Why the sales “close” is now an obsolete concept

The lead image is an illustration of a woman on a paper plane in the sky.

By Matt Bartels, principal, Alexander Group

The binary concept of the sales “close” is outdated. From solution selling to introducing new roles and even integrating programmatic, many publishers feel unprepared to make key changes to their go-to-customer models to establish a contemporary sales organization.

The evolving media landscape

Customer demand for delivering solutions across multiple platforms — digital, linear, programmatic, self-service — is accelerating. The sales team must be knowledgeable of all products, platforms and client needs while also prepared to execute a deep dive into any solution sales scenario.

As marketers demand more complex solutions for customer activation, publishers are investing in new and expanded products, platforms, roles and capabilities. Alexander Group conducted research* with over 70 media executives and sales performance data collected from 50+ top media firms across pure play digital, integrated broadcast, integrated print, audio, and ad tech, surfacing five leadership mandates to guide marketers through a shifting sales landscape.  

1. Reap the benefits of solution selling

As advertisers move from legacy to experimental to solution buyers, they demand more multi-product campaigns from fewer publishing partners. The story remains consistent across media sales.

Print must offset declining legacy business by transitioning to digital and bundling creative. Broadcast looks to monetize streaming and addressable eyeballs. Digital publishers are shifting from display to more video and sponsored content. Ad tech providers must offer benefits beyond scale and efficiency, through more advanced targeting and other services.

Given this reality, innovative solution selling is the only viable long-term growth strategy for media sales. The research shows that solution-invested[1] organizations drive stronger revenue growth, as well as more revenue from new products and new customers. But what are the keys to a successful transformation?

2. Balance transactional and solution sales
While solution selling is a must for future growth, investment and focus must be balanced with transactional (or legacy) business. Why? Publishers and their core clients still heavily rely on it. Organizations need to match their coverage investment level with growth opportunity on an account-by-account — or even deal-by-deal — basis.

It is especially important to allocate resources strategically, as support and coverage required for solution sales results in higher cost per head. As one Chief Commercial Officer put it, “Transactional buyers need sales people; solution seekers need media consultants.”

3. Increase pre- and post-sale support investment

Account executives and account managers are becoming more involved before and after the sale. Specialized support roles are emerging in areas including insights/research, custom creative content, ad pps, partner management, measurement and customer success. “More and more often, responsibilities bleed across roles and sales cycle stages,” one media sales leader summarized. The research shows that this proliferation of roles and evolution of responsibilities drives 30-50 percent plus of coverage budget to pre- and post-sales, in large part to promote solution adoption up front and customer success and renewal on the back end.

4. Incorporate programmatic into the core
It’s no secret that the automation of media planning is a disruptive trend. However, there’s an opportunity for media sales forces to drive profitability and relationships through the programmatic channel. But beyond the challenge of designing your offerings is that of executing the plan through the right sales roles.

“We assumed programmatic sellers could transition from open to PMP/PG sales,” recalls one operations leader, “but we found that different skills and talent profiles are required.” And beyond this obstacle, the job is not over once the initial sale is made. “Revenue maximization post-sale is key,” a head of ad sales observed. “Any seller can set up a Deal ID, but you need hands on the keyboard to grow programmatic.” Accordingly, research finds that proactive organizations are staffing more programmatic specialists and assigning them revenue quotas.

5. Avoid promising too much and under delivering: Leveraging data to drive trust and retention
The rise of the data-driven marketer has created the data-driven publisher. As one CRO explained, “Connecting the data and building insights platforms is challenging, but getting the team to replace traditional selling tactics with more data-driven messages is just as difficult.”

To justify the high cost and complexity of modern media solutions, sales forces must make the business case to advertisers in the proposal, during the campaign and post-campaign by demonstrating ROI against client success metrics. Interviews with media sales leaders revealed that they have identified campaign measurement and reporting as their #1 investment area for 2020.

One head of sales finance currently engaged on a sales model transformation project stated, “My VPs are willing to trade sales talent budget for more measurement & analytics resources”.

The results are clear ― revenue and sales leaders need to address these five key mandates for success in 2020 and beyond. It’s even more important today to advance your revenue generating organization, differentiate your value propositions and define your path for growth ― all to win more, now.


More from Digiday

What TikTok’s e-commerce launch could mean for marketers and content creators

TikTok has officially launched its new e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop, earlier this month on August 1. Using the new e-commerce platform, brands and creators can sell products directly on the platform, potentially creating new revenue streams, and tap into the short-form video platform’s growing popularity.

‘The influencer industry can be really vile’: Confessions of an influencer marketer on the industry’s unfair hiring practices

While the influencer industry might sound exciting and like it’s full of opportunities, one marketer can vouch for the horrific scenarios that still take place behind the scenes.

Digiday+ Research: Marketers said revenue grew in the last year, with more growth expected ahead

After a tumultuous 12 months, marketers are getting a clear picture of how they really did during a time of true uncertainty. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad.