Yellowpages.com Upping the Sales Ante in Local Search

Yellowpages.com recently announced it would increase the number of its sales offices from two to 16, staffing each office with both field and telesales reps. While the move is a statement to the industry that Yellowpages.com plans to dominate local search via the strength of it sales force, it also signals a departure of the notion it could sell online directory and local search products primarily using telesales as well as through partner organizations, namely The Berry Co., in order to increase sales.

While an additional 14 sales offices appears to be a small number, the manpower to staff these offices is a major investment. TKG estimates the sales offices will have between 20 and 25 field sales reps and between 8 and 10 telesales reps. With field sales reps earning an average $70,000 and telesales reps bringing in around $55,000, that would mean an investment of between $25 million and $32 million in salary and benefits alone. Add to this the cost of recruiting, hiring and training these reps at an average of $40,000 each, and the staffing cost rises significantly. These costs also do not include management, support staff and the cost of maintaining sales offices in major cities. Any way you view it, Yellowpages.com needs to win in a big way with this new approach or suffer a major impact on earnings.

VP of sales Danny Deal is a former Berry Co. division manager and marketing director who is well versed in building and managing sales offices, motivating reps and managers, and marketing the value of the Yellowpages.com brand. We would expect Deal to carry forward the learnings Berry has had in regard to selling Yellowpages.com to the “white space” areas (non AT&T areas) as well as how to maximize the telesales groups being developed in the new sales offices. It also poses a serious question about Berry’s role going forward as these new sales offices open and can now service both the AT&T territory and the white space areas.

The move by Yellowpages.com comes at a time when several key local players are also ramping up their sales efforts. As Kate Kaye mentions in her post for ClickZ, “IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Citysearch, a YellowPages.com competitor for local ad dollars, in January announced intentions to nearly double its inside, outside and national sales force.” So, Yellowpages.com is entering a very crowded job market for sales reps with the ability to sell online directory and local search products. The markets they have chosen will pose additional hiring challenges as several have low unemployment rates (Denver, 4.7 percent; Minneapolis, 3.8 percent; Seattle, 4.5 percent), making them very competitive hiring markets.

Selling online products to small and medium-sized businesses is a more challenging task than selling print Yellow Pages advertising. It will be interesting to see how productive these new sales offices will be as stand-alone Yellowpages.com sales forces without connection to the print directory sales effort. It also begs the question of how the current core AT&T Advertising & Publishing print sales force will approach selling Yellowpages.com so as to avoid conflict between the two selling units. As events unfold we will certainly update our view point on this latest strategy by Yellowpages.com.

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