Media sales teams fail advertisers by not picking up the phone

Media sales and advertisers have a serious communication problem. According to Tonic Health Media’s Jack Mortlock, however, the great knowledge gap could be solved with one simple solution: picking up the phone.

I want you to step back and remember 2007. Some of you reading this will be like “Dude, I was 12”. However, just in case your rocks had already dropped, you are probably remembering a happy time. At that time I was running the Consumer Finance Sections at Fairfax, we closed 100 sections a year every year.

Over three years I honed a skill that I think, by-and-large, has been lost – the skill of media sales. I’d like to think that I was pretty good at it, but I wasn’t alone. There was a massive floor of us, chasing ad dollars, grinding the phone, whipping up interest.

Things have changed. Technology coupled with a breadth of advertising opportunity has done three things. One, it has simplified navigating an extremely confusing advertising mix. Two, it has homogenised campaigns potentially for the worse. Three, many of us have forgotten the most important tool of them all – how to sell stuff.

Sure, the days of six-hour lunches may be no longer viable, but I’m genuinely worried that a culture of automation is killing the skill of the sales person forever. Powerful electronic communication tools, combined with automated trading and smart data have no doubt improved all our lives.

I just think that sometimes, we have to pick up the phone and have a conversation to find out exactly why advertisers, and their agencies, are buying media. ‘Sales’ may have become a dirty word to some, but it’s ultimately about understanding needs, and delivering upon them.

To offer the best campaigns, sales teams need to know the niggle, i.e. the business problem they’re trying to solve. Today it seems media sales teams don’t want to make phone calls, and agency staff don’t want to pick them up. It’s creating a knowledge gap that’s harming media effectiveness and wasting advertisers’ money.

Instead of sales calls, we now have emails. In these emails, we send briefs and pitches, often accompanied with a 20-page PowerPoint deck. From the sales side, young reps jam emails full of product features and benefits. They hope what they’ve prepared is enough, but they can’t be sure. It’s a process filled with uncertainty. They don’t know the human elements; they don’t know the advertisers’ concerns.

Often times, it’s through conversations that the real need behind an advertiser campaign gets discovered. It comes up organically over the phone, or over a coffee, or a drink.

These little details are typically left out of the brief because they don’t match the tone of a formal document. When sales staff don’t pick up the phone, and don’t cultivate personal relationships with their agency contacts, they can fail to build an understanding of the real underlying campaign drivers.

This knowledge gap causes pitches to suffer across all vendors and advertisers don’t get as much insight, innovation or value.

I got a good piece of advice once. Good salespeople don’t sell, they create an ‘opportunity to buy’. To create a compelling ‘opportunity to buy’, sales reps have to understand the advertiser’s business problem. They have to earn the right to respond to genuine demand. You’re far more likely to do that with an honest phone call than over a sterile email.

All business is ultimately based on relationships, and the media industry needs to remember this. Of course, digital disruption is here, and is very real. It’s creating opportunities to trade that we could have once only dreamed of. But however hard we try, robots can’t cut a deal like a well-placed and commercial salesperson. Let’s not let the skill slip away forever.

So all you sales reps out there – pick up the phone and start grinding. And all you agency girls and guys, be up for the chat. You’ll be amazed with what we can do.

Jack Mortlock is commercial director at Tonic Health Media.