Three ways integrated media companies can ramp digital sales

By: Matt Bartels Media Sales

Integrated media companies have an interesting challenge – how to ramp digital media sales while maintaining their fair share of shrinking print media revenues. For the integrated media sales reps, this can be a challenging task. Today print media still represents 75 percent of the business. But digital’s dominance is accelerating, expecting to grow to nearly one-third of all media revenues by 2017. The writing is on the wall (or flat screen)…figure out how to effectively sell digital, or fall behind.

In a recent client engagement with a large integrated media company, in an effort to drive greater digital sales, we analyzed the entire sales force looking for actionable differences between top and bottom performers. In their case, the top 50th percentile of sellers produced 22 percent higher digital sales than the bottom half. We examined the time profiles and practices of top vs. bottom performers and found the following:

  • The top 50th percentile sellers spend 11.5 more hours/week on high quality account development and customer persuasion activities than low performers
  • The top 50th percentile sellers generated 15 percent more revenue for every high quality hour spent on account development and customer persuasion
  • The bottom half of the sellers spent 20 percent of their time ineffectively looking for new customers

The client realized that closing the gap in performance between high and low performers, even a little, could yield significant results. Of course getting low performers to act like high performers is easier said than done. Some of the actions of a high performing sales person are the intangibles. As a friend once told me, “You can’t teach a person who is 5’ 5” to dunk a basketball.” So in our study of the high performers, we looked for the more tangible differences – things that we felt confident the sales leadership could teach or equip the low performers that could move the needle. Three actionable differences came to the surface:

  1. Account planning time: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail,’ as the old adage goes. The same is true in sales and in particular, with complex consultative selling. Top performing sellers in integrated media recognize this need to devote time to develop strategies for their customers and structure their time accordingly. The top performing sellers were spending significantly more time to plan for each sales call – ensuring that they were prepared with the right messaging and solution for the customer. This activity attributed to their enhanced sales performance. Our cross industry benchmarks indicate that high performing consultative sellers spend three times as much time planning as they do facing the customer. This planning time ensures that time with the customer will be time well spent – a higher quality effort which ultimately results in greater returns.
  2. Effective leverage of digital sales specialists: High performers were very specific and calculated in the way they used digital product specialists. They only used them on the high value clients. Field interviews revealed that lower half performers were pulling the digital sales specialists in to nearly every deal. In other words, they were using them as a crutch. Top performers also spent time account planning with the digital sales specialists. But perhaps most importantly, they used the digital sales specialist to improve their own digital product knowledge and selling skills. They didn’t rely on the specialist to run the entire sale. They actively sought advice, similar to the coaching efforts you would see with a first-line sales manager. Today many integrated media companies struggle to properly deploy digital sales specialists. They lack the needed rules of engagement to “wean” sales people from improperly using specialists. Best practice deployment of specialists means clearly defined joint account planning standards, clear rules on which accounts merit specialist coverage, and defined expectations for both the sales rep and the specialist on goals for knowledge transfer.
  3. Buyer- and category- specific value propositions: Ad sales buyers want a sales person who is able to speak to their specific needs and objectives. In our engagement we found that top performers prepared value propositions that were both buyer- and category- specific. They found it critical to understand both the client and their vertical/category (automotive, retail, technology, etc.). This preparation and focus creates a more confident sales rep and a more credible discussion with the buyer, as they are able to address what matters most for each client.  A recent media buyer study confirmed this factor – when asked to rank the six most important sales rep attributes, ad buyers said the number one rated attribute was the sales rep’s ability to understand their business needs. Interestingly, a separate study of pure play digital media companies supports this notion – three out of four pure play digital companies have a category as their primary or secondary job assignment for their sellers.

With so much competition and change in the media advertising world, integrated media companies are challenged to determine the appropriate levers to pull for growth. Some are contemplating major go-to-market restructuring. Others are moving more gradually. Whatever the case, there is nearly a universal need for higher sales productivity through increased digital sales. These three actions can help accelerate your efforts.

How are you driving your digital sales growth? What strategies are you leveraging?

Learn more about Media Sales best practices.

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Matt Bartels

Matt Bartels is a principal in the Chicago office. Matt is a leader for the firm’s Media and Implementation & Change Adoption practices. He also has widespread experience in a variety of industries, including technology, manufacturing and health care. Matt has a proven record of working with clients to develop actionable growth-oriented strategies, go-to-customer transformations and productivity enhancements. In addition, Matt is an expert in global and domestic sales compensation design. He is a leader in the revenue growth space, and a frequent speaker and author of thought leadership content.


Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Matt was a management consultant at Deloitte and IBM Business Consulting Services. He earned his B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago and an MBA from Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Matt is also a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP), WorldatWork.


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