We are seeing some positive hiring trends within B2B Media

We’ve recently been retained for a couple of senior assignments, within trade media.  Let’s be real; searches only commence, when the client runs out of time and/or resources. So I believe there are a couple of reasons why we’ve gotten multiple “Business to Business Media” assignments.

First, many of the B2B publishers have now figured out how to increasingly monetize digital and other non-print assets.  Thus “business is back” for many, so ultimately a need to hire.

Second, many millennial media professionals within the work force, are not gravitating towards B2B, but rather towards digital, SaaS or technology; resulting in a smaller pool of B2B media professionals.

It will be interesting to see how the trend shapes, but we are bullish about B2B for 2014!

Sales Training-helping your staff and helping the industry

When I get called by CEOs and EVPs of Sales at media and technology companies, I like to ask about their investment in sales training. I am surprised how little is being spent on sales training and question what this may mean for the future of the sales professionals within our industry. If you have a sales staff head count not exceeding single digits, getting your own customized sales trainer could prohibitively expensive. However, there are plenty of sales training courses that can be obtained for your individual contributors and regional managers, that you may want to consider. After speaking with different hiring executives and remembering my own experiences in sales training, I offer up a list of some of the sales training benefits, beyond just “increased sales and market share.”
• Sales people garner a greater understanding of the connection between all other departments and sales, when properly trained.
• Greater understanding of what makes a customer buy, by learning new ways to phrase questions.
• When management becomes involved with training, it allows them to set more realistic revenue goals and sales targets for their team.
• Good sales training will help you better position your product against your competition.
• As a manager, you will be able to better determine the weaknesses of your staff and objectively address them individually and accordingly.
• With the heavy turnover within the online industry, especially within sales, it creates a great commitment between the employee and the employer.
Sales is a profession that needs to be nurtured and developed. When you initiate sales training, ask your hires how they feel about being “professionally trained.” It is another determinant on whether the person is a good fit. If the sales professional is open to it (regardless of their level), it could make for a more positive hire and an indication that they are still open to learning.

Another Reference Check

Frequently as a hiring manager you can get a referral. Yet the race for superior talents still exists. So when you are not using a recruiter, and you are not getting the person from an inside source, then recognize the advantages of social media and unearth some details that may not necessarily be found on the resume or during the interview process.

If you go to their LinkedIn page and see who they are connected with, you may be able to recognize other superstars they might know within the online world.  This follows the simple, yet still valid theory, that good people historically know other good people.

Let’s face the facts, unfortunately there are a bevy of non-performers in the online sales industry; yet some of these same candidates are fabulous interviewers. They know just what to say to get the job. Yet when they show up and are understandably expected to “deliver” they fall short. Yet, 10-18 months later they are back on the street and interviewing. They blame investors, bad management, change in business model (we can go on, can’t we?) on why the job didn’t work out.

So when you are interviewing, these sales candidates, go through their network and see who they know and are connected with, and draw some additional conclusions from their LinkedIn profile.

This might take you some time. But isn’t that more cost-effective, than hiring a non-performer who has a proven track record of not hitting their revenue number?

Using Your Job Description as a Sales Tool

Recently we got a search from an International media company. They had been looking on their own for a couple of months. Once they retained us for the role, they sent us the job description they were using. Wow, was it weak. One page, not very exciting or intriguing; yet the company was super hot and the job was very enticing.

So after multiple years of reviewing, reading and rewriting job descriptions, I thought I would supply some “must haves” when writing your position spec.

Overview of the company: Include the company’s mission, goals, headquarters, company size, annual sales (if public), traffic numbers, funding history and most importantly your URL.

Position Overview: This includes (usually in the sentence form) an overview of the key responsibilities and qualifications; I find this is a good way to give a quick general understanding of the job without the bullet points which are listed in the ”Attributes” and “Qualifications”.

Who the job reports to: This is mandatory. In our world of quick access to information, now is the time to put the name and title of the hiring manager on the spec. Let the potential new hire unearth as much information as possible, prior to your meeting with them.

Attributes: These are more general personality traits. This part falls more in the category of beliefs, attitudes and concepts; such as “strong negotiation skills” or “strong belief in creative selling and premium pricing.” It is a good way to set a tone for your company.

Qualifications: include the “must haves” and the “nice to haves.” By separating the two, you will be able to attract candidates who fit within the profile, but may not have every “nice to have” attribute. Also, don’t have more than ten qualification points, as you want to appeal to enough of a pool of candidates. I have seen “Qualifications” listed in a spec that list so many bullet points that you wonder if ANYONE could do the job. Be concise and specific in this area of the spec. Also, be mindful of how you write “years of experience”. By writing “10+” you are letting someone know the minimum years; by writing “10-15” you could be perceived as being discriminating. It is best to use that “plus sign” to play it safe.

Other details: include travel information, location of job, benefits (such as 401K, stock options, equity). Also include the contact person with ALL their information.

Again, your position spec is a sales tool for your company and the next hire. Use it to your advantage to help you attract the best candidate possible for your opportunity.

The Provocative Sales Professional

As a hiring manager, you might want to have at least one true provocative sales professional, who challenges your company and your motives, as this type of candidate profile, is successful and is typically on the top of the food chain when it comes to sales performance.

If you believe in this premise, then there are questions you should be asking on the interview to best determine if they have a provocative, adaptive and challenging sales personality:

When you ask, “How do you adjust your sales presentation to varying audiences?  Or describe a time when your sales presentation went flat and what did you do about it?” You will be able to identify the candidate’s flexibility.

When you ask, “How do you build consensus amongst decision makers? Or tell me a time one of your customers was annoyed by your negotiation tactics? You will get an understanding of the candidate’s negotiation tactics.

When you ask, “How do you get customers to talk about their business objectives? Or “How do you handle gatekeepers?” You can understand their ability to have effective two-way communication and their understanding in how to open doors.

And when you ask about a time, when they walked away from a deal, you will get an understanding of how they feel about discussing money and their confidence in walking away from commissions.

Simultaneously, the candidate should demonstrate their provocative personality and you should be listening for questions that illustrate such a personality.

Questions from the candidate you want to be hearing:

  • Asking how do I compare/stack up against other existing candidates currently being interviewed.
  • Questioning/challenging your marketing direction after spending time on your web site.
  • Talking to other existing or past employees, and then challenging you and probing you on something they heard from their sources.
  • Politely asking what the next steps in the process would be.

For media and technology sales, the provocative sales professional can be an integral and successful member of your team.  While you may or may not want a full team of these types of individuals, you certainly want to make sure you can readily identify them, so that given the right set of circumstances, you can do all you need to do to get them on your team.

Putting Ageism, Attitude and Hiring in a New Perspective

Focus on the attitudinal components of a candidate. After you study the resume, look for varying experiences, and review tenure. Now get ready for the questions that can focus on how a candidate learns and grows.

Give me examples of what you do to stay relevant? You can be even more specific, as you want to question and understand what outside courses or classes they might have taken; what recent business books they have read and what they have gotten out of the reading. Find out what conferences they attend, what they bring back from these conferences (besides a stack of business cards) and what their goals are for actually attending.

Tell me what you do, so as to not stay stagnant? A slightly different twist on understanding what the candidate may do to better themselves. In this instance you might focus on how they have morphed into new ventures within their current employer or in a previous job. Somebody who has previously pivoted within the same company could have a certain appeal in your company that may be going through its own changes.

When you are not working, what do you do to keep yourself busy? This allows you to find out the candidate’s interests. Are they only working or do they have an actual life beyond their employer. Finding out their interests not only gives you a deeper understanding of the candidate, but also allows you to better understand their hot buttons and values.

What was the last disappointing thing that happened to you and what did you do about it? Again, this gives the candidate the opportunity to speak about his or her ability to maneuver on a dime and for you to better understand their level of self-awareness. Again, there is no perfect answer, but rather an attitude on how they approach the many pitfalls in life.

How do you incorporate social media into your career? For this question, forget Facebook; as it goes without saying that the candidate who tweets, leverages LinkedIn and embraces social media is more current and relevant. Find out specifics and judge for yourself.

What has been your salary history? Sporadic and disparate income could be good. The candidate, who has historically made more money year after year, for every year of their career, may not be ideal in the online media and technology world. Your job could have some unknown curveballs, so that the candidate, who has only gotten progressively higher salaries, may be disappointed if for some unknown reason, after the time of hiring, compensation variables change.

It still comes down to culture, fit and capabilities, but adding some of these questions to your interviewing arsenal could give you some additional insights about a candidate’s attitude.

The Well-Rounded Sales Hire

As a hiring manager, if you recognize the value of hiring sales candidates with both small and large company experience, you could end up with a well-rounded new hire.

The established large portal or branded site is a matrixed organization that is highly controlled, has a strong brand name and is typically mature in its life cycle. The role taken within this sort of organization is sometimes siloed and frequently narrow in scope. When understanding the candidate’s role within this organization, it can still be important to find out how they were managed and by who (I know of a few exceptional candidates who have worked for large brands, who have had a different boss a year for multiple years). Find out what they learned and what they needed to do to adapt to each new management change. A solid candidate will get a certain “high” from the change and will frequently look at these changes as opportunities for growth and for new learnings.

The young start-up is typically full of higher risk and higher reward and requires a candidate who feels comfortable consistently pivoting if given new products, marketing direction and territory shifts. The young company may or may not be well-funded and may not ultimately be a success (through no fault of the sales hire). When speaking with these candidates, try to understand the size of the young company when they began employment and understand the size of the company when they left (or are leaving). Again, exceptional sales candidates see these changes as opportunities. And find out the reasons they joined the young start-up; was it the unique market position or was it the opportunity to become an Internet millionaire; both potentially valid, but both very different reasons for joining.

When interviewing these candidates understand how they build their sales pipeline and what steps they put in place, to do so. It is easy to be successful for a top ten web site; the RFPs usually come in through the transom. It is frequently the start-up that requires tenacity to get the RFP.

The online medium is still defining the rules. A candidate, who has only worked for small companies, may have the scrappiness you need, but may not have had professional training by external or internal mentors. A candidate who has only worked for large companies, may be seasoned and well-trained, but may not know how to successfully pivot when given curve balls.

If given the opportunity, hire the candidate who has a blend of both large and small company experience. It could be the combination of the two experiences that would give them varied attributes that could make them successful for you.

Getting the Value Proposition Into Your Sales Message

With 2/3 of all digital ad dollars going to Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Facebook and MSN (with 41% going to Google alone); I consistently hear from candidates and clients how difficult it is to get the mindshare and attention of an advertising agency.

You can break it down real simple; you may get the business, if you have the relationship.  And you can build that relationship if you get the meeting.  But you probably won’t get the meeting unless you create a reason for the meeting.  And this is where it is most important—you cannot create a reason to have the meeting, unless you can clearly articulate in a couple of clear and concise sentences your value proposition.

When I was at ad:tech a couple of years ago, I decided to visit about 15 different ad network booths.  I walked up to the sales representative, manning the booth and directly asked them “What makes your ad network better than the other hundreds of ad networks out there?”  The first 12 or so came up with responses like: “Our ads are all above the fold”, “We have a better reporting structure” or “We only work with top sites”.  It wasn’t till the end of the 15 or so ad networks, that I got a response along the lines of “We are able to work with XYZ sort of publishers, who have this sort of bandwidth (reciting some metrics), resulting in a higher engagement level”—and again with an ROI.

I was hooked, I was intrigued and I wanted to know more.

It has been my experience, with many of our clients, that to successfully articulate your site’s value proposition, you need to identify a certain type of seller/ sales leader to help ensure you that success.

So how do you find that hire who can articulate your story?  Look at candidates who in their past positions, have had to “tell a story” to make a sale.  Besides successful sellers who represent site specific brands, if you can look past a Rolodex, (in my experience), fast-moving, nimble and smart, publishing/magazine candidates are some of the best sales professionals at “value selling,” especially if they had success selling a niche brand.

Regardless of where these candidates come from–and at all levels; try this exercise sometime–ask your next hire how they would put your sales message together in two sentences.  It might not be as important that they get the message right, but that they are able include a real value proposition and ROI, in what should be a concise and ultimately winning sales message.

Thinking Long Term When Putting Your Commission Plan Together

Recently I worked with a very well known brand in the interactive / online world; primarily a technology site with a successful advertising overlay.  Our client had a specific goal in mind; hire two of the best online advertising media sales executives in New York City.  And by the way; they were paying below market rate and the commission component at plan, (though not capped), was less than most comp plans being offered.  However, they were offering something few, if any of our clients usually offer–a six month commission guarantee; regardless of what they sold.

During the hiring process, the thinking on behalf of our client was this: let’s invest in our people and we will support them as they grow their business–as we know, we are getting professionals who’ve BEEN successful performers in other online media organizations.  All the sudden the search became appealing.  Candidates, who might not have considered the opportunity, heard unique and exciting music to their ears.  Many of the candidates we approached had been selling media for 15+ years.  These candidates once knew of organizations or actually worked for a company that would give them time to “ramp up.”  Yet in some of their most recent positions, their commissions had not been fully realized.  (And these are A players who know what it’s like to live in the shoes of a “budget buster.”) But in specific cases, they had not been able to make their commission number.  The reasons were plentiful and include such situations as: company not having their go-to-market strategy in place, poor hiring/management, under-funding or not being a market differentiator or disruptor.

Yes, I know and appreciate the Board of Directors and Venture Capitalists who are looking for their financial return.  And yes, sales and business development is the engine driver.  Yet, as the CRO, you need to be confident in your capabilities, you need to push back on your management and investors, so you can under-estimate and over-deliver your number.  Let them know that sales is an investment of time; not over days or weeks, but months and quarters. Then go to your sales team, and let them know how you support them with YOUR long-term planning and commitment.  Guess what.  All of the sudden, the sales team knows, there is employer investment.

Yes, they come to the job knowing that they have to hit and exceed their commission number (that is in the DNA of the A Player in this business), but along the way, while getting to that number, they are more confident, strategic, thoughtful and most importantly committed to their employer who recognizes the realities of sales in this current online media environment.