Structuring your sales team for maximum results

 When newspapers consider how to structure the best sales team possible to take advantage of a new age of unfamiliar digital revenue, the question is often asked—are a digital sales a gold mine or a minefield?

During the Structuring Your Sales Team panel at INK+BEYOND 2012, panelists David Turkstra, vice-president of digital media at Metroland, Don Spurrell, director of integrated solutions at Transcontinental Media, and Laurie Finley, vice-president of sales at the Winnipeg Free Press addressed the question surrounding how to best combine both digital and traditional sales operations, or whether they should be combined at all.

"There is a struggle with adapting to the new and very different ad medium that they have to sell," describes panel moderator and CEO of Primedia Sales Ron Clark. "What started out as online has turned into digital…how on earth are we able to keep pace with this fast-emerging digital world, let alone develop and manage a sales force to drive all this non-traditional revenue while ensuring that our traditional revenue stays around as long as possible?"

The choice lies between having current sales representatives sell digital on top of their current print sales operations, and thereby maintaining existing client relationships, or hiring a dedicated team of digital sales representatives who would no doubt be much more efficient.

"We can’t take any of our assets for granted," said Finley. At the same time, "you can’t be afraid of transferring revenue [from print to digital] as well. It’s not a bad thing…I’d rather we keep revenue than see it moving on to some other digital provider in the area."

It is sometimes tricky when implementing new sales strategies, the panelists admit, having to decide which situations warrant a dedicated sales team, and when the strategy would be a reasonable extension of what existing staff could already do. While one potentially wastes resources, the other runs the risk of overburdening a sales team.

In order to increase existing sales representatives’ efficiency, Finley described how the Winnipeg Free Press has its own digital sales certification—complete with half-hour class "sessions" and tiered exams that allow those who pass all three to be eligible for a bonus if they meet the initial digital sales target. If sales representatives continue to meet targets for six months, they get an iPad. In fact, when the certification was initially instated, Finley said, all of the representatives had to take the exams, and of those who passed, around half met their initial digital sales targets.

Existing sales teams are also better served if given a communications strategy specifically for digital sales, which work differently than print sales. Turkstra recalls one traditionally experienced sales team that was consistently selling zero for months. But that was because, Turkstra explains, the team was too used to sell to a wide, general audience, instead of a digital audience, who have narrower aims and niches. Once that distinction was made clear, the team became more successful.

However, circumstances also change according to how big the paper is, how big the readership is, and how much revenue is generated. Though these were both success stories, it is clear that for a paper of any size, there is no substitute for a paper knowing their advertisers, readers and users very, very well.