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How to sell more ads

With many publishers still making most of their money from advertising, the one thing they all want to know is… how to sell more of it. Someone who knows a great deal about ad sales is Caroline Ackroyd of Crosby Associates Media, because she’s been doing it for over twenty years. James Evelegh asks her, what is the secret of running a successful ads sales operation?

By James Evelegh

How to sell more ads
Caroline’s team: “A happy office makes for awesome products going out the door.”

“It’s simple really; build trust and relationships, over-deliver on your promises and never lie,” says Caroline Ackroyd, general manager at the Manchester office of contract and membership publishers Crosby Associates Media.

I was in Manchester in late March to talk to Caroline about ‘best practice in ad sales’. The article was commissioned by Steph Cope, sales and marketing manager of the Publishing Software Company (PSC), developers of the Advertising Manager and Contact Manager software that Caroline relies on.

Caroline started in ads sales in 1997 working first for McMillan Scott and then for Excel. When Excel sadly went under in June 2017, Caroline contacted Lee Carroll, MD of Liverpool-based Crosby Associates. One thing led to another with the end result being Crosby setting up a Manchester office run by Caroline and employing some of the key staff from Excel and retaining some of their main publishing clients, like Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and London Chambers of Commerce.

Caroline Ackroyd: “Treat your clients as you would expect to be treated yourself.”

Caroline’s team now publish 39 titles, including Access 4 Blues, the magazine for disabled Manchester City fans and its Newcastle United equivalent, Toon Times Extra, London Business Matters and NFB Heritage & Traditional Building.

Ad sales is the sole source of revenue for all the titles and Caroline has clear views on what does and doesn’t work.

So, for a publishing company looking to run a first-class ad sales operation, what approach should they take, I ask her. Caroline had seven bits of advice:

  1. Build relationships & trust
  2. “The secret of good ad sales is not selling something to someone once, but in selling it to them time after time. It’s not about the single sell. To make sales that start life as one issue trials, develop into series bookings and that, ultimately, renew again and again, one needs to build strong relationships and that is done by creating a rapport, identifying and meeting needs, and delivering a strong product with excellent customer service.”

  3. Respect your clients
  4. “Treat your clients as you would expect to be treated yourself. Never lie to them. Quite apart from the ethics, you will be found out. And, as everyone knows, trust takes years to build and seconds to destroy. Don’t risk it.”

    “Don’t hound or stalk prospects; don’t miss-sell; do what you say you’re going to do; keep them informed but don’t badger; respect their space and priorities; over-deliver on your promises.”

  5. Pick the right staff
  6. “Sales requires a particular skill set and not everyone is cut out for it. It’s not easy. As a manager, you have to be able to spot people likely to have a good aptitude. Typically, they will have the following characteristics: intelligent, talkative, likeable, good listener (and that means hearing what people say, not just keeping quiet while they’re saying it), quick witted, competitive but a team player, polite, goal-oriented, able to take ‘no’ for an answer without taking it personally, enthusiastic and with the ability to make the prospect feel special. If you can find someone who ticks all those boxes, then hire them! And keep them!”

  7. Support your sales team
  8. “The relationship between publisher and sales team is a symbiotic one. Do right by them and they’ll do right by you.”

    “Your sales staff have the right to expect a positive working environment where everyone’s input is recognised and rewarded, where your publishing product exceeds the promises they have been making on your behalf and where your wider publishing operation is a pleasure for their clients to do business with.”

    “When the whole publishing operation is focused on delivering a quality service, then you make life much easier for the people at the sharp end – your sales staff. Crosby Associates prides itself on its strong products and excellent customer service.”

  9. Use the right numbers
  10. “There is still a school of thought that treats ad sales as simply a numbers game: make a hundred calls, get through to ten, sell to one. Ergo, make enough calls and you will make enough sales.”

    “Of course, targets are important but setting the wrong type of target can be counter-productive. Don’t treat your sales team like sweatshop labour. That’s the PPI-way and it’s not suitable in the publishing context which relies on repeat business. Burn-out and staff-churn will be high and as an organisation, you will never be able to develop strong long-term client relationships with this kind of approach.”

    “Our approach is to set personal monthly sales targets for each sales person, but not to be too prescriptive about how they reach them. They know how much they are expected to sell; their remuneration and commission structure is clear, but they are given a lot of flexibility about how they achieve their target. They are encouraged to use all the tools at their disposal, including the phone, email and social media and to use them in whichever combination works best for them.”

    “On the subject of remuneration, I find the best sales people prefer the greater proportion of their package to be commission-based, because they’re so confident in their ability to sell.”

  11. Be happy
  12. “A happy office makes for awesome products going out the door. It’s about creating a positive office environment where people like to come into work. One of the things I’m particularly proud of is our low sickness rates – always a good yardstick for office morale. It’s about treating staff with respect, recognising and rewarding strong performance and fostering team spirit. When we hit our sales targets, the whole office – not just the sales team – go out for lunch to celebrate.”

  13. Use a proper contact management and ad bookings platform
  14. “A customer relationship management (CRM) platform, like the one we use from PSC, is the foundation stone of any successful sales operation. Without it, you’re relying on piles of paper, note pads and your sales staff having super-human memories. They will miss opportunities, forget to make call-backs, and never be able to join the dots. And, if they decide to leave, then they take all their learnings and insights with them. You are left with nothing other than an irritated client who has to start from scratch again with a new sales person.”

    “With an integrated CRM and ad bookings system, everything is tracked and reported, which means you can assess progress towards targets, individual and team performance, and build the knowledge base and insight about your clients that enables to you to make more compelling and timely sales pitches.”

    “And the ability to efficiently manage the booking, invoicing and reporting on all ad sales, is a bit of a no-brainer. Without it, chaos reigns…”

Couldn’t live without it

Caroline has been using PSC for over ten years, initially at Excel. On setting up the Manchester office for Crosby Associates, she encouraged Lee Carroll to install the system: “The contact management system is the first thing I look at everyday; in effect, it’s my to-do list for the day. I told Lee that I couldn’t live without it.”

They use an integrated set of three PSC modules (Advertising Manager for managing the ad bookings, Contact Manager, a customer relationship management platform and Accounts Manager for invoicing and credit control).

Caroline is an enthusiastic advocate: “It has a great interface, it’s easy to use. It’s what keeps all departments connected and I don’t know how we would get everything done on time, without it.”

Does she feel that she’s getting the most out of the system, I ask her. “Probably not! I use it for what I need and I know there’s lots more the system can do that I haven’t yet tried. One thing I have found over the years, is that when I think of something else I would like to be able to do with it, I phone Steph and find that, nine times out of ten, it does it already!”

What advice would Caroline give to publishers using a system like the PSC one?

Publishing Software Company’s Steph Cope.

“Simple. Use it. Open it every day and use all the time-saving devices to plan your working day. Train your sales team in how to use it and insist that they input all their contacts into it and update it regularly with correspondence notes, insights and action points. These are big systems that can probably do much more than you’re currently using them for. I would recommend the PSC system to anyone.”

PSC is a Worcestershire-based software developer specialising in publishing solutions, especially in the area of ad sales. The company was set up over thirty years ago by Laurence Cope and has an impressive client list, including Slimming World, Stream Publishing and Arts Professional.

So, having chatted with Caroline, it would seem that the secret of successful ad sales is fourfold: right product, right culture, right people and right system.

Last word to Steph Cope, sales and marketing manager at the Publishing Software Company: “The first three are down to you the publisher, but we can definitely help with the fourth! If you’re a publisher, large or small, and feel that your existing advertising management and CRM platform is holding you back – or indeed if you don’t currently have one – then contact us for a no-obligation chat to see how we might be able to help. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Publishing Software Company

Old Anglo House, Suite 11-12, Mitton Street, Stourport On Severn, Worcestershire, DY13 9AQ

Steph Cope, Sales & Marketing Manager

Tel: 020 8088 2737