fueled by in-person interaction, but who still want the freedom to work remotely. The scenario has led to a lack of incoming junior account executives, which then creates a domino effect where teams lean more heavily on the employees they do have, often promoting them faster and without earned experience.

With all the immediate advancement, you have new managers who do not yet have the experience managing people. You find yourself with elevated talent who do not know how to successfully execute their elevated roles, because even if someone is a high-performing salesperson, they still require the training and development to be a successful leader and manager. The trouble lies in the fact that since the revenue still needs to flow, it can be easy to push that specialized training support to the back burner.

The absence of consistent on-site training during the past few years has left “a little gap in the talent river.” “Our supply of next-gen salespeople didn’t get the full training experience during the past two years and so they aren’t fully groomed for the account executive roles,” says Barbara Bekkedahl, President of Weather Group Ad Sales & Client Partnerships, who is remedying the situation by reinstating some in-person training for both junior and senior staff so they can learn together in a hybrid model.

To help keep the employee funnel filled, MASC suggests a new lens on work-life balance that recognizes the fact that culture often speaks louder than cash for recent college graduates. What used to be “nice to haves” or non-existent rewards—such as flexible work hours, company-led communities, and slack channels focused on non-work topics from cooking to pet care, summer Fridays, unlimited PTO, company-provided meal allowances, and greater support for mental health—are now imperatives in the face of increased competition.

TEGNA has seen success by emphasizing their team members. Last year, the company developed the tag line and logo “Be in Good Company,” which can be found everywhere from its social handles to the signatures of employee emails to a line of custom gear. Pep rallies, a virtual guest speaker series, and an internal newsletter that celebrates team and individual sales successes have not only helped draw candidates but raised morale for existing employees.

Role Specialization Vs. Homogeny

The evolving media business presents other challenges for sales team members from account executives to managers. As sales portfolios swell to include more digital ad products requiring deeper account management, organizations are rethinking the ways they structure their departments. They are also assessing whether the existing homogenized approach makes sense vs. a focus on role specialization and a team approach where “hunters” bring in new business, account managers maintain and retain customers, and customer success coordinators execute on the campaigns.

As the sales role progresses to be able to sell the big picture, listening to clients’ needs and knowing what motivates them to buy, coupled with understanding current viewing trends, has brought forth the necessity to apply a consultant approach— an approach that will only succeed with a foundation of support from an organization perspective that backs them up.

It has gotten to the point where you must be a bit of a marketing ‘jack of all trades’ when it comes to understanding how all the different touchpoints to the consumer journey work together with all the products there are to represent. When you compare different industries like software sales, the media industry has done little to modernize the sales structure over the past few decades. Account Executives are responsible for end-to-end sales, lead generation, building their proposals, creative, executing campaigns, retention, customer service—and they now have multiple revenue goals for both new business and digital. They may have reached the tipping point in terms of how much they can manage vs. what their strengths are.

A layered, team approach may provide a myriad of benefits. Should someone on the account team decide to leave, there are others who can support the client and know the account, which helps provide stability for the advertiser and protection for the media company.

Technology & Media Sales

Technology continues to impact media sales in a variety of ways. Remote work has warranted more automated systems and tech-driven tracking, decisions are increasingly driven by data—and by all accounts, the industry is not yet scratching the surface of what is possible in terms of using tech to support the sales force.

“The industry suffers from a disconnect between the systems living in separate silos,” says Jenn Scilabro, SVP of Digital Sales at Nexstar Media Group. “Oftentimes sales teams must swivel between all those systems, leading to less selling time due to a redundant workload. The need to solve the swivel is critical to protect both the client relationship and media organization’s revenue.”

Additionally, media sales executives today are awash in data and as salespeople already know, data is only as good as what they can do with it. The quality of data relies on the process to capture and use it accurately. The question at hand then is, how do members of sales teams at all levels leverage their data to make the best decisions?

Among MASC members’ most salient guidance: do not collect data if you are not going to use it. That practice makes for a “cleaner” process and enables the team to focus in on the data that will concretely inform decision-making. Assessing post-sale lagging indicators can guide future activations but, more importantly, using data in real time to shift sales strategy to minimize lost opportunity and focus on areas of revenue growth. That is the real benefit.

Today’s media companies face the ultimate challenge of how to evolve into a modern sales force. From seller recruitment and team structure to data supported sales technology, the industry has the immediate opportunity to drive sales efficiency and seller retention with the right mix of modernization strategies.

Author: Media Ad Sales Council (MASC) founded by Mark Gorman, CEO, Matrix Solutions and Brenda Hetrick, President, Matrix Solutions and consisting of members:

Peter Jones, Head of Local Sales/Director, Strategic Partnerships, Premion, Melanie Webb, Vice President, Sales Operations, TEGNA, Joe Lampert, Senior Program Manager, CNOmniMedia, Becky Meyer, SVP, National Sales, Gray Television, Jenn Scilabro, SVP Digital Sales, Nexstar, Michael Barbetta, Senior Director, Revenue & Strategy, E.W. Scripps, Al Lustgarten, SVP Technology and Information Services, Hearst Television, Susie Meehan, VP Advanced Advertising & Operations, AMC Networks, and Barbara Bekkedahl, President, Weather Group Ad Sales & Client Partnerships, The Weather Channel.

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