DMS ’08: Taking It to the Street

The theme of actively evolving local ad sales forces, touched upon by Charles Laughlin this morning, continued at DMS in a session titled “From Perception to Performance: The Sales Channel Revolution.”

“Multi-product selling is becoming a means to survival,” said Kelsey Group Analyst Michael Taylor. “SMB expectations are changing. They’re wanting sales reps to be more analytical and explain how all of these ad mediums differ and fit together. They need to be educators, analysts and consultants.”

This challenge is not only brought on by advertiser expectations, but also the emergence of a varied bundle of media trickling down to the local level more and more — including SEM, video and some social networking. The bundle will continue to grow and will also include IPTV and mobile over the next few years. With more formats likewise come more providers and more media sources calling on SMBs — creating a buyer’s market for local media.

“Among SMBs, we’re seeing a higher need for local search to prove value,” said Taylor. “If I’m an SMB and you can show me that you can stretch my $1,000 ad budget more than anyone else, I’ll consider it. Otherwise I’m going to talk to the many other reps knocking on my door.”

Generation Gap

With this transformation in local media, a great deal of the challenge for local media also comes down to generational factors. Older reps — those who panelist Robert Hawthorne said “bleed yellow” — have been conditioned for many years to sell print. Shifting to more interactive products isn’t an easy transition at the point of sale. Younger reps, conversely, are more interested and savvy with online advertising.

“Many [local] sales reps come from the BC era, which is ‘before cyber.’ They are not as good at coping with change,” said Eitan Ackerman, global executive director of marketing of Amdocs’ Advertising & Media Division. ” ‘After cyber’ reps grew up on search and are much better positioned to take on this market.”

There are lots of obvious generational issues for this variance in tech savvy, and many younger reps gravitate toward the decidedly more hip local sales organizations, according to Hawthorne’s survey data. His firm, Hawthorne Executive Search, specializes in the Yellow Pages industry and generates surveys of Yellow Pages sales reps, among other things.

The more popular employers include local online pure plays like Yodle, ReachLocal and Citysearch. Neil Salvage, Citysearch executive VP of sales and service, sat on the panel, and added that users of certain media generally understand them better and therefore make better reps.

“Citysearch users make the best sales reps because they have used it, know what it can do and can sell it,” he said. “That for me has stayed consistent. It’s just like print Yellow Pages reps that use it and can sell it because they believe in its power to users.”

The Almighty Dollar?

But there’s more to it, according to Hawthorne. Among his points of reform for the industry is to not only train new and existing reps to sell online more effectively, but also to change the compensation packages that incentivize print sales over other formats.

Sales reps themselves are asking for it, he said, with 75 percent of those in his surveys claiming a preference to sell multiple products (up from 60 percent last year). Citysearch’s Salvage added that many of his reps prefer quality of life — in being able to sell the interactive products they want to sell — over financial considerations.

“They want to be media consultants and not be pressured to sell print nor have comp plans that emphasize print,” said Hawthorne. “Whatever they sell, they want to get a commensurate rate. That’s not going to happen right away, but that’s what they’re asking for.”

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