Plant a Decision-Making Tree

A few nights ago, a former salesperson of mine who now manages a team called for advice. He said his new sales hire was having a difficult time getting meetings.

I said, "Welcome to the club."

He then shared doubts about his new hire.

Again I said, "Welcome to the club."

The first few weeks on the clock is a challenging period for any reps new to a media sales organization - as well as their new managers. During this time, it is much easier for managers to recognize early shortcomings of the new reps than it is to identify how their own organization may be contributing to the early problems. Taking the latter route, however, can lead to simple adjustments that can strengthen the entire company.

For example, securing sales meetings is hard -- and getting harder by the quarter. However, publishers often contribute to the difficulty of this task by giving new sales hires account lists without updated contact information. Everyone on our side of the desk knows how quickly turnover occurs across from it. Yet publishers do a poor job of recording these changes inside their CRM software programs, because the upkeep is left to their salespeople -- the same salespeople who do not have time to sit down.



As a result, incoming salespeople are handed an abandoned account list and a shovel to dig up new names and bury old ones. This takes precious time away from launching their own sales communication plan -- and worse, diminishes their excitement in doing so. For example, new reps may have been planning a creative introductory mailing, but once they encounter incomplete or incorrect addresses on their supposed sales road map, their excitement wanes because of the digging needed to execute it. So invariably, new sales hires spend their initial few weeks of selling time mining their own CRM software program, desperately trying to construct an accurate picture of whom they need to call on. As a result, they tend to have a difficult time securing meetings.

So what can publishers do to end this cycle of inefficient sales behavior? Plant a tree.

"Decision-making trees" they were called by those who taught me this a long time ago. The idea was to create a visual experience with your account list and the decision-makers you needed to influence. Picture a tree, and you can see how branches would represent key accounts and the leaves would have the names of those who influenced the buying decision on that branch.

Back then, decision-making trees were penciled on white paper, with changes written on sticky squares of yellow paper, all shielded by a thick manila folder. The use of paper and the lack of technology sound funny today, but this technique was very effective because it was visual, allowing sales reps to see the bigger picture. By constantly looking at all of their accounts and the names of those they needed to influence, they were stimulated to create a strategy for their overall sales-communication and relationship-building efforts. Additionally, because each account and its respective contacts were in constant view, it became a priority to keep everything updated (in other words, remove the dead leaves).

Trees do not grow overnight, but publishers should consider planting them inside their buildings tomorrow morning. The process starts with identifying each salesperson's top ten branches and completely updating the roster of contacts for those accounts. Members from all of your company's relevant departments, and as many client-side contacts you can identify, must be individually represented with their own leaf for this exercise to work to its fullest potential.

Salespeople will be very busy this current quarter, so give them the direction to collect names while collecting insertion orders. Meanwhile, have all the data entry and fact-checking be the responsibility of someone who works in-office. Then, as fourth quarter winds down, ask your marketing department -- or outsource one -- to come in and draw these trees on whiteboards to hang in every salesperson's office (sticky yellow paper leaves can work).

That way, when the new year rolls in and even your veteran salespeople feel like rookies, slightly unsure as to their next step, they can look up at their wall and see exactly what they need to do and who they need to call on.

This is going to take a concentrated effort, not a halfhearted one. But if publishers plant these trees now, they will be fertile with sales opportunities for years to come.

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