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.