B2B Media · Big Media · Private Equity · Sales Rants

SalesRants 6: Big Media on the Block

B2B publishing outfits are being sold left and right—is Secret Sales Guy’s next?

Thank You for Your $upport
Let’s be honest, shall we? Secret Sales Guy (SSG) didn’t leave his comfy editorial position to go into sales because he loves it. No, sir. Secret Sales Guy has a cute wife who didn’t grow up on the Lower East Side—a wife who expects a regularly scheduled manicure, pedicure, and dye job. He also has two lovely children, who expect and deserve an education at the college of their choice (well, since they’re only in preschool, let’s just assume that they’ll expect it soon enough).

In fact, ever since leaving New York city, Secret Sales Guy has seemed to inherit two of everything: two kids, two cars, two dogs, and even a manly pair of love handles. Let’s not forget the monthly commuter pass, Metrocard, lunch money, school payments, babysitting, and anything and everything else that requires a modest amount of bread to capitalize. Anyway, you know the next part. SSG now has to find a way to pay for all of that so he can stay married, keep oil in the burner, and eat meat at regularly scheduled intervals.

 

In publishing, keeping this whole enterprise afloat ain’t too easy. At the very low end of six figures, I occupy a fairly annoying demographic position: people who are statistically “rich” but, by East Coast standards, live a fairly cash-strapped and frustrating existence. Despite the fact that the monthly commission check has been fairly chunky of late, most of it is well spent before it hits my bank account, and there’s a long list of people lined up to take a piece of it. Luckily, SSG has been lucky in real estate (like everyone else), so he knows that upon death, there may be something for the family to fall back on. For now, it’s root, hog or die.

So, dear reader. don’t underestimate the casual way SSB approaches sales. He may appear nonchalant, but that next big program he sells you just may mean the difference between pasta and beer versus a nice ribeye and a decent bottle of Cabernet. Agencies and clients: Won’t you please support SSG?

The Friendly Buys
I just read that a bunch of private equity guys finally bought a big competitor of Big Media Company, Dutch publishing conglomerate VNU. The owner of Nielsen (the TV ratings people), AdWeek (the well-written, yet somehow annoying media magazine), and a bunch of other prime periodicals, data companies, and trade shows. My beloved Big Media Company is probably champing at the bit to do the same. With print sales taking a bath and new media money not pouring in for publishers like everybody said it would, it’s time to get the hell out. Or, maybe, time to buy something else.

Coming on the heels of other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot.

Coming on the heels of the Primedia deal, Hanley Wood, and some other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot. Thomas H Lee, KKR, and Blackstone Group are all about the people, aren’t they? I can picture them, sitting around the old Polycom conference call unit, big jugs of Voss designer water in front of them, talking about how they can improve the company health plan and add an extra percentage point or two to the 401K matching contribution.

We’ll see how long it takes them to lop off a few choice divisions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my beloved Big Media Company doesn’t end up with a few of them. You know what they say: If you can’t grow revenue on your own, you can buy your way into some. Buy a few mags, fire all of their back-office and production staff, and double up your own staff’s workload. Same fixed costs—double the productivity!

Sure, you’ll lose about 25 percent to attrition, but the job market’s tough for the low-end employee, and there are plenty of folks out there willing to brave a four-hour round trip commute to make $35,000 a year. Now you’re talking about real margins. The important thing is, what does this mean for your loyal and dedicated Secret Sales Guy? Will I get another magazine to run? Will Big Media Company follow VNU’s lead and start shopping my magazines around? Stay tuned…

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/5/2006]

Compensation · CRM · Sales Rants · Sales Training · Writing

SalesRants 5: The 2.5 Percent Solution

Swapping an editorial gig for ad sales in order to write? Doesn’t make sense to Anonymous either, but he’s living it

“Shut the F@#$ up, Trudy!”
More training today. this time on CRM. That’s “customer relationship management,” by the way. The way it works is, Big Media Company spends a few hundred thousand dollars on a piece of software that tells you when to call your customers. You put in names, addresses, your client’s daughter’s name and age, underwear size, etc. Then, when you give him a ring about the August issue, you can bullshit a little and pretend you care about his family, all the while looking up his sales history, sock color preference, and any other thing they can load into the program through SAP or whatever general ledger software Big Media Company happens to be running.

During the class—mandatory for anyone earning over $50,000 at the Company, incidentally—some lady named Trudy* actually starts bitching about it. Things haven’t been right since we rolled up the new CRM application, she says. There’s no help desk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Does this ridiculous, menial, little peon—from accounts receivable, of all departments—really think she is “speaking truth to power” here?

The CRM consultant—who happens to be a Big Media Company Player through and through—issues Trudy the old “let’s talk out your work-related issue, even though you and I both know nothing will change the software rollout” invitation, and asks her for more information. It’s a damn shame he can’t say what his eyes are telling me he wants to say.

 

His exact words are, “That’s an interesting observation, Trudy. I’ll bet, when the rollout is complete, we can find you a CRM software person to sit down with your team and get everybody up to speed. Let’s discuss this in more detail offline, and we’ll get to the bottom of this training issue. Anyone else want to share a similar experience?”

What he wants to say goes a little like: “Shut the fuck up and read the manual like everyone else.” But he doesn’t cave to the urge. Oh, well. Can’t wait for the “Violence in the Workplace” mini-session next week!

The 2.5 percent Solution

A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another “i,” Bob Cratchit.
—Charles Dickens

I love Big Media Company. After capping annual raises at 2.5 percent a year sometime back in 1973, we have editors at our company who literally bring a can of Friskies to work for lunch. With gas at $8 a gallon, the price of cigarettes going through the roof, and the general expense living in New York creates, the 2.5 percent raise policy means that, with inflation, the Big Media employee effectively gets a pay cut each year. Half of our guys live in Brooklyn—and not the nice part either (unless you know something about the J train that I don’t).

Not everybody’s hurting, though. The sales guy who’s consistently bringing in the cash isn’t complaining—and when he is, the boss usually busts his ass to find that extra $10 grand to placate him so he doesn’t have to go through the hell of hiring and training somebody else.

Editors? Slap them in front of a Mac and a telephone, and throw them a decent pizza party every once in a while, and you’re good to go. There are a billion budding Noam Chomskys ready to “cut their teeth” with some “good writing experience” at Big Media Company. It makes me sick.

That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. It was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

I used to be an editor. I remember the day I switched to sales. It was when I recommended a guy I knew as a salesman for a job at my magazine. He came in knowing fuck-all about the Industry, and started off making about $40,000 more than me right off the bat—all before he had even sold his first ad. That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. Not coincidentally, it was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

Although I still regret the day I left editorial, it’s pretty much been steady roast beef on a roll with extra lettuce and tomato every since, and that Friskies can hang out in the cabinet until I get a cat.

I guess my English teacher knew what he was talking about. He told us to get a job as a garbage man (or anything providing a steady income), so we could afford to write. If you want to be a writer, why not be an ad salesman to pay the bills?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/28/2006]

P&L Management · Sales Management · Sales Rants · Sales Tactics

SalesRants 4: Quid Pro Quo

“Julie” and “Bob” help our adman on the inside master the nuances of sales etiquette

Managing Up(s) and Down(s)
It’s a beautiful Friday morning, and I’m in bright and early putting the final touches on a PowerPoint for Boss. Boss is an older man, sort of an ex-hippie creative type with decent industry rep, but somewhat scattered and disdainful of the spotlight. Boss lets me “do my thing” and I let him do his. “My thing” is selling stuff and numbers and management. “His thing” is talking to Buck*, the Group Underboss (who is the Group Boss’ bitch). I manage up, Boss manages up, and everything we have to say gets synopsized into a handy three bullet-point summary for Senior Management.

The process goes something like this: CEO asks, “What’s going on?” Message filters down to Group Boss, who emails Group Underboss, asking, “What’s up with sales?” Underboss parses this, and mass-emails every publisher in the group his interpretation of Group Underboss’ question, which he translates as: “Please send me a comprehensive report on your first six months—including details of every revenue center—with detailed notes, forecasts, and projections for the next 3 months, years, and decades.”

Publisher (a.k.a. Boss) forwards me the email, and I spend three days composing a variety of spreadsheets and supporting documents laying out the business model for the next century, with a particular emphasis on the next month or so. I send this back to Boss, with a note: “Okay with this?” Boss emails in reply: “Are these numbers legitimate?” While I’m not really sure of what I put in, my reply reads: “Solid as a rock, Boss.”

 

Boss then sends those rock-solid numbers back to Group Underboss, who asks what the three top points we want to highlight are, returning my PowerPoint and 11-tab supporting Excel document to Boss. Boss forwards this note to me, asking that I whittle down the presentation that took three days to put together to an email consisting of three bullet points. I send the bullet points, pasted within an email, to Group Underboss, who doesn’t reply.

Three weeks later, Group Underboss informs us that we need to make another $200,000 in the third quarter because unrelated magazines in our Group aren’t doing so hot. We put it into the budget, even though we know we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it. Nothing is ever said about the original presentation I slaved over, so I archive it on the server, deleting the 22-megabyte file from my hard drive.

Scenario #1
I have spent the better part of an hour on our intranet site, taking a required course on sexual harassment. Comprised of helpful online videos (whose set design and production quality are bizarrely reminiscent of a high-budget porn film circa 1985), quizzes, and “refresher units,” the course serves as a welcome departure from the morning’s usual sales reporting.

In Scenario #1, “Julie,” a comely office denizen roughly 35 years of age, is working with her line manager “Bob” on a proposal. They are pitching a massive sale of copiers to ACME Business Corp, and Bob brings up the idea of meeting “Mr. Zeberdee,” ACME’s top purchasing agent.

Julie remarks that while she’s only been in touch with “Ethan,” Zeberdee’s purchasing manager, it would be great to meet with Zeberdee himself, if Bob thinks that would help close the deal. Bob’s response: “You know, Julie, Zeberdee’s single, and the last time he was in the office, he asked about you.” Bob goes on, reckoning that old Zeberdee would be “putty in Julie’s hands” after a social rendezvous. What does Julie think? Would she mind meeting Zeberdee for dinner and drinks to help them, as Bob so delicately puts it, “close this puppy?”

I can barely believe what I’m watching, and jack up the volume into my headphones, subconsciously afraid someone will notice my profound enjoyment and assume I actually am looking at porn. Will Julie do it? She doesn’t exactly strike me as demure. Come to think of it, the last time I saw that much green eye shadow on a woman in a skirt suit, she hit me up for five bucks.

Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Alas, the video stops right before the dénouement with the multiple-choice pop quiz. What should Julie do—what should she say to Bob? As I wait for the answer choices to appear on my screen, the suspense is downright paralyzing.

I consider going with, “(D): There is nothing wrong with Bob asking Julie to participate in an non-work related dinner, since Julie is single and may appreciate the introduction.” Exactly. Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—and you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Instead, I select, “(A): It would be inappropriate for Bob to ask Julie to attend a social engagement with Bob, especially after Mr. Zeberdee indicated a romantic interest in Julie. This would constitute a form of quid pro quo sexual harassment.” I contemplate going back to the video for a “refresher unit,” but reluctantly move on to Scenario #2.

What will that kooky Bob and Julie get up to next?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/21/2006]

Compensation · Sales · Sales Management · Sales Rants · T&E

SalesRants 3: Big Man, Small Ball

This week, reverse psychology’s the name of the game for our ad man on the inside.

Big Marketing Man

Eric Blumstein* is staring at me over the top of his Diet Coke (no fruit) and telling me in no uncertain terms how important he is. With me is Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, and I’m not exactly sure he’s getting just how big a prick Blumstein is being.

Having just put in his first year, Blumstein’s about the fourth man down the marketing totem pole at Big Electronics Company. His boss’ timely promotion has left him holding the keys to a fairly sizable marketing budget, a portion of which is responsible for 5 percent of our total annual gross revenue. Bottom line? Without Blumstein’s complete enthusiasm for the majority of our elaborate, big-money sponsorships and programs, we’re in serious trouble. Therefore, we must acknowledge Blumstein’s marketing wisdom and let him dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” he wants to. So far, Blumstein seems determined to do a whole lot of crossin’ and dottin’ before the fall media-buying season.

Sporting a wannabe-hipster goatee and carefully arranged hair meant to simulate bedhead, Blumstein takes a measured sip of his diet soda and brushes an errant piece of tuna tartar from his chin. I am deep into my second scotch-and-soda of this casual meeting and trying to let Rod, Blumstein’s direct sales rep, absorb most of his blather. At one point, Blumstein actually says “Everything goes through me.” Wow. This bastard is cocky as hell. However, it could be a reaction to our selling a sizable sponsorship behind his back to his ad agency.

As Blumstein goes on, it is hard not to think about the fact that my assistant probably outearns him, and I chastise myself for such a base notion. Later on, I think of this when I start the 90-slide PowerPoint presentation that will be the price of admission into Blumstein’s marketing party. God, this is no way to live.

**

Small Ball
Do you sell ads? Then you know this hoary old chestnut as well as the next space representative: “There is no bigger pain in the ass than the small advertiser.” Yes, it’s true. You’ll sell a $500,000 program (large, even by No. 1 Industry Mag standards) in a week to Grey Advertising or OMD, and never hear from them again until the next quarter. But, dare to sell an 1/8-page B&W vertical to Small Company, and they will call incessantly at all hours of the night. You can count on this more than the fact that I am going to start my day with a Camel Filter and a cup of coffee (black and sweet, just like World’s Most Amiable Sales Director Rod).

 

The small company can’t really afford the ad in the first place (which is why they pay up front); is actually genuinely counting on the ad to bring them business (now they call it “ROI”); and is counting on glorious No. 1 Industry Mag to partner with them to raise their fortunes in the business. By the time the negotiations are over and you factor in all the long-distance phone calls, time spent, and the occasional T&E, you have generally lost money on the ad. The kicker? If Small Company doesn’t sell a dozen widgets or whatever (which they track mercilessly using “ad codes” and the like), then you will never hear from them again—they’ll be in No. 3 Industry Mag, where the 1/8-pages are selling briskly at $250 each, rather than the $1,850 a pop you command.

How about not selling them at all? I’m trying this now, based on this book about “firing your customers.” Perversely, once you tell clients that you don’t need their business, they stop negotiating and buy something. The old reverse psychology never fails, does it? Now, if I can only figure out how to make the bastards stop calling Rod.

**

Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director
I am sitting with Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, at an Italian restaurant in the West 20s. We are having our monthly lunch with Tad Tramanto, one of our smaller, but more regular advertisers. Rod is wearing his uniform: a crisply pressed Brooks Brothers striped button-down under a handsome blue blazer, a pair of dressy blue jeans, and some expensive English bench made lace-ups. Maintaining “office casual” attire is something Rod does extremely well, unlike many of our colleagues at Big Publishing Company.

Rod is top boy at No. 1 Industry Mag, and has been bringing in close to $2 million annually for the past several years—a Herculean sales effort for a niche book like ours—and one that brings Rod a respectable, but not extravagant, salary that edges just above the six-figure mark. Along with his salary, Rod receives a healthy benefits package, a decent T&E account, a laptop computer, 20-odd vacation and personal days, and the promise that Big Publishing Company’ll clink the retirement jar to the tune of a 5 percent matching contribution. It’s not a king’s ransom by any stretch of the imagination, but it has afforded Rod a decent lifestyle and, not to be discounted, a sense of stability and predictability not easy to find in New York’s volatile job market.

Hailing from South America by way of London, Rod is an extremely handsome black man of refinement and culture, well-spoken, and possessed of real charm. He is, in a word, amiable—the perfect salesman.

I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

Rod’s sales history and account list reveals his ability to attract—and, more importantly, keep—advertising clients. Rod rarely gets a new one, but when he does, they usually stick around for a while. Rod’s client base is like a thriving garden, one which he tends and nurtures on a daily basis. Because of his well-tended client base, Rod’s one of a select breed of salespeople who can pull in favors when they’re needed, and I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

When you are competing against 10 other magazines, a big part of whether you get the business comes down to relationships. Rod’s specialty is creating and nurturing those relationships to the point where he’s not just a salesperson, but a trusted confidant, adviser, and—more often than not—friend. This is something that cannot be trained into a salesperson: either you’ve got it or you don’t. Every magazine needs a Rod—preferably two or three of them.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/14/2006]

P&L Management · Sales · Sales Rants · Sales Tactics · T&E

SalesRants 2: Glanda the Bad Witch

Our ad man on the inside divulges how the magazine sales world turns

Buck* and the Heinous Gap Button-Down
The hangover is tremendous, almost biblical. The first number I see on my phone this morning is Buck, the Underboss. Buck is a handsome gay man in his early forties, trying to hold down the corporate look with his own personal flair. That means an Armani two-button suit with the jacket left at home, and a $280 Zegna dress shirt unbuttoned 2 notches to reveal a manly, yet manicured, patch of chest hair. Despite the fact that I consider myself the epitome of the man’s man—with a slight paunch conveying the gravitas of my over 40 years, yet athletic enough to reach a basketball rim with a modicum of effort—I am cowed by the mere sight of extension 8495 on my QualComm handset.

It could be the budget. As the owner of our $10,000,000 P&L, I am expected to know—with utter authority—what is going on in the business at any time. At this point, I barely know what month it is, never mind the expected revenues in June or, perhaps, why our sales T&E is trending 30 percent above average, year-to-date. Vegas comes to mind, and my heartburn shifts from low-grade churn to storm-tossed ship. I’m starting to get the mouth-sweats.

Buck can’t format his PowerPoint for the CEO. Everything he tries to cut-and-paste comes up with the wrong alignment. Will I pop by and have a look? I realize that, thanks to my tendency to leave the house with exactly eight minutes to get to the railroad station, I haven’t been to the dry cleaner in three weeks. My sartorial situation has become so grim that I’m currently sporting a Gap button-down approximately one neck size too small and three years out of date. Buck will definitely notice. Goddamn it.

I wipe the sheen of hangover sweat from my forehead and trudge into Buck’s office to help fix his presentation.

**

Glanda the Bad Witch
Glanda pops into my office at her usual time. In other words, a time when I am least likely to have 10 seconds to spare for her bullshit. I should have taken my laptop home last night, but the thought of schlepping it onto the subway, then taking it on another train was too much to bear. I have under 30 minutes to catch up on 50 some-odd emails before my next meeting, and only a few are the kind from Nigerian nationals that get the immediate-delete treatment.

Glanda hovers in my doorway, ready to make inane conversation and/or tell me just how hard she’s working. As one of the lazier people I’ve ever encountered (and I come from an Irish-American family from lower Manhattan), Glanda commences the day’s Recounting of the Hardships almost immediately. In at 8:30. Amazing, especially with the subways being what they were. Did the line-up-report, too. Not easy, she’ll have me know, with no additional help. As per usual, Glanda strums her tiny violin like she’s playing a Clash ballad.

Yes, it has to be done in two days. No, she can’t hire anyone—the budget is too tapped out this month. Glanda’s friendly gaze turns deadly…

I sense something amiss. Glanda seems more worked up than usual. Probably because I assigned a 1,500-piece mailing to her, and she wants to get out of it by hiring a few temps to stuff the envelopes. Yes, it has to be done in two days. No, she can’t hire anyone—the budget is too tapped out this month. Glanda’s friendly gaze turns deadly, and suddenly she is looking at me as though I just murdered the family pet.

“Happy Assistant’s Day,” she snarls. Oh, shit.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/5/2006]

Publishing · Sales · Sales Management · Sales Rants · Sales Tactics

Sales Rants: The Pretty Proposal

An undercover magazine ad exec reveals what it takes to get that all-important commission and quarterly bonus

Lonny Rosenblatt*
I am staring across the table at Lonny, who is negotiating a side order of asparagus to go with his branzino. We are in an expensive Italian restaurant located across the street from a strip mall out on Long Island, and this is the bi-annual trek from the city to sit at the knee of the master and suck in his wisdom. In the Industry, Lonny used to be top boy. Now, sitting somewhat slumped over his fish, his slightly dated tie threatening to flop into his bread plate, Lonny is bemoaning the Industry’s fate.

Lonny sells to retailers, and the retail trade is dying. Best Buy. Circuit City. Wal-Mart. There are hardly any old-line retailers left to sell to. Lonny used to be our fifth-largest print advertiser, and now he’s pulling a 6-time schedule of black-and-white half-pages instead of the glory days, when the product line was fat and Lonny presided over a budget that allowed for dozens of 4-color pages a year.

My job, along with that of my colleague—an amiable sales director named Rod—is to ask Lonny questions that we already know the answers to, while looking captivated as Lonny dispenses Industry Knowledge. After all, Lonny is our 15th-biggest customer, and despite the ailing condition of the business, he’s one of the few advertisers willing to throw down a complete schedule at the beginning of the year. That makes our lives easier, and if the price of his guaranteed schedule is to check up on him over a $300 Italian meal in the depths of Long Island, then that’s what we have to do.

The sick part of it is: I love doing this. I have been looking forward to seeing Lonny since Monday and as I tuck into another piece of veal, I inquisitively meet Lonny’s eyes as he continues lamenting the State of the Industry, all while wondering whether it’d be appropriate to get another glass of that Chianti.

**

Nice Sale
I just hung up the phone with Big Imaging Company and negotiated a deal that still has me grinning well into the fourth Excel tab of our company’s absurd boilerplate insertion order. Jim has some ambitious plans for 3Q, and as #1 Industry Mag, we have a lot to sell. As part of a multinational publishing company, we are obligated to “straddle media” and “deliver the gateway.” What that means is that nobody’s buying print advertising anymore, so you have to work three times as hard selling banner ads, custom publications, Webcasts, and face-to-face marketing opportunities just to make the same amount of money you’d otherwise be raking in with print.

Jim, my contact, has just agreed to spend a dollar amount equivalent to 20 percent of our annual display advertising budget to push a special marketing initiative. And even though our rates are just a premium-positioning charge compared to the national consumer press, I shudder with glee as I tab in an extra zero on the order’s net sales field. Naturally, my first instinct is to compose a self-congratulatory “send all” email outlining my monster sale.

I decide against it. The sale I just made will serve to double the work of the heinously underpaid custom media department which, unlike me, will never see a nickel of the sale I just closed. Instead, I write a 1,200-word “we-mail” outlining all the work they need to do for the program, and close my door to call Jan.

**

Jan
It’s 11 A.M. and Jan, my wife, is yammering into my ear. I’m typing furiously, the phone wedged between my shoulder and my ear, trying to provide some guidance on Big Imaging Company’s Web development project. I hear something about the roof (leaking?) amid background noise comprised of my 4-year old daughter crying, my 6-year old son explaining (“I didn’t do it”), and the shrill barking of my 11-year old dog, Nudgy. As Jan hits me with some more information (bring something home for dinner?), my other 11-year old dog Scout joins the high-decibel chorus. The house sounds like it has been invaded by a paramilitary organization run by the ASPCA.

It always amazes me that we can spend a couple of dollars on color printer ink, take a few hours to put together some sheets of paper, and then put a price tag of $100,000 on it.

I keep typing, retaining virtually nothing of our “conversation.” Line two rings through with a 202 area code. It’s Big Washington Media Partner. I tell Jan I have to take the call, and I’ll get back to her in five minutes. I wind up calling her from the train seven hours later, on the ride back home. “Did you ask me to bring something home to eat?”

There are loud noises in my ear again; I think Jan’s yelling at me.

**

The Miracle of Design
As Associate Publisher of No. 1 Industry Mag, it’s my job to organize the sales team and drum up new business. We publish about 24 print magazines a year, run about 10 Web sites, own a few e-commerce businesses and have a big trade show. We sell about $10,000,000 worth of stuff a year, and most of it comes in dribs and drabs of under $5,000. We have eight salespeople who try to make that happen. Orders are the lifeblood of our business and, like car accident victims, our only chance of survival is to be constantly transfused with a steady stream of our lifeblood: hard American currency, collected diligently every thirty days.

A good deal of our lifeblood is gathered in large amounts. These are the big sales, ranging from anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000. In other words, they’re the sales that need the pretty proposal. We do that better than anyone in the business.

What is the pretty proposal? It’s taking the contents of an email proposal and having someone absurdly talented turn that proposal into an ad-quality PDF—complete with logos, pictures, and neatly-set text, preferably in a sans-serif font. It comes in full color, and may or may not be submitted via PowerPoint presentation, which basically says the same thing, but with even more images.

We sell ideas, and those ideas have to look good. It always amazes me that we can spend a couple of dollars on color printer ink, take a few hours to put together some sheets of paper, and then put a price tag of $100,000 on it. Initial investment? Zero. The problems only start when someone actually takes us up on it.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 5/31/2006]