Let me get this straight.
Toyota comes out with a new model and the salespeople say “Stop! I’ve got too much to sell!”
Apple comes out with a new iPod and the salespeople say “You don’t seriously expect me to sell one more product, do you?”
Guitar Hero 3 comes out and there’s a near-riot at the sales meeting where it’s announced. “We can’t sell what we have right now!” says one frazzled sales rep.
Sound nuts? Listen up: those are direct quotes I’ve heard over the years from newspaper sales people in markets large and small. Worse: I’ve heard those same things from newspaper sales managers.
And here’s the really crazy part. As an industry, those responses are not only routine, they are often accepted as normal and maybe even reasonable.
Those behaviors — and the culture that breeds them — underline a fundamental problem facing the newspaper industry. The entire sales process is focused on selling products, not solutions.
Selling solutions is what happens when you’re in the market for a car and you stop by the Toyota dealer. The salesperson (if he/she is any good) starts by understanding your needs and then helping you select a vehicle and options that meet your needs. Ideally that results in you getting the car you want, and the salesperson getting a sale. If the salesperson is really good, you’ll discover needs you didn’t even think you had (built-in GPS to avoid getting lost all the time!) and you’ll happily spend more.
The Toyota salesperson doesn’t start by presenting you a list of all the possible models and all the possible options, and then trying to sell you the vehicle and options that maximize the price you’ll pay. Or maybe he does, but do you stick around?
Contrast this with the typical newspaper sales rep’s environment: there’s always a new program to sell, monthly goals to hit on specific products, another one-sheet at the sales meeting to help fill the next special section. And now here comes “online” — geez, one more thing to sell.
Successful products are developed — and sold — as solutions to unmet customer needs. A customer-centric, solutions-based sales process brings customer needs forward, guides development of new products around those needs, and then presents the products to customers as solutions to their needs.
How far is the typical newspaper sales operation from that model? What will it take to turn that operation into one that eagerly anticipates the next new product?
Step one is to start listening, really listening. I’m convinced some of the current problems are partly the result of years of not listening to customers.
- Customers complain prices are too high, yet the solution is to work harder at selling value, rather than developing lower-cost products. By not listening, we create an opportunity for competitors to launch products that meet those needs. Anyone seen that happen?
- Online as a value-add, or forced upsell. Some customers will truly benefit from an online program; others won’t benefit at all. A forced upsell means the customers who value online advertising never get the opportunity to talk about their needs and describe online’s role. And those who don’t need or want online advertising aren’t listened to, but forced to buy it anyway. Will either of those advertisers ever look to the newspaper as a valued partner for online advertising?
- Pricing models that don’t line up with customers’ valuations. In starting online from scratch in the 1990s, we had no pricing models to work from. We had to work with potential customers to establish the value. Certainly we had limits on how flexible we’d be, but it was almost an auction environment until certain valuations began to gel around basic and premium pricing. Contrast that with a typical newspaper, where an ad in the Sports section (where no one seems to want to be) costs the same as an ad in the A section (where everyone wants to be). The market is speaking, but we’re not listening.
These examples don’t reflect poor values. They often come from a sense of fairness to customers, or a desire to deliver the highest value to customers. What they don’t reflect is a culture of listening and responding to customers.
What do you think? What will it take to get to where a new newspaper product generates the same sales excitement as a new iPod?
Congratulations to Dan Dinsmore, who was tapped today to lead MaineToday with an expanded mission.
The new MaineToday will include both print and online products that serve new and niche audiences. The core newspaper operations will assume full responsibility for serving their audiences and advertisers in print and online.
Dan has spent the past 12 months spearheading new product development around this company as a one-man cheerleader for Newspaper Next. His new role is good for the organization and a great step for Dan.
Dan will take over March 3, and I will be working closely with him in a consultive role through April 30.
I want to publicly congratulate Dan, and I have every confidence he will continue MaineToday’s success.
I’ve been fascinated for some time — not obsessed, just fascinated — with the process of innovation. I like creating new things, but I also like to watch how others do it. Along the way I’ve seen the widespread assumption that some people are wired to innovate and some aren’t.
A column by Janet Rae-Dupree in this past Sunday’s New York Times, Eureka! It really does take years of hard work, does a nice job of unraveling that myth:
As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.
Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process.
In the newspaper business, we have the Newspaper Next initiative, which tends to get a lot of attention for its message of innovation around new products, new audiences and new advertisers. But that makes innovation sound like the job of the few, not the many. The more powerful message within Newspaper Next is that innovation can and should run through the whole organization.
How can that happen in the context of the existing daily newspaper product?
How about understanding what the core audience of the print newspaper needs (aka “jobs to be done”) and ruthlessly making it so. How many newspaper readers feel the newspaper is speaking to them? What would it take to make it so? What needs to be added? What could be jettisoned?
How many newspaper advertisers feel their sales reps are truly listening to them, understanding the jobs they need done, and proposing solutions? That’s a whole lot different than “selling” one more special section. Innovation means thinking differently about the customer relationship, not just selling.
Bottom line: Innovation is possible — and critical, at these times — in every area of our organizations. It most likely is the key to survival.