Four critical elements as key investments for growth

From new sales model investments and client expectations to the evolution of the account manager role and remote culture, media sales leaders are placing their bets to determine which 2020 learnings and strategies they plan to carry over into 2021.

At Alexander Group’s Annual Executive Forum held virtually in November, a focus group of top media sales executives gathered to discuss the go-to-market priorities, challenges and ideas for a more strategic play in 2021. Facilitated by Alexander Group’s Media Sales practice leaders, four critical elements were recognized as the key investment areas to accelerate growth for the turnaround and beyond.

1. The 24×7 Customer Experience

“Two years ago we pivoted our structure to be client-focused. It’s the best thing we ever did. It paid off in the initial months of COVID-19. Our direct line to clients was incredibly helpful and important.” ‒ EVP, Client & Brand Solutions, Advertising Sales – Integrated Broadcast Firm

The pandemic put pressure on media sales firms to step up their game‒the traditional go-to-market industry practices were no longer viable. Creating an experience that focuses on a new ecosystem to serve customers 24×7 is the new imperative. Successful media sales firms made the pivot from transactional interactions to building a valuable relationship with their clients. Sellers who developed a clear line of communication with their customers while providing new ideas, resources and ongoing support positioned themselves as trusted advisors. Per the Chief Revenue Officer of a leading integrated print organization, “Our value to clients has gone so far beyond transactional to ‘what you taught me, how you stepped up.’ It may not last forever, but hopefully, we can carry it forward and teach our team that it’s more than taking them out to lunch‒you came up with an idea and added value.” Executives agreed that providing real-time insight and guidance on how clients can best leverage their brand, draw on their strengths and invest in the opportunities that will bring them the most ROI has fundamentally changed the customer relationship.

2. Account Manager to the Rescue

As advertisers leaned on Account Managers (AMs) to assist in navigating through COVID-19, media sales executives agreed that modifications to the role was inevitable.

“When Q3/Q4 business came back faster than before, and with cuts made in Q2, we’re now noticing a hyper-focus for the AM support on the backend with lower sales cycle times. Our ability to execute it well is the most important thing right now, but it’s not sustainable.” ‒ Head of Advertising Sales – Pure Play Digital Company

Positioning AMs to focus on the customer and simplify touchpoints are essential to accelerate growth in this new environment. The challenge: how can media sales firms distribute and balance the workload so that AMs can provide clients with current, real-time interaction and perspectives? Media sales leaders agreed that investments in sales support roles and tools allow AMs to focus on the customer, be it new prospects, renewals or incremental business. Executives shared the following actions they have taken to support this rationale:

  • Eliminate operational tasks through investments in pre-/post-sales roles
  • Combine customer success and AM role for retention and upsell/cross-sell
  • Automate manual tasks
  • Develop canned sales collateral
  • Invest in self-service options for advertisers
  • Centralize information and planning
  • Adjust sales compensation to align with firm strategies
  • Build a strong sales team community across regions

3. Embrace a Remote Culture

“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves professionally during this period. We can’t operate a business of this size remotely? We’ve proved that statement to be very, very wrong.” ‒ EVP, Client & Brand Solutions, Advertising Sales – Integrated Broadcast Firm

The switch to virtual selling was not an easy task. Media sales firms quickly realized the need to focus on employee care during the pandemic. While new training and coaching programs were necessary to enable sellers to transition effectively, as time went by executives agreed that this new virtual setting actually provides greater connection throughout the organization. The intimacy when conducting meetings virtually results in more honesty and transparency among employees. According to the Chief Business Officer, U.S. Ad Revenue at a leading integrated print organization, “Everyone is on an equal playing field. Previous day-to-day culture within different offices created discomfort and insecurity. A virtual meeting equalizes and gives voices, especially for more junior teammates.”

Not only has the new remote culture generated a more uniform environment among employees, but media firms have also been able to cut costs on employee travel and in-person meetings. Instead of spending dollars on attending annual industry events to meet with clients, investing in establishing and enhancing relationships through the use of technology, AM role development and executional support can actually bring clients closer. The President and CRO of a premier digital news outlet stated, “If we can cut 50% of the nonsense out, it would be a great side effect of this past year for moving forward. Traditional events are not to walk the floor but to see clients. We’re pressured to attend based on what everyone else is doing. Now we can dial it back.”

4. Talent Recruitment and Management

“If the physical world is more limited, the online world has tremendous growth opportunities.” ‒ President, Advertising – Leading Online Discussion Community Firm

With growth comes the need for top talent. All participants saw eye-to-eye on the importance of recruiting great sellers and encouraging diversity. While some firms have focused on building a bench through career progression from internship level to ASR role and beyond, others have lined up a network of sellers who have been groomed to work within their particular niche. However, in this virtual world, the struggle to find ways to conduct good, old-fashioned networking is apparent. Creating mentoring and support opportunities along with developing career paths for current roles are challenging. In addition, diversity among media sellers is a clear need in the industry, and one that all executives agreed is a critical situation to solve.

Where are you placing your bets for 2021? Alexander Group’s Media practice introduced a new study as part of our ongoing research that will dive into the new go-to-market imperatives for media sales transformation. Industry leaders are invited to participate in the research which will include executive interviews along with data submission on sales productivity, headcount ratios and more.

Participants will receive a complimentary, customized report with industry trends, best practices and benchmarks comparing your company’s summarized data findings to the industry. All data is confidential and shared only in aggregate.

To join the media sales research, please contact an Alexander Group Media Sales practice leader.

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