When I became VP of Sales Strategy and Development at AOL’s Interactive Marketing division in 1998, I was asked to become active in a membership that the division had in the Sales Executive Council (SEC), part of the Corporate Executive Board.
I remember attending my first meeting of the SEC with top-ranked marketing and sales executives of GE, DuPont, Time Inc., and several large banks, and I was blown away with what the SEC had to offer based on extensive research it conducted in sales organizations of major global corporations.
One of the reasons I appreciated the SEC research is because I had come to AOL from having an endowed chair at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which I had been hired, in part, because I had an MS in Journalism and was a.b.d. for my Ph.D, which also meant that I had taken several advanced research courses and had some understanding of what good research and methodology looked like.
The SEC provided such insightful information that I used much of what I learned in subsequent sales training at AOL, other organizations I have done training for, and in the fourth edition of my textbook, Media Selling: Television, Print, Internet, Radio.
Well, the SEC and the Corporate Executive Board have done it again. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson have written a sales management blockbuster titled The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, and it’s an absolute must read for media sales and marketing executives, especially for those in digital (internet and mobile).
The reason I’m not recommending The Challenger Sale to media salespeople is because, even though they might benefit from it enormously, they will be extremely frustrated and discouraged because there are so few media companies that will be willing to embrace the changes necessary to implement such a successful approach that The Challenger Sale recommends.
Alas, because most media companies sell to advertising agencies, that could care less about solutions to advertiser problems, the approach recommended in The Challenger Sale must be adopted and customized, which most media companies are unwilling to take the time to do. But the major points made that sales reps must “Teach for Differentiation, Tailor [the solution] for Resonance, and Take Control of the Sale” all work in media selling.
The only media companies I know of that come close to the Challenger Sale are Apple (not a pure media company), Google, and ESPN (Disney), but they are not run by bean-counting financial types or narcissistic, greedy cliff-dwellers who think old-style relationship selling is good enough.
If you’re a sales executive who works for the latter type of media company, buy the book, have it shipped to your home, don’t tell anyone you’re reading it, and surreptitiously put into practice all that you can of the Challenger Sale with your flexible, growth-oriented sales reps.