Invest (Indirectly) For Success

Walking from meeting to meeting in New York City on a summer afternoon, one can't help but be struck by the teeming humanity. Millions of people are all individually pursuing their passion, their pleasure or their profit. Some have their blinders on in a focused sort of way, others are checking out their fellow New Yorkers as they pass. So much like the Internet! Every business idea and every come-on is tried in this Darwinian economy driven by self-interest to fierce competition.

Internet publishers operate in a similarly Darwinian world of extreme competition, only more so. The so-called "Flat World" that Thomas Friedman described, where inhabitants of far away lands would compete on a level playing field with workers here in the U.S. is one result of bandwidth and computing power. The corollary of the Flat World is a media world without fences. There are no boundaries between media categories and types anymore, meaning that a publisher can have new competition in an instant.

When I entered the advertising sales business, I knew precisely who my competitors were. I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Whether it was Backpacker, competing against Outside, or House Beautiful competing against Architectural Digest, House & Garden and Metropolitan Home, I knew the alternatives that my customers were considering. But in today's world of hyper competition in media, a network of sites, none of which have anything to do with my content sector, can begin competing for the advertising dollars from my sector advertiser. It doesn't even have to be initiated by a "network" per-se. The agency for my client can go into the business of assembling a media package through a demand-side platform, or DSP --and presto, it's my competiton.

In today's hypercompetitive media world, it's much harder to get appointments with media purchase decision-makers in part because there are so many alternative media forms calling on them. The value of these hard-to-get appointments has risen due to scarcity, and due to the scale of the opportunity being greater; a bigger sale can be made than before. But in general, publishers have not invested in the skills and resources of their sales teams. They have tended to leave the learning to the salespeople, hoping that they'd adapt to the new world.

In this competitive selling environment, salespeople need -- now more than ever -- to be able to add value to the conversation with customer insight, creative ideas or solutions, or post-sale services that give a media buying customer a reason to choose one partner over another. Many publishers would say that their editorial environment is their "added value" that distinguishes them from the commodity-like alternatives. But I have observed that, increasingly, the salespeople ARE the added value.

From the moment they email or IM or connect via a social media or text or phone (or all five) to get an appointment, salespeople must put some of that added value on the table in competing for appointment time with their customer. Then, the demand for valuable insight only gets higher. Have you trained or equipped your salespeople with resources to win this battle for time with customers? Do they truly bring something of value to the customer other than information on your own media's capabilities? If not, and your salespeople are struggling to hold market share, you should be investing in resources or skills for your team.

Recently, Scientific American invested in just such resources. Rather than do research on its readers, the magazine researched its advertisers' target audience: college-educated consumers. Recontacting respondents in the annual Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, the magazine found a new market segment: "Science Educated Elites." The research reportedly has been a success with prospective customers, opening doors and conversations.

Francesca Golfetto and David Mazursky wrote about this so-called Competence-Based Marketing approach back in a 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review. I'd like to hear from the audience more media-oriented examples of how you have been successful investing indirectly for success by creating resources for your customers that are not exclusively self-serving, but position you as the expert in their market.

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2 comments about "Invest (Indirectly) For Success ".
  1. Wendy Hidenrick from AdoTube , June 23, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.

    As a sales person, I am surprised you don't have more 'likes' for this blog! Excellent points.

    It's unfortunate that some of the larger niche publishers out there, whom were once the big fish in a small pond, didn't lift their heads, look around, and realize that the world (pond) suddenly got bigger. By the time you realize what has happened, it might be too late to reinforce your superiority. Sometimes the decision makers don't see the big picture and only the small one (which is the cost of investing in superior research & investing in ongoing education for their sales staff.) Talking points (e.g., "we're the largest!") only get you so far. And a consultative strategy versus transactional one will win every time.

  2. Richard Aylward from Hallmark Data Services , June 23, 2011 at 4:40 p.m.

    Its true sales people need more resources, training and research, but publishers don't seem to have the budgets.

    Loved your comment about the perceived added value of editorial. Media buyers don't read the magazines, so its always been difficult to prove who reads what, when and for how long.

    Some publishers now are using the analytics from their digital readership, which is easy and inexpensive to capture (emails can identify the reader to apply demographics) with the belief that digital mimics print.

    So the sales team can again prove readership of editorial and advertising.