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So You Wanna Be a Successful Media Salesperson

January 10, 2013

Dear Media Sales Reps,

I was talking with an intern a couple months ago about media sales. She was very interested in it as a profession. She was bright and ambitious and very inquisitive which I believe means she might find sales to be a good fit. It got my wheels turning and I started to think about what it was like selling advertising for a television station out of college and how I wish that I knew then what I know now when it comes to dealing with advertising agencies.

Don't be THIS guy!

Don’t be THIS guy!

I was always good at direct business. I wasn’t afraid to cold call and get the appointment. I cared about my clients’ success and asked the right questions to help me learn enough to sell a solution. But where I struggled was with medium sized agency business. I did better at handling large agencies than small and medium sized ones and I couldn’t figure out why. Large agencies are about points, impressions and numbers. It doesn’t get much more elaborate than that. They buy on a cost per point or cost per thousand basis. Large agencies want buttoned up service in a different way than small and medium sized firms. Large agencies want you to give them the lowest CPM/CPP, added value, post to their standards and be good about keeping their spots running and made good. When trying to learn how to best service ad agencies in general I would ask my sales managers what to do. The problem is they were so focused on servicing the large agencies I believe they may have forgotten how to best serve the small and medium sized ones. It makes sense if you think about it. They are going to focus their energies on the lion share of the dollars coming in. Big agencies equal big dollars… But as a media sales person trying to grow your account list you don’t always get more than one big agency to handle. So you have to work on growing the small/medium ones into big ones…

Small and medium size agencies want your help in a different way. Many times they are more personally invested with their clients. Often the owner of the agency is your direct contact. You’ve likely heard the saying “No one takes care of your stuff like you do.” That’s the case in most of these agencies. If you have access to the owner directly your help becomes more valuable to the agency. These agencies still want competitive rates, posting, and added value for their clients… But further, they need you to help make a case for your solution like you would a direct client. They are working directly with a business owner in most cases. They aren’t talking to the marketing person in a large company like many large agencies are. These agencies have been hired by small or medium sized businesses to help them manage their marketing because they already have a lot on their plate. Media reps who take the time to offer more than the basic rate card and media kit shine.

Reps who take the time to understand the needs of the agencies clients get larger shares of the buys because they bring better solutions to the table. Period. It’s as simple as that. Yes, of course, it has to be competitively priced and the best financial investment for the client. BUT, if you can help the agency create an out of the box solution, you will be seen as an asset to the agency as opposed to a number in the hundreds of phone calls they receive every week. YES, I said hundreds. It’s easy to think that you are unique in what you are selling. I’m sure that you are. But the reality is my agency’s phone rings off the hook with media sales reps. When my agency represents 15 different clients and each one of them refers every media call to my office… the numbers exponentially compound. In order for a rep to stand out it takes a fresh approach.  I’ve found that the friendly, helpful, inquisitive reps get the furthest with me.

Want to know what not to do?

  • Don’t start the conversation by presenting a solution that is not based on a previous conversation about the clients’ needs.
  • Don’t call their baby ugly by telling them you saw an ad they placed and you think the place they chose to run that ad was a bad decision. I’m always amazed at the negative selling salespeople resort to. That was one of the first lessons I learned in sales. You shouldn’t have to trash talk another media outlet in order to make yours sound like a good option. You should be able to sell the positive attributes of your company so well that you don’t need to slam others. If you must insult their ad buy decisions, be tactful and use research based information to win your case. Sometimes the clients dictate where some of the ads are placed against the agencies’ best recommendation. So the media reps that start off an email or phone call with “I saw your ad in X, and I was curious what you were thinking by placing client Y there, because media company X is a poor investment” aren’t going to get very far.
  • Ask them how you can best help them service their clients. It’s simple. But I can only think of a handful of reps off the top of my head that do this consistently. They get Starbucks cards in the mail from me at Christmas every year. They end up being my go-to people for information because they make themselves available.
  • Don’t call them 5 times in one day to see if they have the order yet. Or email multiple times. If I’ve told you that I’m going to send an order, I’m going to do it. I make money off that order too… You reminding me several times only annoys me. If it’s been a day or two since you’ve heard from me verbally, sure send an email. But seriously, you wouldn’t believe the pesky sales folks that are out there… Ironically they are usually with the smallest media companies. I always think to myself, wouldn’t it be the larger media company reps that have more to gain from their orders? An order for $150 can’t possibly make that great of a difference in your paycheck that it’s worth the effort of 5 calls in a day. But you’d be surprised… Seriously. You’d be surprised about a lot of things I’ve learned working on the agency side…
  • Make it your goal to help the agency look like a hero in the eyes of the client. A mentor of mine who I sold media alongside at a TV station had owned his own agency prior to selling at the station. He used to tell me that our job as media reps was the make the agencies look like heroes to their clients. It never resonated with me as much as it does now. As an agency owner I always want to make sure my clients know that I value their business and that I am consistently at bat for them to ensure that they get the very best placement, value and service. When an account executive makes the time to help me do this. I appreciate them greatly. It means a lot. It makes you appear to be on their team and that is a valuable place to be.
  • Don’t try to cut the agency out by going directly to the client when you know they have an agency of record. Most of the time, it makes you look bad to the client. I make it a priority to have great relationships with my clients. They have hired an ad agency for a reason. When you try to cut the agency out, most the time the client will refer you back to the agency… Guess how that makes the agency feel about you. Yep, not good. Be respectful.
  • Learn what you are selling. Educate yourself as much on competitive media as you do the media you sell. You MUST know what you are selling. Taking the time to invest in your personal knowledge will pay dividends. If your employer doesn’t make education available to you, seek it out. If you are a commission sales person it is in your best interest to learn regardless of what your employer makes available. Once you become super knowledgeable you can implement the next bullet point.
  • Become a resource. Want to be seen as an asset? Become a resource. There are a few reps that consistently send me educational materials, email updates, interesting articles, etc. in a way that seems educational not salesy. I’m not talking about sending a one sheet with a giant graph with your overnight ratings on it bragging about your awesomeness. I mean sending an article from a respected source that talks about the study of the effectiveness of behavioral retargeting or tips on how to encourage consumer engagement for example.
  • Don’t demand to meet in person. Honestly, we’re busy. It’s not you, it’s me. I have a lot on my plate and my clients will always be my greatest priority. It’s hard for me to get away for lunch. Sometimes it’s a nice treat. But sometimes I really don’t have time. Don’t take that as a surefire sign I’m not going to do business with you. Be consistent with good information and become a resource via email and you’ll definitely be top of mind when I need your media outlet for a buy.
  • Lastly and perhaps most important, yet the rarest quality to find in a media rep?Accuracy and prompt follow up and follow through. I think about this a lot. I think I have it figured out. As salespeople we are often wired to be big picture thinkers. Talkers, communicators and influencers. Yet we struggle with details and follow through on the little things. It’s amazing to me how often errors are made and how few reps there are that I can count on to execute flawlessly. This is an imperative thing to agencies because when you mess up it makes them look bad in front of their clients. Circle back to the bullet point about making the agency look like a hero. When you forget to book an order (yes, at KOMO I did this!) or run the wrong copy, you make the agency look like they aren’t on their game. Be the rep that the agency has full faith in. You’ll become a trusted resource. I promise.

That’s all for now. Just thought it might be useful to account executives out there with 2013 budgets looming and little on the books past January. These things will make you a better sales rep for advertising agencies. As for direct accounts, that’s a different animal. Best of luck to you all this year, I’m optimistic. My clients seem to be doing well. If you want a better resource than my random blog I read a book called The Million Dollar Media Rep when I was in sales. It’s probably 5 or 6 years old now but I have all my interns and employees read it. It is focused on TV and radio sales but the concepts are great and the advice is valuable.

2013 is upon us so take the opportunity to start fresh with your agencies. Call them and ask how you be a greater asset this year. Seriously, no one does that. Ask for criticism even *gasp!*. Tell them you want to make yourself a greater resource this year and honestly you’d like to know if you’ve missed the mark in years past servicing their account. That will go a long ways. And between us, if you have the courage to ask that question and if you took the time to read this entire blog, you probably haven’t missed the mark. You’ll likely just get kudos! And who doesn’t love a kudo!? ;)



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