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Aligning a newspaper’s ad sales organization for improved performance

Focusing the sales team on key accounts results in a 10 percent overall gain in incremental revenue.

Challenge

A leading newspaper was facing declining revenues from its print business, and advertising sales revenue from its digital publishing was not sufficiently compensating for the loss.

With concern mounting that the advertising sales force was neither focused on the greatest areas of opportunity nor best deployed to capture value, the client asked McKinsey to design a set of initiatives for increasing ad sales effectiveness over both the short and long term.

Discovery

The team began by working closely with the client to conduct fair share analysis to identify customer segments and accounts that the newspaper was underserving or where there was a greater sales opportunity. Based on this analysis, the team was able to understand the overall opportunity and was in a position to set clear, account-specific targets that could be used for performance management on an ongoing basis.

To improve performance, sales force members were given the ability to determine which of their existing accounts should be served in a high-touch fashion versus over the phone, based on customer needs and the value the account represented to the newspaper. In addition, the team designed an approach for covering outside sales calls, based on the time required to serve different types of accounts and how consultative or transactional the discussion needed to be.

The team also helped improve the process for adding new customers and accounts. A systematized process for lead generation was developed and rolled out using centrally generated tools and data. Critical elements of the account planning cycle were standardised and sales representatives were given simple templates. The time this saved allowed sales reps more capacity to pursue new opportunities. The proposal development process was also streamlined to improve efficiency and nurture creative ideas.

Finally, within the sales force, best practices for talent management were put in place. Whereas performance management had historically been done in an ad hoc manner, a simple set of metrics were set to track and measure performance, and managers were given a coaching manual to support them in mentoring their sales reps.

Impact

With the new sales deployment strategy in place, the sales force reserved outside sales calls for priority accounts and those with the greatest opportunity, while the lower-cost telesales channel was employed appropriately. All sales processes were refined to enable the sales teams to focus on key accounts, and a stronger performance management mindset was part of the operating rhythm. This transformation resulted in a 10 percent overall gain in incremental revenue.