COVID-19 Has Changed Media Sales Forever

COVID-19 has shaken our industry, accelerating changes that were already underway in the past five years. Think personalization, automation, real-time creative optimization and data-driven insights.

The evolution of media sales to be more consultative is no different. The shift was gradually taking place. Then COVID-19 hit, and salespeople no longer had the option of relying on relationships and expense accounts; they had to bring substantial real-time data and insights-driven solutions to the table or be ignored. They had to prove ROI.

The rise of the consultative approach is changing what it means to be a good seller. Regardless of how long the pandemic lasts (or until it’s over), here are three changes that will stick:

1. Salespeople must be experts on their clients’ business. The days of closing deals by taking clients for mani-pedis or drinks and peppering in a few business questions here and there are over. When you meet on Zoom or at a six-foot distance, clients are entirely focused on business. They expect strategic counsel and ROI data for every dollar spent in return for their time. Period.



A mentor once told me that “a good first impression allows you three mistakes.” Making a good first impression today is immeasurably more difficult over video.

Listen up: Do your homework. Run tighter meetings. Come to the table with an informed point of view about your customers’ business challenges. Be ready to recommend solutions.

2. Seller organizations will operate more cohesively. Before the pandemic, making small tweaks to a cookie-cutter media plan and lobbing it over to the client was business as usual for many sellers. Now, even informal interactions within internal teams have to be scheduled.

Although this might seem like a bottleneck, it’s actually a significant opportunity. It forces sellers to pause, reflect on what they’re hearing from clients and be more buttoned-up about what they deliver back to them. Sellers also need to get buy-in from internal teams early to ensure there are no surprises down the road. It’s the notion of slowing down to speed up.

3. Sellers need to play a long game (and focus on building trust). Paradoxically, while in isolation we have the opportunity to know our partners better. Instead of interacting in a conference room, we see them in their intimate environments — their homes and backyards, with kids and pets running into view.

These unique moments can be a good foundation for long-term partnerships, but a tonal shift has to accompany it. Instead of “selling” in the traditional sense, salespeople need to be consultants, demonstrating expertise and flexibility, and they must be ready to advise partners as market conditions evolve.

So what does “consultative selling” look like in this context? It could be adapting campaign messaging based on real-time consumer insights, leveraging fluid distribution strategies or leveraging data to help kickstart product sales as the world reopens. It could also mean adopting an agile approach toward budgets, though creating programming flexibility is difficult when hard costs are involved, presenting a new challenge that we as an industry must address.

Sellers were already becoming more rigorous and flexible in their approach; COVID-19 just made it happen all at once. Though it was a shock to the system, these changes will put us on the path to sustainable growth today — and long after this pandemic is behind us.

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