Equipping Your Sales Force with the Knowledge They Need
With more than 150 print and digital B2B brands, PennWell Corporation’s Paul Andrews has had a front row seat to the changes that have swept the publishing industry in the past decade.
With more than 500 employees, the sales side of the company numbers about 100. Recognizing their crucial role in understanding the changing landscape, Andrews, who is chief revenue officer, has overseen the development of a four-month-long training school for new hires on the sales side at PennWell.
Andrews delivered the keynote address at this year’s Business Media Leadership Summit where he provided an inside look at the organization’s operation: revenue mix, trends, challenges, sales force structure, and an overview of their sales training academy. Part of that training is to help the sales team understand the changing needs of advertisers and their marketing challenges, which have morphed in tandem with the changes in publishing.
“At PennWell we built a roadmap so that every salesperson knows exactly what is expected of them so that they don’t miss a beat,” explains Andrews in conversation on Magazines Canada’s AudioMag podcast. “And so that they don’t miss any of those processes not only to generate revenue but, just as important, to meet the needs of the client.”
Part of Andrews’ strategy for the sales force has been to enable them to deeply understand the needs of individual advertisers, and be able to offer advertisers a plan that makes sense for them, rather than simply scheduling in a routine buy.
“I’m a firm believer and always have been on fundamentals of selling. What we always talk about is the true consultative sale, so moving away from the transactional full-page ad and ‘Can I sign you up next month,’ to truly understanding the entire needs of their business—not just the advertising, but all of the marketing, and come up with solutions that will help them drive their growth beyond advertising.”
Product Training vs Sales Training
With the changing roster of products that sales teams are tasked with selling, fundamental to success is an understanding of those products. Getting the balance between product training and improving on sales training is an important mix to get right.
“There is a huge difference between product training and sales training,” says Andrews. “We have done a lot of product training but where we failed was the true sales training. So the last two years we really have focused on sales training and in the last six months we have coupled sales training with product training. We will now have our product managers come in and discuss them, and in tandem have sales development managers immediately follow the product managers and then discuss how the product should be sold.”
Sales as Science
The processes that salespeople undertake in managing their prospecting and follow-up is one that Andrews has spent a lot of time fine-tuning, creating specific roles for specific functions, and implementing measuring tools to track the sales processes of individual salespeople.
“I really do believe sales is a science—and yes, there is some art to it, but we try to get all of our sellers very comfortable with the process of selling,” he explains. “And that is, everything where you start with your prospecting and what needs to be done during the prospecting phase to once you are on the phone call with the prospect, how are you building a rapport, identifying their pain points, to preparing a proposal with a necessary follow-up.”
With a sales team as robust as 100-plus, Andrews needed to develop a system whereby good talent was continually available to meet the turnover that is inherent in any team of that size. They could not afford a two-to-three month waiting period between one job opening up and finding a great candidate to fill the role. Their Sales Academy was the answer.
“We established the Sales Academy where we recruit recent college graduates that are interested in a sales career, and we put them through a four-month training program—everything from the academics of selling, to shadowing sales people and then to actual selling before they are formally placed with a publisher/brand team.”
Part of that team includes sales development managers, who in part serve as a sales support function but, crucially, also share a 360 degree feedback on what the sales reps could do better next time.
“They are in a support role and assist the sellers in truly becoming consultative sales. Our sales development managers by definition have agency and marketing backgrounds, so this way they have a really good feel of our customers’ perspective, as opposed to a sales background,” says Andrews. “So marketing expertise coupled with our sales expertise, we feel very comfortable that we are hitting every angle of a potential relationship.
“Right now we have about 100 sellers that we would define as employees and then we have a handful of independent reps mostly overseas that represent us in media sales or exhibit space sales.”
To track results, PennWell does an annual assessment of each salesperson via an in-depth survey of both the seller and their publisher.
“Not only do we go to the sellers and see how they rate themselves and what they perceive themselves being strong in or not,” says Andrews, “but we also compare that to the publishers’ perception and we work on those gaps.”
And the nitty-gritty is also assessed.
“Getting back to sales as a science—are they making phone calls? Are they sending out the emails? Are they pumping out the proposals? Because at the end of the day I truly believe that like anything else in sales it is a numbers game—you are not going to win business unless you have proposals in the marketplace. You are not going to have proposals in the marketplace if you aren’t having the phone calls.”
AudioMag is produced by Tina Pittaway, an award-winning independent writer and broadcaster. Tina has been a contributor to CBC Radio and Television for more than 20 years. Her radio documentaries have been honoured with a 2007 Gabriel Award, 2008 Amnesty International Media Award, 2009 Gold Medal at the New York Festivals and a Science in Society Award from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association. Visit Tina online to learn more about her work.
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This event is made possible with the support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation.