Doubling down on digital at Morris — Part II

In Part I, I described how Morris Publishing Group came to be committed to creating a separate digital sales division in our markets. But at that point, we still had big questions. Exactly what would we sell, and how would we sell it?

To figure out the answers, we talked with others who had done it before us. Two of the most helpful were Jay Small at Informed Interactive, the digital sales division of Evening Post Publishing Co., and Grant Moise, vice president of digital at The Dallas Morning News. We learned a lot from both.

Dallas proved to be the closest fit, because they had partnered with LocalEdge and were selling the same suite of LE solutions we would be selling. They had launched under the name 508 Digital in a very big way, hiring 40 digital-only sales reps, and they were going to market in a way that sounded exceptionally powerful. They had been at it about 5 months.

We wanted to take a closer look, and Grant generously agreed to host several of us for a day on site.

There we met Brian Ritenour, 508’s general manager. He had come to the startup with a strong yellow pages and digital background and a firm belief that digital was the future. As he described the 508 sales process, we realized we were seeing something far different from anything we knew in the newspaper business. It was a true hunter operation.

The reps at 508 were expected to make 25 sales calls every morning and about eight presentations every afternoon. From this high-powered cold-calling, they were expected to close one contract per week. That customer would pass immediately to a sales coordinator, who would set up the account and initiate the digital services it included, and to a client service manager, who would handle the account from then on.

In other words, the reps don’t get mired in servicing accounts, and they’re not building books of business. They are pure hunters. This is underscored by the fact that the commission on each sale is paid in full at the end of the month. Rather than building up a monthly annuity from commissions on sold business, each rep needs to keep selling at a fast pace each month to make the next month’s commissions come in.

What’s more, the reps don’t work from the office. They work from their cars and homes, coming into the office only on Monday mornings for sales meetings and training. And the training is constant.

It’s a tough grind, and the turnover rate is high, but the best reps thrive on it and make excellent money. Brian has created a high-energy, fast-paced sales culture that celebrates and rewards success. And it’s entirely separate from The Dallas Morning News sales teams.

We knew this was how we wanted to sell. But what we would sell, and to whom, would be a little different.

The LocalEdge/508 Digital model is focused mainly on small and medium businesses, with an average monthly contract of around $400. But at Morris Digital Solutions, over the previous six months, we had found our way to a new zone of success selling site and search retargeting through real-time-bidding ad platforms to clients like auto dealers. We help them reach buyers who are already in the sales funnel, no matter where they go on the Web.

These are bigger businesses with higher advertising budgets and with sizable websites and web traffic of their own. We were generating contracts more in the $1,500 to $4,000 range with those solutions.

So our model at Main Street Digital is a hybrid. It is built on the Dallas selling approach, with pure hunters selling the comprehensive LocalEdge suite of solutions to SMBs, and we will also be selling RTB targeting and retargeting to larger clients. And, no doubt, we will be selling a mix of both to many customers.

Organizationally, Main Street Digital is a separate digital sales unit within Morris Publishing Group, with its own top executive — Jim Dyer, who has led the Morris Digital Solutions startup for the last year or so. Both MDS and Main Street Digital are now under his direction. He reports to an unofficial  “board of directors” consisting of Derek May, MPG’s executive vice president; Mark Lane, MPG’s VP of sales; Michael Romaner, Morris corporate EVP of digital, and me, Morris corporate director of strategy and innovation.

Each in-market office of Main Street Digital will be separated physically from the core sales team and will have a local manager. The local publisher — also considered the president of the local media company, as we rebrand business units in the markets — will share oversight of the in-market unit, just as many of them already oversee local city magazines and other media properties. The business model, product set and sales leadership are directed by Dyer, and the local media company president provides integration and coordination with the local community.

Meanwhile, the same products and training will be provided to the sales teams in the existing local media business units (don’t say newspapers), too. Many of them are eagerly taking these solutions into the field.

Is this separate enough? We know there will be channel conflicts and unexpected complications, and we expect to learn as we go. But we believe this is a big step toward serving a larger and more diverse customer base and capturing a much larger share of local digital spending.

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Posted on November 28, 2012, in Advertising, Disruption and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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