3 big lessons to consider when selling digital marketing services

By Jed Williams
Chief Innovation Officer, LMA

PICK YOUR PROFIT CENTERS

Just how large is the pot of gold in digital marketing services? How about $301.5 billion in the U.S. next year alone! Seriously. So, how do you build a game plan to capture your fair share?

In a word, focus! There are dozens of products and services that you could be selling, but what are the solutions that can be profit centers for your company? In other words, what solutions solve critical problems for customers, are highly in-demand, and also carry healthy profit margins? Those ingredients are a good place to start.

For example, while email marketing can be effective, the typical small-medium business (SMB) spends nearly 6x as much annually on social media management – just shy of $18k per year, according to Borrell Associates. And the margins can be advantageous as well. Sounds like a logical area to invest in.

To quote Shannon Allen, VP Digital Sales at Federated Digital Solutions, “I don’t want to be kind of good at 20 things…I want to be great at 3-4 digital solutions!”

LASER IN ON SPECIFIC BUSINESS SEGMENTS 

It’s darn hard to sell to the “S” in SMB. They’re fickle, they churn, and they often require just as much work as larger customers. If you’re going to target them, a technology-driven model may be required. For instance, GateHouse Media’s ThriveHive is building a platform to deliver “mass customized advertising.” This platform approach enables scale (rather than having hordes of sales people chasing merchants), and gives SMBs the power to control their online presence and lead generation at a low price, and in a self-guided way.

Otherwise, media agencies and DMS teams may be better served to focus upstream on larger clients, or at least pick specific categories to pursue.

One of the most powerful quotes at the Selling DMS conference came from Mike Orren, President of Belo Business Intelligence (part of the Dallas Morning News): “It’s impossible to serve more than one market well. Pick the one that most closely matches your core business the best.”

MEASURE AND MANAGE 

Never has this Peter Drucker expression been more relevant:

Local media commonly struggle to understand how effective their digital marketing service efforts are, and what to tweak or overhaul to improve them. Often, that’s a function of measuring the wrong things, or failing to measure at all!

Two key things to consider:

• Pick a couple of North Star metrics that you believe are vital to your success, measure them constantly, then diligently hold your teams accountable to them. There are lots to choose from, so “don’t boil the ocean.” Perhaps it’s ARPA (average revenue per advertiser), or maybe it’s digital account penetration with your existing client base. There are plenty of others. But by all means, measure and let the data illuminate your strategic plan.

Check out this chart that WEHCO Media uses to evaluate the success of its competing traditional and digital sales forces in its newspaper markets, each of which operates a branded Flypaper digital agency.

• Focus on leading indicators rather than lagging indicators. Sure, everyone wants to hit budget, but measuring sales and revenue (while obviously important) don’t shed light on things that can actually be acted upon. At both the organizational and individual AE levels, consider “if, then” relationships. For instance, if ARPA is raised or churn is lowered by a certain amount, what is the impact on total revenue? If an AE increases the number of connects with decision makers or CNAs completed in a given time, how does that impact their close rate…and thus their sales? Manage to activity, not outcome!

Here are some North Star metrics to get you started: