EPIC FAIL: Separate Digital Sales Teams

Did this happen at your Newspaper, TV or Radio station?

Consultants told you to hire a separate digital sales staff to win online. You were told that traditional staffs could never sell interactive marketing to local business. So, upon that consultant’s recommendation, you hastily hired a bunch of hip 20-somethings with i-Phones and limited sales chops to start knocking on doors.

Outside of a few success stories, this strategy is a money loser and massive time suck. Not because the digital reps are weak, (many are really great) but because they’ll likely be set up to fail by reporting up to a print manager. While newspapers waste precious resources trying to make this work, Reach Local, Google and the Yellow Pages actively steal local dollars right from under your nose.

We’ve seen it first hand. A newspaper hires a separate digital sales team and the print team immediately shuts down. The ‘burden’ of selling digital was taken off their shoulders. As time goes by, the print team falls even further behind with understanding digital. Why should they care? The digital reps do all of that really hard, icky stuff.

We’ve know many so-called ‘old-school’ print & broadcast vets selling digital like a pro. How does this happen? It’s simple. These legacy sales teams have excellent client relationships and the maturity to sell just about anything. All you have to do is provide regular training, attractive financial motivation, a simple sales process and smart leadership from the top.

So think twice before someone tells you that your print or broadcast staff can’t be trained for web. It’s a total fabrication and it’s incredibly disrespectful to the sales reps. It’s also foolish to avoid teaching digital reps about traditional sales. They’re very interested in becoming multi-platform pros. The digital team is not only in front of many new business targets, but they’re also in the best position to upsell digital advertisers to print.

Need more details on this issue, we have plenty of well documented case studies. Email or call us. Here’s one example: Major Newspaper companies like Morris Communications now merging their once separate teams.

TOP REASONS:  Separate web-sales will hurt your online and traditional business

1. Internal civil wars will erupt between print & web teams. (bank on that one)

2. Print reps look out-of-touch when they can’t talk about, and sell simple web marketing concepts.

3. Digital rep not properly incented to sell print and other non-digital products to advertiser.

4. Where do you find good digital sellers? If they’re good, they’re already living large with a pure-play.

5. Multiple points of sales contact between a media company & advertising client is always bad.

7. Allows boss to blame poor web sales on digital reps, not current sales system & traditional team.

8. You failed to fully understand the unique situation of Deseret Media in Salt Lake City.


9 thoughts on “EPIC FAIL: Separate Digital Sales Teams”

  1. I don’t take it lightly when consultants try to influence the industry with misguided opinion. I want to see local media survive, and thrive. This type of advice will cause it to fail. When you take fact — a vast database of more than 5,700 media companies’ digital revenues — and match it up with top performers in terms of market share, you see that those with separate staffs clearly perform better. I wish you’d stop trying to guide the newspaper/TV/radio industry to be newspapers/TV/radio stations, and coach them to be media companies instead. Had they taken similar advice 60 years ago, they’d have their newspaper salespeople peddling TV commercials. Ninety years ago, their newspaper reps would be trying to sell radio spots.

    Egad, I’ve never seen such misguided advice. If this never gets published, I’ll take it lock stock and barrel and publish it in my own blog. I’ll wait until Aug. 23….. And yes, that’s a challenge.

    If it does, I’ll be surprised. And I’d be very eager to see responses from those who disagree with me and believe that “convergence” sales is the best path to success.

  2. We love ya Gordon. Really. But the industry needs to clean house with old school tactics & advice.

    Agreed. Separate web-sales staffs usually perform better. But only when you compare that performance against legacy sales tactics.

    I know from first-hand experience… the pros & cons of converged vs separate sales staffs. I’ve been part of both….from the inside.

    My recommendations are rock solid and based on 10 years of real world, experience. I know they upset the Borrell business model. I apologize for that.

    Many of our colleagues, friends and co-workers continue to lose their jobs every day. Their bosses pay handsomely for “must attend” conferences and “must have” reports. Not sure if that stuff works anymore.

    You have benefited greatly, by leading those who have put trust in you. We thank you for that. It’s now time for new tactics. Time is running short.

    Borrell (and other) research; while certainly helpful on occasion, too often becomes a crutch for those who would prefer to outsource web strategy to geeky data.

    Ironically, I do agree that separate staffs are best. But only when that staff has NOTHING to do with the traditional side. Most separate web staffs are still handcuffed to the whims of the print side. Readers of this post can feel to reach out to me, so that I can share many, many examples.

    Please, Mr Borrell, admit that your advice certainly has it’s limits. That’s ok. You have served many well in the past. It’s also very easy to spin research numbers.

    Thanks for taking the time to read our blog posts.

    We are honored that you follow us.


  3. Mel:

    You and I have known each other for a long time – even to a point of you admitting “learning much from me.”

    I’m going to sit on the other side of your argument this time; there is far too much for a traditional sales team to learn to sell digital properly – and that opinion, too, comes from well over a decade of in the trenches and observation.

    You point that a digital sales person will be “…set up to fail by reporting up to a print manager.” That’s a point I agree with you on, but one that states, it’s time to get rid of the print sales manager and replace them with someone who understands both sides.

    Training an old dog new tricks is more difficult than getting a knowledgeable new tricks person to understand how things used to be done.

    I’ll stand with Gordon Borrell on this point: New knowledge is needed to sell digital.

    Borrell & Associates has done an exception job of conveying that idea… but there are, still, many old timers who refuse to accept the message.

  4. There you go again, Mel. If newspapers follow your advice, they’ll fail as print companies and badly fumble the digital opportunity as well. So your advice is, replace the bums with sound managers who can implement a converged strategy? Convergence is an ill-founded idea, as is the whole digital first concept. While I’m eager to engage in any discourse that might help local media companies evolve, I find it curious that you tend to spin your vitriol around people who’ve either snubbed you, declined to engage your services, or perhaps competed with your one-man consulting business. I don’t take lightly your déclassé, veiled slaps at Borrell Associates. We’ve built a solid company with more than 1,000 clients, so you should expect me to speak up on behalf of both the company and on behalf of those clients how continuously put their trust in is. One more thing…. I really don’t follow your blog. It has been called to my attention a few times since the beginning of this year by people who have passed it along, as if to say, “Hey, look. This wingnut keeps taking cheap shots.” I ignored it until it became clear that my silence might be mistaken for an unwillingness to tweak the pink ears of a guy who enjoys tossing stink bombs to get attention.

  5. Gordon,
    Evolve? It’s time to act or die my man. The time to evolve should of taken place a decade ago. You also sound really small and petty by what you wrote.

    Newspapers are already failing and they continue to do so by focusing on the next quarter instead of planning for being in existence for the next quarter century.

    I would suggest you take a week and pick a market to focus on. Philly, Orlando, Salt Lake, take your pick.

    Make some cold calls (yourself) to local businesses in that market. Talk to the decision makers of those businesses. You will quickly learn that they don’t need and can’t afford print. It simply doesn’t work anymore. Banner ads in and of themselves are equally useless. There is no return on investment for most businesses.

    This would be valuable “data” for your clients.

    What local businesses (the lifeblood of local media) need is help navigating the online world and all of the marketing opportunities that are there that can help their businesses.

    Understanding exactly what the businesses who fund you and your client’s existence actually need is absolutely central to long term success. This can not be understood by polls or spreadsheets. It takes ears on phones and feet on the ground to understand. It takes innovators, not statisticians, or dare I say, “consultants.”

    The idea that a sales staff should be divided is complicated and overly complex (i.e. expensive.) What you should be advising your clients is that the old sales people need to be retrained and brought up to speed on how to sell print, online and marketing services. If they can’t or won’t learn, then fire them. They are useless to the organization’s future which is digital.

    So, while newspapers and other old world media continue to look at spreadsheets, data and evolution for a solution, I will continue to eat off their plates. And every month, I take bigger and bigger bites thank you very much.

  6. Mel,

    While some may feel attacked at your statement or approach, I believe you are correct and it is a topic that needs much more debate and discussion within the industry.

    My first point would also be that it may depend upon the size of the market – most community markets may not be able to sustain to complete sales forces as there is only so many dollars to go around.

    My second point would be to say that we need two sales forces is really saying that we have no faith in our current force and it’s ability to learn new technology and/or strategies.

    Lastly, creating another sales force isn’t a sales issue, it is really a management issue. Either your sales people learn and adapt or you manage them into another career – creating another sales force is just taking the easy way out and avoiding those tough management decisions.

    I am of the opinion that there is a middle ground in this debate and that is the role of trainer and teacher. Why not have a integrated sales force that has the training and the resources of a couple “experts” that can go with, train and help the older reps navigate the new frontier?

    We will one day have a totally digital sales force, but if I am newspaper, I am really not looking forward to that day as that will be the same day your press prints its last newspaper. I predict that day may come about the time the last baby boomer is unable to read the printed version. That will be the magical tipping point.

  7. This is a debate I have had several times with myself! My conclusion so far is one size does not fit all. I have seen traditional sellers and managers embrace the digital space and incorporate all their platforms into fantastic and effective solutions for their advertisers. And, yes, I have seen others fail miserably. I have seen organizations over-compensate for digital sales resulting in sellers spending too much of their precious time for $1000 where they could have sold their core products for 20x that. Currently I evaluate the market, staff and management before making any structure recommendations. Love this debate!

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