Depositphotos_5322214_s-2015_012114blog_alteredNew media companies, in a fast-paced battle for relevancy and market share, are continuously creating and adding new advertising products for their sales teams to offer. It can be overwhelming and unrealistic for portfolio sales reps to learn and effectively position their ever-growing bag of new products. For this reason, new media sales organizations commonly deploy product specialists to support the primary sales rep in the sale of new and strategic products.

Sales leaders have accepted the added costs of these overlay product specialists. They know how important new product sales are to hitting their numbers. This model works well when explicit rules govern when and how to leverage these product specialists – which customers are eligible for specialist support, the time frames for specialist availability, and the expected transfer of knowledge from the specialist to the portfolio seller. Without clearly defined roles and rules of engagement for both the specialist and the portfolio seller, deploying product specialists may actually SLOW your growth. Here are three common unintended consequences that can actually slow sales:

Consequence #1: Portfolio Sellers Resist Help – Portfolio reps have several reasons for resisting help. They might choose to stay in their “comfort zone” selling core products to reach quota. They may not trust the product specialist, fearing bringing them in to their accounts could disrupt current business. Or they may not understand the new products and simply avoid them if possible. It’s a shame to deploy specialists only to have your portfolio reps avoid leveraging their help. The results are less new product sales, and zero transfer of knowledge. Unfortunately, we have seen this often, usually resulting from unclear expectations, lack of accountability and inadequate management oversight. Managers must set clear expectations for portfolio reps to collaborate with specialists and learn new products and offerings. Portfolio sellers must continue to develop their skills with the help of the specialists. Without this role clarity and accountability for both roles, the progression of portfolio seller skills will suffer and so will your prospects for growth in the long term.

Consequence #2: More Heads, Same Dollars – The product specialist coverage model usually involves the product specialist serving as an overlay role, thus two or more roles cover a given set of accounts and opportunities. These additional resources raise the productivity expectations of the portfolio seller. But goal setting for new products can be a difficult task, and as a result the increased production expectations (revenue per head, bigger deals, more active accounts, etc.), are not always clearly defined. Sales leaders should clearly define the increased expectations that come with the addition of overlay resources. In some cases the product specialist role can be a hybrid overlay, both supporting portfolio sellers and managing their own accounts. For example, a specialist job designed to dedicate 25% of their time to organic or new account responsibilities might force portfolio sellers to be more selective on joint sales opportunities and expand active account coverage.

Using very simple math to illustrate the potential impact of redefining the specialist role, you can increase your sales expectations by 5% because of expanded account coverage.

Consequence #3: Specialist Dependence Slows Knowledge Transfer – Even when portfolio reps embrace specialists and goals are clear, troubles can arise. A primary goal for most Product Specialists is the transition of strategic product knowledge and sales skills to the portfolio seller – essentially working themselves out of a job. When this knowledge transfer does not happen, the ability of the organization to introduce new products becomes hampered. The Specialist continues to spend his or her time supporting the same set of products rather than learning the next generation of products. This decreases the velocity of new product introduction and adoption, inhibiting growth.

The media advertising industry must continue to innovate and introduce new products, so the product specialist role is not going away any time soon. Sales leaders can take heed to these common unintended consequences that can slow growth when they desperately need to accelerate it. Clear job definition and proactive management are critical. In summary, here are four actions sales leaders should take to ensure effective use of product specialists:

  1. Clearly define job expectations for both portfolio and specialist. Manage and measure success.
  2. Determine which products and clients are eligible for specialist support.
  3. Define the timeframe for a product to move from strategic to core, no longer needing specialist support.
  4. Support portfolio sellers through active management, competency assessment and skill enhancement strategies.

The Product Specialist role is an instrumental part of the sales growth strategy for most media companies. Deployed properly this role uplifts the performance of the entire sales force.

To learn more, please visit the Alexander Group’s Media Sales practice.


Insight type: Article

Industry: Media Sales

Role: C-Suite, Sales and Marketing Leadership

Topic: Strategy

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