How Times Have Changed for Salespeople in Publishing

Clients have changed with the times, and so has the way that publishing sales professionals reach them. “Revenue and conversion rates are falling,” says Peter Houston at The Media Briefing. And with so many choices, clients are taking longer and much more complicated paths from the top of the sales funnel to the bottom.

The old client relationship tools don’t work anymore. And advertiser loyalty comes at a steep price. Clients are pushing back now. They’re better educated about the advertising process and have a better understanding of the metrics that mean their dollars spent are affecting the right kind of change. Sales had one job, says Houston. And like many others in the industry, now they wear a great many hats.

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Gone are the Days . . .

It wasn’t that long ago when advertisers bought the package and hoped for the best. After all, the sales team knew what they were doing. And there weren’t a lot of options, to begin with. Now, with so many different platforms and advertisers a bit wary of buying into something that isn’t proven to work, sales has a much harder job.

Clients want results, but they want to understand the potential risk / reward factors before writing a check. And that means sales people have to become experts in a lot more than just display ads. Becoming experts in emerging trends can be a moving target, but it’s one that clients expect to be hit.

Sales Needs an Advisor Angle

Clients might not know everything that they need to about ad placement, platforms and performance. But they know that the information is there. So they rely on sales to act in an advisory capacity. Houston says, “Media sales people must really understand the objectives of their clients.”

But some marketing professionals say that this should always have been the case. Informa head of marketing, Fergus Gregory, tells Houston that “It was never about selling space.” The problem is that when the industry was simpler with only one or two channels, that’s how it worked in reality. It’s about teaching as much as selling now. And clients want to learn.


Sales pros have become the great communicators of information.

It Comes Down to Understanding the Publisher’s Audience

To work with clients in a teaching and advisory capacity, sales has to know the publisher’s audience inside and out. What works great for one publication might not for another, all because the audience is different. And that adds yet another layer of complexity to the job. But there’s more.

Raul Monks, director and founder of Flume, says “The sales person has to help their client step into the shoes of the audience.” Sales doesn’t need to understand the client product as much as the client audience, he says. That’s the common thread: finding the client’s target audience within the publication’s audience, then mapping out the best path to reach them.

For the sales teams knocking it out of the park these days, the industry changes are a good thing. When you deal with the most fundamental elements of clients and their customers, you deal with living elements instead of a commodity. You can shift and change course more effectively because your strategy isn’t rooted in an ad product, but in the results that the client needs.

Sales teams, and in fact the whole publishing industry, has been working through perhaps the greatest revolution in history. It’s almost been as if a bucket of parts was poured out onto a table and every day since then has been an effort to put them back together in a more effective way.

Sales seem to be onto something because they’re drilling down to the basics. That might seem ironic, given how much more complicated the work has become. But there’s also a greater clarity. You might have more products to sell and more metrics to track than ever before. But you’re likely to get much better ad results, too. And today, results are matter more than anything else.

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