When I started in radio sales, the company I went to work for after leaving programming and operations ran an AM/FM combo that simulcast all of their programming. Selling for these two stations meant every spot sold was heard on both broadcast bands. (Piece of cake)
Then one day, the owner announced the signals were being split apart. The AM station would program an entirely different format from the FM station, but the sales team would be selling both separately programmed radio stations. (A two layer cake)
Anyone who has some history in the radio business will tell you the answer to the age old question of whether it’s better to field two separate sales teams for an AM/FM combo versus having one sales team. In fact they will give you a definitive answer: “it depends.” (Did someone leave my cake out in the rain?)
Before the radio industry could wrap their brain around this puzzle regarding sales staffing, along comes the Telcom Act of 1996 and companies now own clusters of radio stations. It was now possible for a cluster to number 5 or more radio stations serving a metro. (My cake is melting, melting. Did I mention I never really understood the lyrics to MacArthur Park?)
One brave company in Florida announced they were going with the single sales force concept for their nine station cluster. That got my attention as I was now in management. Well you can imagine I wanted to catch up with these folks at the next RAB Managing Sales Conference to find out how it was going. I did. I asked. The answer they gave me? “Oh well.” “Oh well?” I asked puzzled. They then explained it was very difficult to find radio sales person who could manage selling multiple formats (music, talk, sports, etc). They maybe had one person on their rather large sales team that could do it. A couple could handle maybe 50% of the cluster at the same time, but the rest maybe two radio stations in the cluster at most. The result was they abandoned the idea of one sales team selling everything.
Closer to home, I launched a print program at a cluster I was managing that had an AM station, an FM station and an LMA’d FM station. We had separate a separate sales team selling the LMA’d FM station and a combo sales team selling the owned AM/FM stations. It was decided that all sales people would now sell the new print program. I should explain the print program was actually two components. It was a quarterly coupon book distributed in five different mailing zones in the metro and then there was a calendar that was sold in all the mailing zones on an annual basis.
So, my sales force was now responsible for selling radio spots (and promotions) where you saw the advertiser today and he started in the next couple of days. A print coupon book where you saw the advertiser today and the ad would come out in the next quarter. And an ad in a calendar you sold today and it came out next year.
So how did that work out? Fabulously, actually. Till it didn’t.
What we would learn is it was a good way to launch and put immediate new revenue on the books. Over time the print program re-trained our radio sellers; which was an unintended consequence. They soon learned when an advertiser said they didn’t want radio ads; they had found themselves a print customer.
After an ownership change, I made the decision to break away our print program into a separate entity with its own management and sales people.
So it was no surprise when Borrell Research came out with their latest research study this week “2015 UPDATE: Assessing Local Digital Sales Forces” and it said that those companies that had sales people who were digitally focused produced more digital revenue than those that had one sales team selling everything. You can find the full report clicking on the hyper-link.
Quoting from Borrell’s Executive Summary: “The result is stark: Those with digital-only sellers report far greater confidence in their staff’s ability to understand market trends and clients’ digital needs, and they generate four times as much digital revenue. For instance, two different newspapers, each with a total of 22 sales reps, reported $7 million in digital sales last year and $360,000 in digital sales. The difference? One had seven digital-only reps; the other had none.
But before you get the idea that I’m taking the position separate is best, it really depends…..depends on the skill level of your sales people and their embracing of new technology and new ideas.
When I was starting out in radio sales I got to see and hear a lot of great sales trainers. One that I really liked was Don Beverage. Don would categorize sellers in one of four ways. They were “Commercial Visitors,” “Product-Oriented Peddlers,” “Problem Solvers,” or “Sustaining Resources.” See the snake in the wood pile when it comes to answering the question “Combined or Separate?”
If your sales team is made up of first three types of sellers, separate your sales force. If they are level four sales people, “Sustaining Resources” then you might win with a combined force. But here’s one more twist. The very best sellers will be “Problem Solvers” with some of their clients and “Sustaining Resources” with others. Even Don Beverage was quick to point out that reaching the level of “Sustaining Resource” was being in rarified air.
So you know a “Sustaining Resource” level of selling is when the client believes in you so much that they pick up the phone and call you in BEFORE they take the first step in the advertising/marketing program. YOU are part of the team that will create and design the strategy and then plan out the tactical steps to get to the finish line and win.
So there you have it. Put on MacArthur Park by Richard Harris and spend the 7-minutes, 25-seconds and ponder what’s best for your operation.