When you learn your site didn't make a buy and then report this news to your sales manager, your manager usually responds by asking, "Why?"
Do you ever wish you could tell your manager that the words you are now being asked to choose to defend this labeled defeat, won't amount to the real reasons anyway, but rather, will be words you think your manager wants to hear? Don't you wish you could remind your manager, sitting in a perch above the sales process, that the intimate feelings collected on the ground competing to land on a media buy cannot always be summed up neatly in a call report? Your sales manager must know you could not feel worse about not making the buy, but that going through this exercise of interpreting what went wrong doesn't make things better, right?
But instead, the spotlight is turned on, the play begins, and you act the part, spinning a script on what transpired -- and then try to sell it to a producer who isn't interested in buying it.
That's because what sales managers ask and what they are questioning are two different things. When they ask you why your site was left off a buy, they are really questioning your effort. Was it properly focused? Was it smart? Was it enough? Managers are often convinced of the answers before hearing a reply so this exercise disguised as a conversation, hidden inside a meeting, becomes a bad act -- instead of a productive collaboration with positive intentions.
And yet publishing sales organizations can't survive without sales management's stewardship of their sales efforts, which includes monitoring what buys are won and which ones are lost. But when managers start a dialogue with "why did you lose," there is no chance of producing positive energy - and I am an energy guy. I believe in its constant presence and impact. So turning this negative interaction between sales managers and salespeople into positive energy is important and possible, but it requires real change and a plan to achieve it.
How much change is required starts with how you answer these two related questions. For salespeople, are you picking your wins or are you chasing dollars? For sales managers, is your entire sales organization aware of what specific advertisers your salespeople plan to win this year, or is everyone just aware of the annual revenue goal that needs to be hit?
Change starts with bottom-up account planning, which is far from revolutionary but may be a lost art inside the forward-thinking frenzy of online advertising sales. Each salesperson should be accountable for creating a physical playbook detailing the advertisers he/she plans to win this year, a meeting tree tied to each account, and a communication plan on how to best position the site to earn this win. Most importantly, each account plan should include a specific "big idea" uniquely connecting the advertiser to your audience. Finally, any internal requests for help in executing this communication plan effectively should be included, so the salesperson can excel during face-to-face meetings that must be obtained for anything significant to be won.
A detailed plan for each advertiser you call on forces your sales efforts to be properly focused, smart, and self-fulfilling, because you have decided upfront that your site and idea merits a meeting - and meetings grow revenue when planted properly on receptive grounds. Too often -- mostly caused by the "agency assignment approach" -- salespeople run through lobbies chasing dollars while bending the site's brand along the way, versus picking the right battles and sticking the brand firmly in the ground so buyers know what it stands for.
Detailed account planning won't prevent losses. But now when they occur, you and your manager can look at how the plan failed versus how you failed. This exercise doesn't preclude you from earning business unaccounted for -- but it will deliver the elusive answer to the question of why you lost business you did not plan to win.