Sales prospecting is challenging, even for the most experienced media salesperson. By definition you’re making cold calls most of the time, which, of course is the toughest kind of sales outreach of all. Salespeople, naturally, are comfortable with what they know and who they know, especially if revenue is growing from those sources. Sometimes prospecting feels like an incremental bonus. But it’s not. It’s essential. With those things in mind, we wanted to know how the sales pros at Fox Associates approach the work of prospecting. Fox, of course, has multiple clients, and usually doesn’t have the luxury of a six-month ramp-up effort to learn a market. Which makes prospecting even more difficult. The following exchange represents the collective thinking of the Fox Associates executive management team: CEO Marlys Fox, COO Steve Schwanz, and SVP/Director of Sales and Business Development Bill Bell. It’s been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: In a general sense, what are the key factors for successful prospecting? What sources do you use? What are the expectations for your team in terms of engaging new potential customers? Some media companies have requirements for the number of daily calls, emails, etc. Does Fox?
A: Successful prospecting is a multi-faceted process and requires skilled use of the internet and the resources therein, in addition to utilizing our subscription database resources as well as experience and knowledge of the advertising categories being researched. Vertical publications, for example, usually have very vertical media choices (across myriad platforms) from which to find new advertising prospects. If our own publication is more ‘horizontal’ than vertical, it is incumbent on us as seasoned sales professionals to ‘prove’ what that advertiser is missing in terms of their own potential universe of customers by not utilizing our solutions. If we’re one of the verticals, we can prove our relevance as the ideal environment for that advertiser to invest.
Other means of prospecting is going face-to-face at many industry events and trade shows with marketers that are either active in media or those we believe could/should be. Knowing our offerings inside and out as well as the industry and the objectives/goals/initiatives of the prospect enables skilled sellers to be on-point with solutions that serve the marketer, the publisher and, of course, Fox Associates.
Fox’s sales team is comprised of seasoned, knowledgeable professionals capable of working intelligently, allowing for mixing quality with quantity in terms of covering down new and existing advertising prospects. Whether prospecting competitive media, working trade shows or simply by proactively seeking competitors to our existing advertisers, experience, industry savvy and a fire-in-the belly to ‘win’ cannot be overstated.
Q: When you take on a new client, what are your best practices for learning the market and vendor universe—and then expanding it?
A: Fox Associates has been an industry leader in advertising sales for more than five decades. There is an incredible amount of accumulated knowledge within this organization across every conceivable advertising category—whether consumer, B2B or membership association. So the first place to start is with our own extensive bank of knowledge. More often than not, we’ve successfully sold in that arena or are doing so currently. We augment that knowledge with a deep dive into the category itself. Again, it’s about knowing ‘where’ to look online, reviewing industry news and competitor publishers, both in print and online, and subscribing to focused enewsletters and other sources.
With a new publishing partner, we thoroughly review the existing base of business to establish ourselves advertiser by advertiser as their knowledgeable, trusted professional representative. This is done as often as possible in person. There is no substitute for face-to-face relationships in our business. As appropriate, we make marketing-driven suggestions showing ways to help achieve initiatives and offering tools as means to help clients be successful. Concurrently, we employ the resources mentioned above (and more) to help make our advertisers and prospects better at their own jobs.
Q: Typically, what are the expectations your clients have in terms of time to get up to speed and revenue growth?
A: Publishers don’t have the luxury of time. When they make a change it’s often because what they’ve been doing isn’t working. So expectations are high for immediate results. The publisher may have made a change because they wanted a true national salesforce, staffed with experienced professionals, instead of an office based in-house person. The change may also have been dictated by economics—an outsourced sales solution may be far more profitable than in-house, especially in these challenging economic times.
Going back to our best practices, establishing our credibility, knowledge, experience and demonstrating our collaborative working style instills confidence that all that can be done, is being done. There are three things here: a) understanding what worked previously, b) recognizing what needs to be improved or changed and, c) developing a path to be the undisputed leader in the category. Fox Associates has well established (yet flexible) systems for shortening the ramp-up time with new publishers and for bringing innovative ideas and solutions for attacking the future.
Q: When media companies, associations, and more take on an outsourced advertising firm, the implication is that their former process wasn’t working. How does that affect your prospecting?
A: Again, not everything is broken when we take on a new partnership assignment. Our vast experience is very useful in helping us identify what needs tweaking, what needs re-working and what has the opportunity to be exploited to the benefit of all involved. Many associations, for example, aren’t aware that their member communication platforms can be monetizable while holding true to their desire to maintain member respect and privacy. These don’t have to be mutually-exclusive. Oftentimes it isn’t that prospects haven’t been approached or uncovered, it’s that the publisher doesn’t have the solutions the marketer is looking for.
Part of our job as partners with a publisher is as much to collaborate on ways to enhance or add to its marketing solutions to meet the marketer need and not to bring new advertising prospects to the same list of ineffective media options over and over again.
We also work closely with the publishing teams. Our systems are proven effective. We are also highly effective communicators and collaborative in our approach to working with our publisher partners and with all team members.
Q: How does it affect your relationships with internal teams—both ad sales people, publishers and ad-management support teams?
A: Fox Associates is very proud of our publisher partnerships. You’ll note we don’t call ourselves vendors, and we bristle if a publisher refers to us that way. We don’t stock the soda machine or deliver printer ink to the office. Our responsibility as a revenue-producing team member to is to integrate our efforts into the fabric of that organization. In some cases we actually handle the billing and collecting for our publishing partners. You can’t get much more immersed than that!