Manage Sales or They’ll Manage You (out the door)

You know the saying: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Managing an advertising sales process is a challenge that has stumped many advertising sales executives for one simple reason.  While they may be personally good at judging the interest of a prospect in a sales situation, and good at moving the process along as a result of their instincts and experience, they have a hard time teaching their sales team the same skills.

As a result, many media sales managers have a very difficult time with forecasting their company’s business. Will you be up or down next month? How much business should you be forecasting for 6 months from now? Management hates surprises, so the pressure is on.

Goals and Incentives Are Not Enough

The advertising sales process is particularly frustrating for inexperienced managers because the purchase-decision process at an advertiser or media-buying agency is so opaque.  While one person may be identified as the “buyer” they are often not the key contact in terms of influence.

A proper sales management process allows an advertising sales manager to view this complex world in quantifiable ways:

  • Rigorously grade the prospect list to assess where to spend time; aiming to focus time and energy on the prospects with the optimum combination of highest likelihood of spending something with you and the greatest opportunity.  What are the requirements for an account to be an “A,”  “B,” or “C” account?
  • Understand the steps in the sales process that make a difference; from contact, to initial sales presentation, to advancing the sale through the advocacy of the initial contact, to proposal and closing.  What are the levels of interest — shown by the contacts — that enable a potential piece of business to be forecast as 10% likelihood?  50% likelihood?  90% likelihood?
  • Use a system, whether it is Sales Force or Magazine Manager or an Excel spreadsheet, to track each account in the sales process from “suspect” to “prospect” to “opportunity,” to “proposal,” “verbal” and “order”

Coach Your People

Developing these metrics will also help sales managers coach their sales people.  Is a sales person successfully moving a reasonable portion of “suspects” to “prospects” who have money to spend and a need you can fill?  How well is the sales person moving “prospects” to “opportunities” where you know the size of the possible order and the process it will take to win?  To what percentage of opportunities is the sales person making formal proposals?  What is the volume of opportunities and of proposals?  How frequently are proposals being closed?  How do these metrics compare with peers?

When a sales manager knows these metrics, he or she can begin to add value with encouragement, coaching and participation to improve results.

Avoid Over Optimism

Too many sales people come back from an appointment where a prospect expressed only polite interest, thinking they have had a “good call.”  But in reality, there is a chasm between a contact’s agreement to “stay in touch” and a contact’s agreement to set up a meeting for a sales person to meet with their group or their boss or their client.  Advancing a prospective account toward a sale requires reciprocal investment of time, information, or internal political capital from the  contact.  Only when this contact has either clearly stated the parameters you need to meet in a proposal to win (not just “your best price”), or agreed to help you sent up a meeting with other influencers, are you advancing the sale.  Without reciprocal effort from your contact you are likely to be stuck on un-stated objections that must be uncovered and addressed.

Another pitfall in media sales and sales management is when a sales person or ad-sales manager is decieved by the invitation to submit a proposal.  Many media buyers will get rid of a sales person by saying “I’ll send an RFP,” when they have no intention of taking the proposal seriously.  Again, a proper sales process will help ad-sales management determine when it is worth investing time in a proposal.  Only with a clear understanding of where your property stands in the sales process can you manage the time, energy and resources of your team for positive results.



About Daniel M. Ambrose

Ambrose, launched, corp. in 1994 to provide sophisticated strategy consulting and advertising sales training to advertising-driven media clients in the U.S. and abroad. Starting with the founding of and iVillage in 1995, has worked with hundreds of clients to help accelerate advertising revenue growth.