SalesRants 13: Between a Rock and a Sales Guy

When it comes to sticky sales scenarios, no conundrum’s too convoluted for Secret Sales Guy

First off, I want to personally thank all the readers who have written me to make suggestions and tell me how much they enjoy the column. In this round of questions, however, I swap the reader queries with some thorny scenarios I’ve heard fellow salesfolk puzzle over during my two decades in the field. You won’t find insights like these in your corporate handbook or at the next training, so read on for guidance that cuts through the crap advice usually on the media sales menu.

I am the associate publisher of small agricultural magazine that does around $3M a year in display advertising. Print sales are off, so we’re looking to add more banner capabilities to our Web site and hire an online salesperson to sell them. What qualities should I look for in this employee? Also, not being well-versed in matters online myself, can you recommend training for me?

It sounds as though your company has been bitten by the “new media” bug, and is getting ready to flush a shitload of cash down the toilet in the interest of “staying competitive.” As an avid reader of Pig International (and many other obscure controlled circulation trade magazines to which I subscribe just for the hell of it), I can tell you that the new media future in your farmers’ market looks dim for years—if not decades—to come.

The first thing to do, as your magazine’s AP, is set a really high commission plan for your salespeople (to incentivize growth) and, more critically, make sure you’re receiving a healthy override on all sales. The second thing is to discourage your company from hiring a “specialist” to sell this online advertising manure. Just because a guy can differentiate among rich media banner units and delivery systems doesn’t mean he’s worth a $75,000 base. Instead of gifting some nerd with nearly a hundred grand a year, hustle one of your sharper print guys into a Learning Annex course, then throw him some extra dough to make more online sales happen. You’ll wind up giving away half your banners to your best print advertisers as “value added,” anyway.

I’m the sales director for another big media company, managing the sales of three trade magazines, several Web sites, and a few supplements. I’ve been in the job for about three years now, laboring under a boss who is totally unsupportive. In fact, his decisions seem totally unrelated to the business, and I suspect he doesn’t really know what’s up. I’m afraid to go over his head, but I can’t take this situation. What should I do?

Obviously, what you should be doing is trying to get your boss canned, but that’s a complicated and lengthy process fraught with peril. As entertaining as it may be to load your boss up with faulty information and start planting mutinous seeds for a staff-wide revolt, such tactics are probably how your current boss got his job, and he may smell a rat. Remember, your incompetent boss was probably once just a soldier like you: young, hungry, and willing to upset the status quo to “make things happen.” Now he is a fat, corporate pig who’s been feasting for years from the management salary trough—neither willing nor able to snap at the hands that feed him.

If you have a modicum of talent and the willingness to trade your immortal soul for a shot at the bonus pool, you’ll be wind up in the same position someday. If all goes well, you will laugh cynically at this query and realize how naïve you once were. For now, you need to compare your political smarts with those of your boss and examine your situation from the perspective of senior management (i.e., “What’ll happen if we shitcan Mr. Fatcat Manager and replace him with Young Frustrated at a cheaper salary?”). If you can figure out the answer to that question, you’ll know what to do.

I’m thinking of getting into sales myself, but I wonder if it is fulfilling enough. What are your thoughts?

Is driving a brand new BMW 5-Series fulfilling? How about lingering over a $90 bottle of crisp French wine over a dozen oysters at an overpriced Hamptons eatery with a hot date? Or, perhaps, dropping $800 on an accessory sure to go out of style in three months? Are those things fulfilling? Of course they are. They are also the kinds of things that a successful career in sales can bring you.

There are thousands of very spiritually rewarding careers out there that can pay the bills—and some of them can earn you top dollar. However, for the average person without a load of specialized skills or an advanced degree, sales is the fast-track ticket to wealth.

With sales, someone basically sets you up with a computer, phone, desk, health insurance and an expense account, then prays that you can pull in four or five times your salary. The rest is up to you.

Look at me: decent enough education at an exclusive “you didn’t get into Yale, but…”-type Northeastern college, pretty good writing and social skills, and a smattering of business experience culled from a variety of mid-level positions at various publishing companies. Fits neatly into your typical mediabistro.com reader demographic, right? I’m pretty smart, but I’m certainly no genius, and since I opted out of paying another $60,000 for an MBA, my choices are limited: If I aspire to make some “real” money, it’s either sales or starting my own business.

With sales, someone basically sets you up with a computer, phone, desk, health insurance and an expense account, then prays that you can pull in four or five times your salary. The rest is up to you. If you are insanely motivated (by greed, mostly, but that’s okay), then you’ll find a way to move whatever it is you have to sell. Then you can watch the BMWs roll in. It’s a pretty fulfilling life. Make enough dough, and you can assuage your privileged guilt by giving some of it away to charity.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/23/2006]

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