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Last week I had the opportunity to attend Yellow Pages Today!, hosted by Peter Buxton and Jesper Simonsen in Vienna. The event, titled “Staying Ahead in Search,” was well conceived and executed. The hosts often made the point that directories are the oldest and most successful commercial search engines in the world. To demonstrate the power of local focus, Peter Kusendahl, managing director of Eniro’s local Swedish directories called Din Del, told an interesting success story. Mr. Kusendahl is a Yellow Pages veteran who has worked in the industry for 25 years in the U.S., the Soviet Union and Sweden, among others.

Din Del publishes 183 directories and had suffered declining sales for several years when Mr. Kusendahl took over. A major challenge for an independent publisher in this market is that his parent company’s most significant product is the Swedish Yellow Pages (Gula Sidorna), which is used by 94 percent of all Swedes between 15 and 79. To get Din Del back on track, Mr. Kusendahl focused on local. He did that by selling only to SMEs and not to companies that were interested in multiple books. He introduced flexible pricing and cut the item mix from 20 to five products. In this time of increasingly sophisticated interactive electronic products, he took the Internet Yellow Pages product out of the salesman's bag. (The advantage here is that Internet-savvy Swedish small-business owners didn't engage the sales force in irrelevant discussions about the future of online that would have taken time away from their sales of print products.)

But that's not all. Mr. Kusendahl set up 15 local sales offices so they could listen to the needs of advertisers in each of their markets. He put in a new compensation structure, eliminated order entry by the sales reps, and had sales managers spend three days each week on joint calls and one day covering their own territories.

It worked. Din Del reversed its double-digit declines and has instead been enjoying double-digit increases. Most of the attendees at Yellow Pages Today! came to hear about successful electronic products, particularly search. Eniro bills itself as “the leading search company in the Nordic media market.” But Peter Kusendahl demonstrated the value of focusing on a few print products in local markets.

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