Is the Sales Approach Part of Yellow Pages’ Woes?

As the Kelsey Group has been studying the sales approach in the local media space, what has struck me is the lack of innovation on the part of the Yellow Pages. In the past, the Yellow Pages sales force has been viewed as a competitive advantage because of its size and depth of existing clients. What we’ve observed of late are a few chinks in this armor, not only in the U.S., but overseas as well. 

One of the key drivers of weakness has been the shorter contract periods of online products. Many SEM products are working off a 90-day contract, while others require additional support and attention because of seasonality or various promotions throughout the year. As more online products are added, small businesses are moving away from 12-month contracts requiring more contact with the salesperson. This level of constant contact has not been part of the Yellow Pages sales strategy or skill set. 

We have also observed local media making a slow change over from transactional selling to a more solution-focused consultative approach. The years of new product development and online feature and benefit training have led to a sales force ill equipped to answer the fundamental question of small businesses: “How does all of this fit together to help my business?”

In our survey of the sales channel, 48 percent of small businesses see this as the true value of working with a salesperson. Local business are asking salespeople to be platform neutral and show them how to put together a media approach that maximizes their budget and provides the number of leads they need to stay in business and be competitive. With the variability of the compensation between print and online products, platform neutrality gets in the way of where salespeople are making money, further complicating the current situation. 

The directory segment still has the advantage of size and customer depth, but the 2009 sales results definitely highlight the need for a sales approach revolution. We can always blame the economy, but if we take the time to listen to the needs of the small business, I think a different story of why directories are losing revenues might emerge. How are directory companies addressing this issue and how are salespeople themselves working to better meet the needs of their advertisers? We’d like to hear from you.    

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Ed Kohler

    I see similar issues with small businesses I work with. Once they become comfortable with online marketing channels, they start holding offline marketing opportunities to similar accountability thresholds. When that happens, the offline channels tend to fall flat. Faith based advertising based on inflated circulation numbers is tough to justify against real-time measurable impressions, visits, leads, calls, and new business.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Ed I agree. The online world has significantly impacted offline media. The measurement factor requires more explanation and contact with the customer so they understand what it all means and how to use it to their advantage. Tagging on to this is the need for education on new products and how they fit into the overall media plan, then education on how best to maximize their content, presence and spend level — all of which require more touches.

  3. D Smith

    Hello Mr Taylor,I appreciate you taking the time to write a piece like this, however I have a couple of questions for you,
    Are you yourself in Yellowpages sales, or do you just write about it from a managers postion?
    If we were talking about word processors, or typwriters, or VCR’s would you write a blog about how the sales people are ill equipped, and ineffective at communicating value to thier customers?
    And finally where do the managers, marketers, and outside consulting firms that are paid millions in yellow pages revenue (revenue created by the salespeople) fit into the responsibility equation?
    As the world has changed, it has always been the “Sales people in the trenches” that suffer the brunt of poor marketing and managment, and it has been the same people, that revive the economy, and keep a struggling company affloat in trying times.

  4. Mike Centorani-VP of Training for Matchcraft, Inc.

    I would also like to thank The Kelsey Group for taking the time to write this blog post on the sales approach with yellow pages companies. Both The Kelsey Group and the comments about the post raise some excellent points.

    As a person who now trains sales reps both in the US and Europe on the SEM sales approach (and been in the yellow pages industry as a sales rep, sales manager, and sales trainer for 25 years), I believe it is the right time to discuss some constructive ways for both yellow pages companies and their sales reps to help improve the sales approach, and very glad that TKG wrote this post.

    The Kelsey Group mentioned one of the key drivers of weakness being the shorter length of time of the contracts which would require more contact with the sales reps. This is a change, but if handled correctly, could be a positive change. One of the ways this could be helpful is if the yellow pages sales rep’s approach truly does move from a transactional approach to a more solutions-based approach as TKG suggests is slowly happening. This means that the sales rep is able to truly understand each individual business owner’s needs and objectives by asking the right questions-then as TKG suggests, show the business owner how the right mix of their solutions (print, IYP, and SEM) “will fit together to help my business”.

    This also means that the sales rep sets the right expectations and again, as TKG suggests, is truly “platform neutral” when it comes to making the right recommendation…and the right sale. This means knowing how to suggest the right mix of product solutions that will help the business owner achieve their objectives based on the needs of the business owner…not always the pre-packaged solution that was developed before speaking to the business owner.

    Anyone who has ever sold advertising to small business owners knows this what they want. A trusted sales consultant who is both knowledgeable about their own products, but also someone who has done their homework and knows how to ask specific and significant questions about the business owner’s business with the goal of “making the right sale” for that business…not just any sale. For more information on what is meant on making the right sale, feel free to read more and comment on this subject at http://blog.matchcraft.com/.

    Again, I would like to thank and praise TKG for bringing up some great points here. If the yellow pages companies do the right things in the upcoming months…they could be best choice for small business owners for years to come!

  5. Michael Taylor

    Thanks to everyone for weighing in on this subject. Having been involved in Yellow Pages sales, management and sales strategy, I wrote this post clearly holding a mirror up to my past activities and recommendations. The Kelsey Group has been asked time and again in the last 12-18 months how to migrate local media reps from the transactional approach most media outlets have followed to a more consultative, solution-based now demanded by SMBs. No local media outlet has been spared from this call to action — but most have stumbled or are just starting the process.

    The point of the post is that the real advantage of the local media sales force, and Yellow Pages in particular, could be slipping away if changes are not made. Setting the expectation of salespeople as media consultants without proper training is just setting people up for failure. We believe so strongly in this that we recently developed a solution-based multiproduct sales training program to address how online products can be effectively integrated with traditional media products (http://www.kelseygroup.com/salestraining.asp).

    The years of product and feature and benefit training has taken a toll on reps and managers who have been left to figure out how it fits into the sales process and how to effectively educate and communicate value and benefits to SMBs. This is a serious issue and one we hope is being addressed by every local media sales force.

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    nice blog…To have a professional yellowpage script for busines listings which is full featured and affordable business directory script click the link below….
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