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Over the past several months, The Kelsey Group has been talking with a number of sales managers and directors of companies in the directory, newspaper and online space to understand the challenges of recruiting, hiring and training online reps. The sense from our interviews is that the market for skilled reps who understand and have sold online products with success is extremely competitive. We have heard stories of companies paying “signing bonuses” as well as increasing base salaries with attractive commission structures to attract skilled reps away from their current employers. 

Many local media companies have resigned themselves to finding sales reps who understand and appreciate the value of online products and services and training them to become skilled online reps. Many sales reps see the value of acquiring online sales experience as a means of building a sales career in the hottest new media category that they could eventually leverage into higher paying positions. 

A recent New Zealand Herald interview with Greg Murphy of Yellow Pages Group New Zealand demonstrates this challenge and reflects many of the same issues we have heard from other publishers and local media companies.

According to Murphy:

“The goal when recruiting reps is not to rely on their understanding of the online world, but to balance that with professional selling skills and a clear understanding of the challenges a small business faces. A large proportion of New Zealand businesses are small, and often the owner is also the person who markets the business. The owner won’t want to deal with a whizzed-up propeller head — that person needs to be given explanations in how online fits into his or her business. So, in short [we need] good technical skills and the ability to communicate in a business-like way.” 

One of the critical skills identified by all the local media companies we talked with was the ability to be consultative about how online works with other media and to be able to clearly and simply educate small business on how online marketing works and what value it delivers for their particular business. Murphy’s comments echoed this: “The person selling the advertising needs to explain to a businessperson how online advertising will work for his/her business. Business acumen is the key. There are agency customers to communicate with too — these people expect salespeople to be professional.” 

The challenge with most local media companies is finding that group of sales candidates who show potential by exhibiting a comfortable knowledge of online products and have some demonstrated sales skill. The goal then is to train these candidates to consultatively sell online solutions either as a stand-alone product or in conjunction with their traditional media product as a bundled solution. The challenge of finding and developing reps skilled in selling online and multi-product solutions will continue to shape local media as they transform themselves from single product entities to multichannel local media companies.   

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