The Right-Brain 'Art' of Sales vs. the Left-Brain 'Analytic' – Musings on Media from the 'Sell' Side, with Occasional Forays into Music…and Wine
‘Keep It Real’ Sales Interview Series 1: Amy L. Phoenix
When I finally came around to an approach for how I would do interviews with serious Sales pros on this blog, the concept/title came about in some part by way of MoM[S]‘s first interviewee. I think you’ll find that ‘Keep It Real’ is indeed very much what she’s about.
I happened upon Amy’s firm doing some research for a freelance Media client, and knew instantly when I saw her site: I wanted to talk with her as our Inaugural Guest in the ‘Keep It Real’ Sales Series. [Luckily, she agreed!]
That guest is Amy L. Phoenix, head of AL Phoenix, a Sales/Marketing consultancy in the SF Bay Area. She is a past Digital Media Sales & Marketing exec, and also teaches Sales courses & seminars across the US.
INTERVIEW MoM[S]:Hi Amy, and thanks for being our Inaugural interview guest. Can you tell us a bit about your Sales background, and how you came to start AL Phoenix?
Amy: My background is in Sales Marketing, starting in high tech magazines in ’91 at Ziff-Davis. I moved to the agency side in ‘97, as an account manager and media buyer, and then went back to media for online publisher TechRepublic in 1999. When CNET Networks bought TechRepublic in 2001, I went along as the AVP of Industry Marketing, and then started A.L. Phoenix Marketing in 2003. I consult with media companies, doing sales support marketing and online ad sales training.
MoM[S]:The lead-in piece to our discussion of today was partly dedicated to you by MoM[S], based again, on what I saw as your ‘Keep It Real’ approach, out there for all to see. But that’s my perception. What is your current Sales approach or philosophy, in your own words?
Amy: I’m definitely into keeping it real! You learn not to mince words when you work with sales – no one can spot a line of B.S. faster than a good sales person. If they didn’t think a product, positioning, or sales tool would make sense to an ad client, it would never get used. So I learned to put everything through the “Will it help an advertiser?” test. I think that training definitely influences my approach to this day.
MoM[S]:Indeed, words to live by, in my book. I’ve seen too many kinds of convoluted sales schemes, all just too clever by half. Trying to “finesse” people into buying these days is almost pointless. Who knows.
Do you work in all types of Media these days; i.e. Broadcast, Print, Digital?
Amy: I do. For training I work with traditional media companies who are trying to grow their internet advertising revenue. For sales support I work with all media.
[Here is where I’ll let our readers know, that what really intrigued me about Amy, was reading her critique of a Oct 2009 article by Borrell Assoc, entitled, ‘You Need to Have Online Reps to Drive Online Sales [Doh!]Her critique was biting, on point and very unapologetic to the article’s authors. ]
MoM[S]:Briefly, Amy, can you tell us what the gist of that article was, and more important, your critique of it?
Amy: Borrell’s article advocates dual, competitive teams – one for the traditional media and one for internet advertising. The dual team strategy is not new, of course. And while I don’t agree with creating two competitive teams for local market ad sales, it was the conclusions Borrell drew about why a dedicated team is necessary that really irritated the hell out of me. Quoting their own research, they say companies with two teams make real money from online, while those that rely on the “legacy teams” do not. I cannot argue with their research, but this was the part that turned me purple, “This revelation should come as no surprise to online managers. They’ve been telling us all along that print and broadcast reps ‘just don’t get it.’…Our vice president of sales training, Bill Caudill, tells us that, after a training session, 30% of the reps “get it” and actually go out and sell online advertising. After three months, he says, half of them forget it.”
It just really chaps my hide that Borrell Associates would publicly state that a dedicated online sales team is necessary because a legacy media team won’t ever figure out how to sell Online! Talk about a line of B.S. If there is a good compensation plan in place, and the trainer does their job, you’ll have a lot more traditional reps selling online than the 15% Borrell seems to be claiming (feel free to check my math). Sure, there are always people that don’t want to learn something new, but not very many. Normally you see more fear– reps afraid that they won’t get it – but a good trainer should know how recognize and overcome that.
So the “they don’t get it” justification absolutely doesn’t work for me. Although Borrell also suggested that time was a factor working against adding online to traditional media reps’ full plate. And I agree that that is an issue. But I think it’s better solved by adding support people, rather than competing sales staff.
The decision about whether to have a dedicated sales team for online ad sales should be dictated by what works for the customer, the advertiser.
MoM[S]:I thought at first you & I might end up arguing on this point, but I found out later that we may actually agree: The focus of that piece [and your critique of it] was really more geared to Local sales teams and their process, as opposed to Major Accounts [i.e. Retail], or National brands types of accounts, I thought. Is that right?
Amy: As you said, Ken, Borrell’s research, and their article, was specifically about local media sales – where the customer is likely to be the owner or one person labeled “marketing”. So let’s apply my “will it help the advertiser test.” We’re going to send two competing reps to Portland City Furniture to talk to Joe Owner. They’re going to compete, despite clearly coming from the same company, for the $3,000 a month budget that normally went to the legacy media. Hmmm, how’s that going to work for Joe Owner? How’s that going to work for the media company? THAT’s your big sales strategy to get real revenue out of online advertising, Borrell, really?!
Sorry, ranting again. So yes, I don’t think a dedicated internet sales team makes sense for local media sales teams – mostly because it doesn’t work for the customers. However, on a national level, two teams make more sense because the media buyers are normally split into two teams, if not two totally different agencies. We can justify two sales teams because there are completely different customers with different needs.
That being said, do split teams make sense for the industry long term? Will it stay that way? Did online buyers get separated for the same reason that Borrell is recommending dedicated sales teams– because nobody believed that traditional media buyers could understand online? Or maybe it started for the same reason that some traditional local media sellers like the idea of a dedicated sales team – because online seemed like a lot of trouble for a very small return. Which it might have seemed in the mid-90s.
But now most advertising people recognize the advantage of an integrated campaign. I believe that trend will continue and we’ll see the industry making it easier to buy integrated media – products and companies to streamline the process. Google, for one, is already going that way. If I’m right, the more sellers know about cross-media the better off they’ll be. The in-the-trenches spreadsheet analysis might still be done by siloed buyers, but higher up the food chain, directing those buyers, will be people with a cross-media perspective. And the Media rep with the biggest contracts will be the one who can talk cross-media.
MoM[S]:Actually here is where I might disagree with you and Borrell, Amy, in a kind of sideways sense, even if I take a minor detour in doing so. I think what the article and both of you are talking about in relation, really applies to a specific Publisher or a ‘destination’ site [KFOG, Miami Herald, WGN, SF Bay Guardian, etc.], even though overall, I agree with your points being made in the quality of their article. But just to note, there ARE some parts of Online selling which are getting pretty specialized, and more complex by the week. To qualify for those, you must be quite Digital-savvy, to have a shot at those spots. Some of the Social Media sites, Ad Networks, SEO, etc., are what I’m talking about here. All of that is a bit out of context here, but did want to inject that in for those readers who might be taking note of that by now.
Moving on, I guess the key point for me, with either Dedicated Teams or Integrated, and National biz vs. going after “hyper-local” biz, how does this play out on the Agency, or even Client side? I mean, depending on the account, many of THEM are still segmented by these very factors. Do you agree? If so, how does that play into what you teach, or even what you thought about the Borrell piece?
Amy: Right now, I think we do what works, and on the national level, that means following the agency lead and likely splitting the teams. However, long term I think the advertiser will dictate dedicated or integrated teams. They’re the customer and, in the end, it has to work for them. No matter what Borrell’s research tells us, or how agencies are organized, the customer has the $$ and they get the deciding vote. And if that means the rest of us need to learn something new or change, then so be it. Media and the monetization of it is a hotbed of change right now, so we may as well learn to like it.
MoM[S]:Anything I missed, that you’d like to add?
Amy: Well, as self-serving as this will probably sound, I just want to reiterate this point in case there are traditional media sales people reading this. If you’re a local media sales person who’s been selling traditional media, and you’re concerned about learning internet sales, don’t be. I swear to you that if you can sell TV, radio or print, online just isn’t that complicated. It’s just new. But you’ve already got 80% of what you need to know, the other 20% is just a matter of skills & confidence. I swear it.
MoM[S]:Agreed, Amy. Those that want to learn, will. They are the ones who will also stay relevant in their skill sets & careers, in my view.
I’d like to thank you very much, Amy L. Phoenix. Great insight & commentary on your part. If you don’t mind, MoM[S] may check back with you from time to time, to make sure yours truly is on track with his own Series theme, and is himself ‘Keeping It Real’.
Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or feel free to reach out to Amy or myself with any questions or clarification on the many points discussed here. Thanks for reading!
Note: Going forward, this will be an occasional Series. Future ‘dream’ guests that MoM[S] will aspire to interview will include such legendary Sales visionaries as: Tom Hopkins, Neil Rackham [of SPIN fame], and someone with a more Digital pedigree [and whom I've met personally], Leslie Laredo, CEO/Founder of Laredo Group…if I can get them!
Last, this Inaugural blog post in the Keep It Real Series, is ALSO dedicated in part to Sheila Gilmore, CEO of Gilmore Group, a Media Sales & Marketing talent extraordinaire. Between the inspirations of Amy & Sheila, the ‘Keep It Real’ moniker arrived, unknowing as it was. Thanks to you both!