None of these things are as important, nor as difficult, for the vast bulk of publishers, as sales. For most publishers, sales aren't growing fast enough. Publishers are challenged by how to push or pull their salespeople to become more effective -- and, in particular, how to get out from behind the "RFP cycle."
We are all selling to an industry (advertising) that tries to industrialize every aspect of the marketing service process: So you should boil each activity down to its simplest elements so entry-level functionaries can fill in the blanks. We are selling in an industry that is changing fast, and even faster because such a big part of the business is about "the new." So every new idea, new technology, and new service is exploited for its sheer newness, and then discarded to the commoditized heap of used ideas. RFPs routinely come in requiring a 48-hour turnaround and requesting a "unique, custom, exclusive" program in addition to the standard ad-unit impressions.
If advertisers and agencies are not focused on the latest "new media," then research departments are inventing a new way to measure old ones. We go from measuring circulation to measuring audience, then to engagement, and then to social chatter.
We've gone from social media to Internet video to social Internet video, and now to social Internet high-definition video -- now that everyone with a new SLR can shoot in high-def. Soon it will be on cell phones - that would be "crowd-sourced Internet high-definition mobile video." That would be CSI HDMV for you jargon lovers. Each new new thing spawns a new media category that further dilutes the amount of revenue available to all those who went before.
What are media companies to do? Let's look at two industries that have institutionalized adapting to change: healthcare and financial services. What can we learn from them?
· Training: in an industry where investing in stocks, bonds and real estate is as old as the hills, certified financial planners are the salespeople of finance. They are required to take 30 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their certified status. Needless to say, healthcare professionals need continuing education too. Whether they are pharmaceutical or medical device salespeople, or medical practitioners, they regularly learn about new research, new therapies, or new devices.
· Research; What is the best way for pharma salespeople to earn time and attention from a doctor? Do they offer to bring in a free clipboard with the product logo on it? No, they offer to review new research on a "condition" and therapeutic solutions that address it. Do stockbrokers and financial planners rely on their opinion when they recommend allocation strategies or specific securities? No they refer to research, often analysis or projections from their own firm's research department on strategies and on stocks.
As you enter the new year, ask yourself, when was the last time I brought in training or sent my salespeople to learn about new media, new strategies, or new sales tactics? And consider whether your investment in research is at an appropriate level for a business that relies on research to strategize, to evaluate, and to forecast results - essentially, to make almost all decisions. At 90% of media companies, the only research is self-centered "what about my audience" studies. This leads to sales calls that are -- like a bad blind date -- "all about me." That is why clients and agency folks don't want to have the meeting before the RFP.
Well-trained and supported salespeople can hold a conversation with a client or agency about how to help move more of the client's product or service, without referring to their brand. That is a conversation clients want to have, one they will have before the RFP is issued; it will influence the RFP. These same well-trained salespeople can put each new media innovation in a context for the advertiser, and will be able to effectively put their own media opportunities in the best light.
Let's all make a New Year's resolution to do what we can to reduce the "bad blind date" nature of sales calls in the new decade. Happy New Year, people.