‘Keep It Real’ Sales Interview Series 1: Amy L. Phoenix

When I finally came around to an approach for how I would do interviews with serious Sales pros on this blog, the concept/title came about in some part by way of MoM[S]’s first interviewee. I think you’ll find that ‘Keep It Real’ is indeed very much what she’s about.

I happened upon Amy’s firm doing some research for a freelance Media client, and knew instantly when I saw her site: I wanted to talk with her as our Inaugural Guest in the ‘Keep It Real’ Sales Series. [Luckily, she agreed!]

That guest is Amy L. Phoenix, head of AL Phoenix, a Sales/Marketing consultancy in the SF Bay Area. She is a past Digital Media Sales & Marketing exec, and also teaches Sales courses & seminars across the US.

MoM[S]: Hi Amy, and thanks for being our Inaugural interview guest. Can you tell us a bit about your Sales background, and how you came to start AL Phoenix?

Amy: My background is in Sales Marketing, starting in high tech magazines in ’91 at Ziff-Davis. I moved to the agency side in ‘97, as an account manager and media buyer, and then went back to media for online publisher TechRepublic in 1999. When CNET Networks bought TechRepublic in 2001, I went along as the AVP of Industry Marketing, and then started A.L. Phoenix Marketing in 2003. I consult with media companies, doing sales support marketing and online ad sales training.

MoM[S]: The lead-in piece to our discussion of today was partly dedicated to you by MoM[S], based again, on what I saw as your ‘Keep It Real’ approach, out there for all to see. But that’s my perception. What is your current Sales approach or philosophy, in your own words?

Amy: I’m definitely into keeping it real! You learn not to mince words when you work with sales – no one can spot a line of B.S. faster than a good sales person. If they didn’t think a product, positioning, or sales tool would make sense to an ad client, it would never get used. So I learned to put everything through the “Will it help an advertiser?” test. I think that training definitely influences my approach to this day.

MoM[S]: Indeed, words to live by, in my book. I’ve seen too many kinds of convoluted sales schemes, all just too clever by half. Trying to “finesse” people into buying these days is almost pointless. Who knows.

Do you work in all types of Media these days; i.e. Broadcast, Print, Digital?

Amy: I do. For training I work with traditional media companies who are trying to grow their internet advertising revenue. For sales support I work with all media.

[Here is where I’ll let our readers know, that what really intrigued me about Amy, was reading her critique of a Oct 2009 article by Borrell Assoc, entitled,You Need to Have Online Reps to Drive Online Sales [Doh!] Her critique was biting, on point and very unapologetic to the article’s authors. ]

MoM[S]: Briefly, Amy, can you tell us what the gist of that article was, and more important, your critique of it?

Amy: Borrell’s article advocates dual, competitive teams – one for the traditional media and one for internet advertising. The dual team strategy is not new, of course. And while I don’t agree with creating two competitive teams for local market ad sales, it was the conclusions Borrell drew about why a dedicated team is necessary that really irritated the hell out of me. Quoting their own research, they say companies with two teams make real money from online, while those that rely on the “legacy teams” do not. I cannot argue with their research, but this was the part that turned me purple, “This revelation should come as no surprise to online managers. They’ve been telling us all along that print and broadcast reps ‘just don’t get it.’…Our vice president of sales training, Bill Caudill, tells us that, after a training session, 30% of the reps “get it” and actually go out and sell online advertising. After three months, he says, half of them forget it.”

It just really chaps my hide that Borrell Associates would publicly state that a dedicated online sales team is necessary because a legacy media team won’t ever figure out how to sell Online! Talk about a line of B.S. If there is a good compensation plan in place, and the trainer does their job, you’ll have a lot more traditional reps selling online than the 15% Borrell seems to be claiming (feel free to check my math). Sure, there are always people that don’t want to learn something new, but not very many. Normally you see more fear– reps afraid that they won’t get it – but a good trainer should know how recognize and overcome that.

So the “they don’t get it” justification absolutely doesn’t work for me. Although Borrell also suggested that time was a factor working against adding online to traditional media reps’ full plate. And I agree that that is an issue. But I think it’s better solved by adding support people, rather than competing sales staff.

The decision about whether to have a dedicated sales team for online ad sales should be dictated by what works for the customer, the advertiser.

MoM[S]: I thought at first you & I might end up arguing on this point, but I found out later that we may actually agree: The focus of that piece [and your critique of it] was really more geared to Local sales teams and their process, as opposed to Major Accounts [i.e. Retail], or National brands types of accounts, I thought. Is that right?

Amy: As you said, Ken, Borrell’s research, and their article, was specifically about local media sales – where the customer is likely to be the owner or one person labeled “marketing”. So let’s apply my “will it help the advertiser test.” We’re going to send two competing reps to Portland City Furniture to talk to Joe Owner. They’re going to compete, despite clearly coming from the same company, for the $3,000 a month budget that normally went to the legacy media. Hmmm, how’s that going to work for Joe Owner? How’s that going to work for the media company? THAT’s your big sales strategy to get real revenue out of online advertising, Borrell, really?!

Sorry, ranting again. So yes, I don’t think a dedicated internet sales team makes sense for local media sales teams – mostly because it doesn’t work for the customers. However, on a national level, two teams make more sense because the media buyers are normally split into two teams, if not two totally different agencies. We can justify two sales teams because there are completely different customers with different needs.

That being said, do split teams make sense for the industry long term? Will it stay that way? Did online buyers get separated for the same reason that Borrell is recommending dedicated sales teams– because nobody believed that traditional media buyers could understand online? Or maybe it started for the same reason that some traditional local media sellers like the idea of a dedicated sales team – because online seemed like a lot of trouble for a very small return. Which it might have seemed in the mid-90s.

But now most advertising people recognize the advantage of an integrated campaign. I believe that trend will continue and we’ll see the industry making it easier to buy integrated media – products and companies to streamline the process. Google, for one, is already going that way. If I’m right, the more sellers know about cross-media the better off they’ll be. The in-the-trenches spreadsheet analysis might still be done by siloed buyers, but higher up the food chain, directing those buyers, will be people with a cross-media perspective. And the Media rep with the biggest contracts will be the one who can talk cross-media.

MoM[S]: Actually here is where I might disagree with you and Borrell, Amy, in a kind of sideways sense, even if I take a minor detour in doing so. I think what the article and both of you are talking about in relation, really applies to a specific Publisher or a ‘destination’ site [KFOG, Miami Herald, WGN, SF Bay Guardian, etc.], even though overall, I agree with your points being made in the quality of their article. But just to note, there ARE some parts of Online selling which are getting pretty specialized, and more complex by the week. To qualify for those, you must be quite Digital-savvy, to have a shot at those spots. Some of the Social Media sites, Ad Networks, SEO, etc., are what I’m talking about here. All of that is a bit out of context here, but did want to inject that in for those readers who might be taking note of that by now.

Moving on, I guess the key point for me, with either Dedicated Teams or Integrated, and National biz vs. going after “hyper-local” biz, how does this play out on the Agency, or even Client side? I mean, depending on the account, many of THEM are still segmented by these very factors. Do you agree? If so, how does that play into what you teach, or even what you thought about the Borrell piece?

Amy: Right now, I think we do what works, and on the national level, that means following the agency lead and likely splitting the teams. However, long term I think the advertiser will dictate dedicated or integrated teams. They’re the customer and, in the end, it has to work for them. No matter what Borrell’s research tells us, or how agencies are organized, the customer has the $$ and they get the deciding vote. And if that means the rest of us need to learn something new or change, then so be it. Media and the monetization of it is a hotbed of change right now, so we may as well learn to like it.

MoM[S]: Anything I missed, that you’d like to add?

Amy: Well, as self-serving as this will probably sound, I just want to reiterate this point in case there are traditional media sales people reading this. If you’re a local media sales person who’s been selling traditional media, and you’re concerned about learning internet sales, don’t be. I swear to you that if you can sell TV, radio or print, online just isn’t that complicated. It’s just new. But you’ve already got 80% of what you need to know, the other 20% is just a matter of skills & confidence. I swear it.

MoM[S]: Agreed, Amy. Those that want to learn, will. They are the ones who will also stay relevant in their skill sets & careers, in my view.

I’d like to thank you very much, Amy L. Phoenix. Great insight & commentary on your part. If you don’t mind, MoM[S] may check back with you from time to time, to make sure yours truly is on track with his own Series theme, and is himself ‘Keeping It Real’.

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or feel free to reach out to Amy or myself with any questions or clarification on the many points discussed here. Thanks for reading!

Note: Going forward, this will be an occasional Series. Future ‘dream’ guests that MoM[S] will aspire to interview will include such legendary Sales visionaries as: Tom Hopkins, Neil Rackham [of SPIN fame], and someone with a more Digital pedigree [and whom I’ve met personally], Leslie Laredo, CEO/Founder of Laredo Group…if I can get them!

Last, this Inaugural blog post in the Keep It Real Series, is ALSO dedicated in part to Sheila Gilmore, CEO of Gilmore Group, a Media Sales & Marketing talent extraordinaire. Between the inspirations of Amy & Sheila, the ‘Keep It Real’ moniker arrived, unknowing as it was. Thanks to you both!


~ by MindOnMediaSales on March 5, 2010.

6 Responses to “‘Keep It Real’ Sales Interview Series 1: Amy L. Phoenix”

  1. Good discussion. I have always believed that the radio (or tv or print) rep could do well by being a Virtual Agency; offering a spectrum of ad tools to the advertiser. I’ve argued against the Borrell posit of two specialized sales staffs. It’s not logical and is more expensive – especially with new online salespeople. How do you measure their success? A quota? Besides, they have none of the relationships built by their media-only predecessors over time. Finally, the combination of an on-air schedule and web activity can create a wallop like non other in marketing history.

    Having said that, my way hasn’t worked. The huge majority of HeritageMedia reps have simply not gotten on the bandwagon. They treat the web as a foreign object. They see it only as an add-on. They measure it with metrics using the Arbitron/Nielsen paradigm of measurement.

    But let’s not throw them under the bus. As a decade long sales & management consultant, I’ve arrived at a truth: It’s seldom a Sales problem, but most often a Management problem. In an earlier posting a trainer was quoted as saying that only a percentage of them “got it.”

    Question: where does the responsiblility lie? Are 80% of the media reps low IQ dolts, or could there be the chance that management is doing an inadequate job of describing the value of, creating unique products for, and incentive plans that encourage web sales?

    What do you think?

    • Since I am Moderator here, Jim, I also get the privilege first of briefly stating what I think since you asked, in relation to your comments [as well as Amy’s and even Gordon’s again.] Key points:
      1> As it was my choice to approach Ms Phoenix for an Interview, part of which was to discuss the article by Borrell, it never occurred to me to ‘step outside’ of that…and maybe ask the Borrell team for their current views here. Don’t think I’ll let THAT happen again.
      2> There is kind of an ‘Academic’ vs. ‘Real World’ point I am seeing from this, where Gordon’s point is right…so is Amy’s…so is Jim’s. Just not at the same time, from the same reference point.
      3> The MOST important thing I see: The critical, huge relevance, still, of this topic. That and the fact that we are basically talking about it from an article in Oct09, nearly 7 months ago. No one really has this figured out yet. If it becomes possible, I think I would like to bring the topic forward into 2010, and ask questions of all the parties here [if they would agree], not in an ‘Interview’ format, but as more a ‘Roundtable’ discussion. I see good points from all sides, even where there is clear disagreement. Others that are here, please tell us what YOU think!

    • Jim –
      I think 80% of the traditional media reps need more than logical motivation to change their behavior. Motivation to move out of your comfort zone and do something differently has to be felt at a gut level. Think ad campaigns – if they were all purely logical and rational with no emotional hit, how often would they change behavior? “A diamond is forever” .

      Is this a management problem? Sort of. We try to change behavior with knowledge. And certainly knowledge is necessary to get traditional reps ramped up on online selling, but that’s not enough to move them out of their comfort zone.

      And, in fact, training can backfire and make them back away even faster. The two-day data dump format of most training can be very daunting. There is a lot of pressure to “get it”. And if they are the least bit intimidated, they’ll retreat to preconceived notions like, “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or “technology is for the young.” And because most traditional media buyers had their hands full before online was added, and most of their company’s income still comes from the traditional media, their logical side justifies the retreat, “I don’t have time for this,” or “This is more trouble than it’s worth,” and “My clients don’t want this pushed down their throats.”

      Training has to feel like a “win” to work, but it’s not always structured that way. Product offerings need to be easier to integrate into a current buy, but that’s not always the case. Progress has to be broken in steps and goal assigned to each step, but usually only revenue is counted and celebrated.
      This sounds complicated, but it’s not really. It’s not even more work, it’s just taking a different approach. It’s about making the whole roll-out more of a marketing campaign and less of boot camp.

  2. Chief hide-chapper here. In the spirit of keeping it real, I need to correct Amy. We don’t advocate COMPETITIVE separate sales forces. The separate force should pursue the dollars that the existing sales force doesn’t. Another subtle-but-important point is that while we believe legacy-media sales people CAN be trained to sell online advertising, the big difference is that, by themselves, they will not get a SIGNIFICANT share of online advertising. I stand by our belief that legacy-media reps “don’t get it,” but should point out that the online-only reps “don’t get it” when it comes to mass media sales. Neither group is dumb; it’s just that each medium is complicated and comes with its own set of nuances. We seem to have chapped quite a few hides with that blog posting last summer. Most of those hides belonged to be people who make a living training legacy-media sales reps…including our own sales-training force at Borrell Associates who felt we might be hurting one of our own lines of business. But we’re a research firm first, and like this column, we have our own responsibility to “keep it real.” Thanks for the opportunity to engage in such useful (and spirited) discourse.

    • Well, we are indeed honored with your response, Gordon. It was entirely unexpected, but I do thank you for writing. As the author of this Blog, I’d like to interject a couple of key points at this moment in time. First, it is important to note, that while our discussion in this interview bases itself in some part on the article in question here, that is an entirely separate issue from the longstanding, quality body of work done at Borrell over many years. I personally have used or referenced items from Borrell’s published works in different Sales positions, many, many times, and would do so again in a minute. This was not about that.

      Our chewing on the points in this one, lone article makes for good discussion [which is STILL going even here, in these Comments…and the piece was done last Oct…!], but we are not a screaming Cable network, so that is a critical distinction to be made. While I won’t speak for Ms Phoenix, it is likely she may agree with me here, as our discussions in relation to Borrell for this interview were centered on our views around this single piece & its focus.

      If YOU are reading this, and want to weigh in, do so in the Comments section below!

    • Gordon – first, I also appreciate your thoughtful reply. Thank you. I hope you’ll forgive me for continuing our spirited discussion. I’ve tried to be equally thoughtful in my reply.

      Second, my apologies, I stand corrected. Your article did not advocate competitive teams, just separate teams selling “competitive products.”

      The distinction is lost on me, though. I’ve been in that “two products, two teams, one buyer, and the legacy team can sell the new product but the new team can’t sell the old product” scenario before–many times, actually.

      One of two things happens:

      The new product doesn’t gain the revenue momentum hoped for and the additional team ends up more of a management nightmare than it’s worth. So then the two teams are consolidated into one team again.

      Or, the new product is a big hit and the two teams are constantly fighting about who should really get the commission. So it also becomes a management nightmare until the two teams are consolidated into one team again.

      On your other point about who can drive significant revenue: Sure, in the short-term, a dedicated team with ready-made, online-savvy, local sellers can drive online revenue faster than a legacy team learning the ropes. See paragraph above on how I think that all turns out.

      But do traditional media sellers not get it because of the nuances of online? Nah.

      It’s not the nuances of the medium. If you can figure out TV, radio or print, you can figure out online. It’s the emotional barrier that is the problem: The fear.

      Sure, you need to train on value, technology, terminology and technique, but what you really need to do is address the legacy reps’ fear:

      Fear that they’ll never “get it”.

      Fear that they will look stupid in front of their existing clients.

      Fear that they will jeopardize their core income from the traditional media by also selling something new (and untried) to them.

      That’s not easy. It takes time and ongoing training (and likely some support personnel) to get them over those fears. I think your training folks are right to be frustrated with that article – it’s perpetuating those fears. And those fears are the biggest hurdles to successful selling.

      Dismiss me, if you will, as a legacy team trainer who is trying to save her business, but actually there is more money for me in your version – training all those online-savvy local sellers everyone is going to need but no one can find, and then retraining the legacy folks when the dual-team scenario falls apart .

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