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Traditional media companies struggle to find the right formula for digital sales. The challenge isn’t really about deciding whether to go with a pure digital only approach v. relying completely on existing legacy sales resources. The decision matrix is much more complex than this binary choice. Publishers need to use their existing sales assets to grow digital revenue. Failing to do so simply isn’t practical for most companies. But publishers also need to bring in more digital expertise and make many important strategic decisions about sales structure.

A new BIA/Kelsey Insight Paper, “Old House vs. New House: Building Optimal Digital Sales Teams,” xamines the challenges involved in building digital teams and finding the optimal sales structure. The report is co-authored by me and Stacey Sedbrook, BIA/Kelsey’s VP of Strategic Sales Consulting, and is the first of several sales-related Insight Papers we will co-author this year.

The report’s executive summary is below and BIA/Kelsey clients can read the full paper by logging into the client portal. The report is also available for purchase.

Traditional media companies struggle with how to build optimal digital sales organizations. The conversation often comes down to a binary choice: should a media organization rely on a digital-only sales force or a multimedia one?

The truth is, it isn’t “either-or.” It’s both. Legacy media companies need to look at segmentation by product, giving legacy sellers inventory that they can easily sell (hint: this tends toward products that are owned and operated by the media company), and leaving more complex and higher value digital sales to digital specialists.

BIA/Kelsey did an analysis using real performance data from a range of local media companies struggling with this sales structure challenge. The message that emerged from this exercise was clear. Yes, digital-only sellers will leave legacy sellers in their dust on a one-to-one comparison. Legacy sellers, however, represent more sales volume and should be a key component in moving organizations from majority legacy revenue to majority digital.

There is a strong body of opinion that legacy sellers are minimally useful in the shift to digital.

“If you are a traditional media company, and you take 20 of your legacy sales reps, maybe one or two will become performers over time,” one senior traditional media sales executive recently told us. “The best approach is to create a separate digital channel, treated as a stand-alone and managed by someone who can work with the core channel. Then use your core channel as a lead source for digital sellers.”

Our experience and analysis show that with the right product segmentation, digital sellers and legacy sellers can complement each other and lead to a better overall outcome than in a digital-only structure.

Traditional media companies need to think more strategically about how to drive digital revenue. While digital specialization is ideal, the investment required to build a digital-only sales force in short order that can drive sufficient sales volume is too high for most traditional media organizations. Therefore legacy sellers will need to play a big role in digital selling, at least in the near term.

Traditional media companies that focus on sales reporting structure, compensation and smart packaging as part of their digital transformation will put themselves in the best position for sustainable success. This Insight Paper examines the arguments for specialization and for using a hybrid approach to digital selling.

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