Tag Archives: radio sales
My students are always stunned when I tell them about the time I fired my top salesperson. “Why would you do that?” they always ask. Today, I’m going to share that story with you.
In today’s competitive world, top performers are usually cut a little slack. There’s nothing really wrong with that, unless it breaks a culture of honesty, fairness and trust.
If you’re in any kind of sales, you know that one of the ways management motivates and stimulates sales people are through the use of contests. Sales people are competitive folks and the best like to win. I know I do. In fact, I have a picture that has hung the wall of every office I’ve ever occupied. It says “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”
Well this latest sales contest was coming down to the wire and the sales people were running neck and neck. It was having every employee in the whole radio station wondering which one of the sales people would capture the top prize and finish first.
On the final day of the contest, just before the 5 o’clock bell rang signifying the end of the contest, my top sales person came running into my office with a contract that put him in first place. We all congratulated him on his win and went home to enjoy the weekend.
On Monday morning, my traffic and business department people came to me with that signed contract along with other signed contracts from that same client and it was quite apparent something was fishy. The signature turned in just before the bell on Friday was quite different than all the others.
I called my top sales person into my office along with my sales manager and we asked this person if the client had actually signed this contract. After some hemming and hawing, he said “NO.” He explained that the client was on a cruise and wouldn’t be back in the office until today and he was planning to go over there and get his approval for the advertising. He said that he knew the client would definitely agree to the advertising. I knew he would too. And that’s why it was so sad when I told him he was fired.
Enforcing a culture of honesty, fairness and trust is hard.
The only way you can maintain that culture is by understanding that you have to fire people no matter what their performance has been. You can’t build a great organization unless you commit to doing just that.
Unlike many other radio stations in my market, I had a waiting line of top sales people wanting to join my team. A great culture helps you attract the most talented people.
A half-dozen years later I was recruited back into this same market from the Midwest and had the task of launching a brand new radio format. I needed to hire people for every position.
The good news is that because of my reputation for honesty, fairness and trust, I attracted many in-market pros when I hung out the “Help Wanted” sign.
One of the people who came to see me and apply for a position on my new sales team was the top salesperson I had fired years ago. He was employed in sales at another radio station in the metro and was doing quite well. Most of the accounts he had on-the-air at his current station had already been assigned to sales people I had already hired. He didn’t care. He wanted to come back and work with me. We reviewed the past that led up to his termination and he swore he had learned his lesson and that it would never happen again. I believed him. It never did.
In his first 30-days, he sold over $100,000.00 in advertising. Most of it paid cash-in-advance. He once again was my top salesperson. I believe in second chances. I also believe in committing to the type of culture that wins with honesty, fairness and trust.
I worked in the radio industry for over forty years. In that time, I attended a lot of meetings, conferences and worked with radio companies owned by “mom & pop” to iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel).
The most often heard question everywhere I went was “How do I find people to sell for my radio station(s).”
Well I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is, it’s going to get worse. So what’s the good news? You’re not Google.
I was drawn in by an interesting article called “5 Reasons You May Not Want to Work for Google.” It makes some excellent points from the employee’s point of view. But the bigger question is WHY do so many people aspire to work for Google?
Google has created a powerful employee brand. Google did this by building a culture. The culture then virally spreads the good word about working at Google.
Radio has been good at building cultures over the years. I just finished reading Ron Jacob’s “KHJ – Inside Boss Radio” and Ron pulled back the curtain on this iconic radio station from its Top40 birth in 1965.
Just like Google, KHJ created a powerful employee brand. Every disc jockey aspired to work there. Every performer wanted their record played on KHJ. KHJ went from being the misfit of RKO General (its owner) to becoming the economic engine that would lead the entire media company. It even out-billed KHJ-TV9 in Los Angeles.
Think KHJ’s general manager asked “How do I find people to sell for my radio station?”
When I was managing WFPG in Atlantic City I was often asked where I found my sales people. I used to joke that it was easy, because the station was located in front of a bus stop and we’d just abduct them while they were waiting for the bus. The real answer was, we created a powerful employee brand in South Jersey.
We had the reputation of being a fun, professional and winning place to work. We had applications coming in on a weekly basis for just about every position.
Sitting just a short expressway drive from Philadelphia, many rookies would be told to head for Atlantic City and WFPG to learn the business. We had earned the reputation for producing top talent both on-the-air and in sales.
Most radio stations are afraid to lose people to bigger radio stations in larger radio markets, but not us. We knew that only enriched our employee brand. Word gets around quickly that you’re the path to radio’s big show. That type of buzz helps to keep your pipeline of great candidates full.
Every employee I hired, I told “Tell me where you want to go and I will do my best to get you there.”
I tell my students today what I told my employees for years: “what will you do this quarter that you can add to your resume of successes?” Success only happens if you plan to be successful.
Now you may be wondering if I ever lost a sales person to another radio station in my market and the answer is yes. I lost sales people to other stations when they were offered the job of sales manager or general manager. I celebrated their good fortune right along with them.
I also remember some people who left because they thought all radio stations operated the way we did only to learn that they didn’t. Some of those people returned and became even better employees than when they left.
It’s never been more important for radio station owners to focus on creating a strong employee brand. A recent study by the Career Advisory Board says 93 percent of hiring managers feel they can’t find the right talent for their jobs. The job applicant pool hasn’t been this lean since 2008. You can’t stop the aging process of 77 million Baby Boomers set to retire and the brain drain that will be created as they walk out the door.
The companies that put their focus on creating a strong employee brand will be the winners.
Remember, if you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.
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.