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4 Sales and Pricing Strategies to Drive Media Revenue Now and in the COVID Recovery

In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis completely upended nearly every aspect of our lives. Business closings, record unemployment, and shelter in place orders dropped consumer demand off a cliff. Advertising budgets followed suit.

With the end of the pandemic in sight, there are compelling reasons to advertise now. That’s the good news. And the bad news? As we transition to a new normal, business as usual won’t produce your desired sales results.

What will it take, then, to drive media sales in 2021 and beyond? It all comes down to a laser-like focus on the customer and their needs. And while sales methodologies have long preached a customer-first approach, until now, we’ve never been in a sales environment that makes a true customer focus so imperative.

Here are four customer-focused sales strategies that salespeople can adopt right away to drive media sales now and in the recovery.

1. Become Your Customers’ Trusted Advisor on Digital Media

Last year I attended the Borrell Local Online Advertising Conference and wrote a blog post about how, as broadcasters expand their digital media solutions, it’s critical for traditional media salespeople to become digital marketing experts.

Just think about how overwhelmed many media salespeople are by their own company’s digital solution sets. It stands to reason that clients don’t fully understand what’s available to them, either.

Now is the perfect time for AEs to sharpen their digital skills. With digital media consumption on the rise pre-coronavirus as well as during the crisis, the potential payoff for salespeople and their companies is huge.

This is an opportunity for AEs to become their clients’ trusted advisor on strategic digital solutions, which can lead clients to place more value on the relationship.

At Borrell, Bill Caudill, VP of Digital Sales at Nexstar, mused that gaining digital marketing expertise is no easy task, as this subject is offered today as a four-year college degree. And yet, through training and self-directed learning, salespeople can acquire the most essential digital-marketing skills.

An ideal starting point is The Digital Marketing Institute's (DMI) free “Introduction to Digital Marketing” micro lessons, which cover the basic principles of digital marketing and speak to how traditional and digital media work together to create water-tight campaigns. DMI has included courses that cover the type of digital campaigns that are offered in the local broadcast space, like Display and Video Advertising, Social Media Marketing, and Email Marketing.

2. Tailor Your Solutions to Customer Needs by Studying Their Businesses

The Challenger Sale, perhaps the most widely read sales training book of the past decade, advocates an approach based on one of the largest research studies ever conducted on the sales process. Data included in the book reveals that 53% of customer loyalty is driven by the sales experience—more so than the brand, product, service, and price combined.

A true “Challenger” sales rep has a deep understanding of the customer’s business, isn’t afraid to push their thinking, and tailors the sales approach according to value drivers and economic drivers.

With fewer face-to-face meetings and less transactional business to conduct, this is an ideal time for AEs to work towards becoming Challengers—they can spend time researching and gaining a deeper understanding of their customers’ business challenges so that they are prepared to tailor their solutions to specific customer needs.

Media sales has a long history of being a relationship-based sale model, and while relationships are important in this line of business, the Challenger philosophy argues that reps who take control of a sale and teach their prospects how to solve their problems are more effective than those who are more focused on building relationships.

AEs can take control of the sale upfront by mapping their prospects’ priorities to their own product capabilities. Here are some ways to research prospects and identify their priorities:

  • Set up Google alerts to keep up on press releases, trade articles, and other mentions in the press. This ensures that reps stay on top of their prospects’ changing business initiatives and incorporate up-to-date customer information in conversations and pitches.
  • Follow prospects on LinkedIn to identify key messaging at the account level and at the prospect level. Work this messaging into the sales pitch.
  • Identify the prospect’s executive priorities. Executive priorities come down from the C-Suite and can be found in annual reports, by listening to shareholder calls, or by simply Googling the company name and then “executive priorities.”
  • Study your prospects’ industry language and use their terms to describe how your offerings would impact their business.
  • Local business journals are a good source for conducting research on smaller, local businesses. The American City Business Journals links to business news for over thirty markets.

By gaining a better understanding of how their customers’ businesses likely changed because of the pandemic, AEs will be ready to impress as business meetings return to normal. Clients will appreciate their AE having done the research and relieving them of the need to answer exasperating questions about their changing needs.

3. Prove Advertising’s Value to Your Customers

Knowing that more than half of customer loyalty is driven by the sales process, is now the time to sell? Or is a hardcore sales pitch during these times of transition a turnoff and therefore too risky?

Sales leaders tend to agree that leading with empathy while also providing value are key.

The Harvard Business Review recommends being empathetic, but not so much so that it sounds insincere. Jim Hopes, Managing Partner at the Center for Sales Strategy agrees that “just checking in” is not a valid business reason for approaching a prospect or customer right now: “Show that you have done some homework and you are thinking about their business and where there might be some opportunities in this environment.”

Salespeople can also prove themselves to be a valuable resource by keeping advertisers updated on changing media consumption habits as a result of sheltering in place.

For example, TV viewership spiked back in March-April of 2020. And while terrestrial radio showed some decreases in drivetime listening, radio streaming showed double-digit growth for companies like Entercom back in March, 2020 as well. Certain advertisers will want to take advantage of the sustained uptick in media consumption and the opportunity to be on-air during a time when they will occupy a larger share of voice.

And while not all advertisers can afford to advertise at this time, it has been proven that companies that can increase their ad budgets during an economic downturn will grow sales much faster than their competitors as the economy recovers.

In a piece in MarketingWeek, brand consultant Mark Ritson makes the important point that, “By maintaining ad budgets at current levels this year and next, the same investment will have a much greater impact because competitors have either gone bust and stopped advertising or reduced their ad spend significantly."

There’s never been a more important time for salespeople to provide value. Educating customers on changing viewing and listening habits during, demonstrating how stations can help drive success based on client-specific needs, and sharing marketing tips from the experts will help establish your salespeople as valuable resources.

4. In Pricing, Emphasize Flexibility and Value Over Undisciplined Discounting

Last year, our Chairman, Robert G. Cross, wrote about the importance of avoiding pricing and Revenue Management “worst practices” during times of crisis. One of those ill-advised practices is “carpet-bombing discounts.”

Robert writes: “Desperate moves to reduce revenue losses will invariably involve the use of discounts. The more widespread the destruction, the greater the temptation to discount your way to growth. Broad-based, ‘carpet-bombing’ discounts are an indiscriminate way to grow volume or win back share. It will invariably lead to collateral damage.”

Indeed, Robert points out that there is no correlation between the depth of discounting and the pickup in volume. Instead of generating additional revenue, carpet-bombing discounts destroy price integrity and harm brand identity.

I asked Zach Cross, President of Revenue Analytics and SVP of the Media Vertical, for his opinion on media pricing during a down economy. He told me that his answer is simple, yet the advice is critical: “Don’t raise the price of your inventory, but don’t lower price, either. Companies are not making decisions to advertise based on price right now.”

Flexibility and value, over discounting, is key in the current environment. In the midst of the pandemic, to help attract and preserve advertisers, broadcasters adopted practices such as:

  • Creating more flexible payment terms: In lieu of canceling campaigns, advertisers may be willing to keep their plans intact if invoicing terms are extended beyond 30 days. “Advertisers who can pay should be making their payments, but the platforms should be making decisions for those who need help like extending payment terms to 90 days,” said Tim Daly, CEO of the Vincodo ad agency.
  • Working with advertisers to adjust copy: Creative that was developed pre-COVID will sound tone-deaf today. Media organizations, especially radio organizations, have the ability to help advertisers quickly update creative. Providing in-house creative services at no charge and allowing advertisers to utilize that station-created copy across competing stations help to foster success within the entire media ecosystem.
  • Adding value for local businesses: Cox Media offered free TV advertising to local restaurants. This type of goodwill not only provides a service to the community and boosts the local economy, it also creates lifelong loyalty between advertisers and stations.
  • Providing higher value, potentially by running fewer units and thus providing a less cluttered ad environment. NBC reduced the number of ads across programming. This provides a greater share of voice for advertisers.
  • Offering more creativity in packaging: In an effort to help maintain rates on higher-demand properties and dayparts, stations can bundle lower-demand segments with premium inventory as an incentive to advertisers

Advertising Remains a Phenomenal Lever: Don’t Hesitate to Sell It!

While certain industries were harder hit than others (like travel and hospitality, fitness centers, retail, and dine-in restaurants), industries such as home improvement, beer and liquor, remote learning/remote work technology, streaming services, and food delivery ramped up during COVID-19 - and their advertising followed suit.

All these categories will continue to need business—whether they are bouncing back from a freefall or trying to steal market share away from competitors—and advertising is a phenomenal lever to drive business. As Robert Cross said in his Revenue Managers: Rise Up! blog, “Selling the right product to the right customer at the right time has never been more important.”

Give your sales team the time it needs to become a valued resource for customers. RateOptics™, the next-gen pricing solution from Revenue Analytics, eliminates pricing busywork. Schedule a demo with a member of our team to learn how RateOptics™ can help your team sell more.


Emilee Bond

Emilee Bond knows ad sales. She spent 20+ years selling advertising and media research data to Fortune 500s at orgs like iHeartMedia and Nielsen. Today she helps ad sales teams transform their operations with next-gen software and writes popular blogs in her free time.

Emilee Bond knows ad sales. She spent 20+ years selling advertising and media research data to Fortune 500s at orgs like iHeartMedia and Nielsen. Today she helps ad sales teams transform their operations with next-gen software and writes popular blogs in her free time.

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