When I was a sales superstar, I sold and managed one NBC station. Before that, I remember debating whether one salesperson could effectively sell both an AM and an FM radio station. “You can serve two masters,” I remember my boss saying.
By 2015, then a partner in some stations, we had one sales team in a market selling the following:
- NBC JSA partner
- CW on our D2
- Telemundo on another D2
- Our actionnewsnow website
- The news app
- A full suite of digital service products
- We sold Gray’s product, “Mom’s Every Day”
And, of course, as owners, we wanted to maximize all our assets. No pressure there for our sales managers!!
When we bought the station, we did debate whether to have one sales staff or two. We decided it was hard enough in a smaller market to find 8 -10 great sellers—finding 20 would have been impossible. So, despite my career of advocating separate staffs, we had just one.
There was one big benefit to that. Because we didn’t have two sales staffs from two different groups of assets, we didn’t duplicate coverage on any agency or on bigger accounts. That freed up our people to do more new business. It worked. (In fact, when the new owner briefly had to unravel the JSA and create a separate staff under Obama FCC regs, I’m told that new business results went down. Not surprising.)
However, there were big losses, even on selling our TV products. It was impossible for sales managers to keep up with all the things we had to sell. So, things with opportunity, like golf, might be undersold, and with both a CBS and NBC, we had a lot of golf. Sales management handled tent pole events well, and things like Olympics and football had effective sales efforts. But some the pup tent events like golf weren’t maximized. One ongoing partner discussion/argument was whether we should focus on total revenue or put pressure on leadership to maximize our CW. There’s no question there were greater opportunities for all of our products—each could have produced more revenue.
That was all before we started building a digital agency business, which we did a great job with in only 18 months, and before today’s OTT offerings.
Our leadership and our AE’s had a bandwidth issue. We simply couldn’t keep track and be fully informed about all of our products. Not even close. We expected more bandwidth from our leaders, obviously, but it was impossible even for them to keep track of everything. Hell, I remember missing opportunities in my days as an NBC-only sales manager. Now, take that and multiply it by 5 or 6. It’s impossible.
I think this is a big issue, and it’s not going to change. But we do have to realize how the issue might change the way we go to market. Since I view my assignment with these columns to be not just outlining the problem… here are some things to think about as we construct the sales staff of the future.
- We’ll need to hire smarter AE’s (and managers). Smarts are required for two reasons. One is the simple ability to understand all of our products and how they work best for a client. But more important is critical reasoning, so they have the ability to look at our entire suite of products and determine which ones are the absolute best to solve the client’s problem.
- We must commit, more than at any time in our business, to diagnosis-based, customer-focused selling. If we go to market being product focused, we become peddlers. (Or, realistically, even bigger peddlers than we already are.) You know the peddler. He or she is the package seller. Unfortunately, that’s the current sales approach for 90% of the sellers on the street. Only with a thorough needs analysis—a business conversation, not an advertising one—can an AE begin to get an understanding of which are the best assets to deploy for a particular client. This will be critical.
- What’s the practical impact of being customer-focused vs. product-focused? It means that the decision about which products we present to a client are based on what the client really needs, not what we need/want to sell. I get nervous about client plans that meet our needs but not theirs.
- But, having written the above, we also can’t let our AE’s sell only one or two things and try to tell us they’re being customer focused. I know of more than a few old-timers who might use that excuse to cover up their lack of understanding and belief in our digital products.
- Does one of your products have real opportunity but you can’t afford a full-time manager/sales team? That’s what we felt with our CW station. So, we had our NSM take on the role of being the advocate for that product. He took a role in a couple of sales meetings a month, updating the team of CW stories and programs, even passing out a little CW swag from time to time. This gave us an opportunity to expand his leadership role, which was an added benefit.
- Some products or a suite of products may even deserve their own leader. Most of us recognized we couldn’t build big digital businesses without strong leadership—maybe even a separate sales staff. I think it’s likely there may be more situations like that as we continue to expand our product offerings.
- We have to realize that we won’t maximize everything and that all things cannot be important. If everything is important, nothing is important. As leaders, making sure we’re very clear on our priorities will become more important than ever.
Are you thinking about the bandwidth issue, both for your AE’s and for your Sales Managers? I think we make a mistake if we think the same staff structure and selling approach we used for 1-2 products will deliver the results we need when we’re selling twelve.
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