The Yellow Pages Transformation
Q&A with David Lebow
Chief Revenue Officer, YP Marketing Solutions
Conducted by Deb Shaw, Editor, Local Media Today
Tell us about your career path to date and your role at YP.
I started working in radio at a really young age and helped build two radio companies, Emmis and AMFM. AMFM ultimately sold to Clear Channel.
We had thousands of local salespeople, helping businesses grow. It helped me realize the value of that important role in local communities. Then I went to AOL. Both experiences were about getting great content in front of people and monetizing it through local advertising. Whether someone is looking for a house or trying to find a restaurant, local is all about focused activities in a specific area. My role at YP is to oversee all of our sales channels and revenue. We have multiple revenue channels and a massive sales organization locally and nationally.
The legacy Yellow Pages that we all had near our house phone has, like most local media, been wildly disrupted. Please describe what YP is today and give us some insights into YP’s evolution in the digital space.
Our mission at YP is to help connect local businesses to consumers wherever they are. The way we do that has changed in many ways and remains the same in others. Making that connection between local business and consumer is something we’ve been doing forever. Our heritage as YellowPages.com helps us stand out in a crowded marketplace, where being known is an advantage. We’ve evolved our suite of marketing solutions, systems and technologies to meet the changing needs of local businesses and shifted the service model to manage both real-time performance and customer service issues quickly and efficiently.
Mobile and search are prime YP strengths today – tell us about your reach and digital revenue trends. How does print factor in currently and in the future?
More of our business today is digital than print, but many of our clients still use print because it drives great results by generating calls and leads, which always surprises people. Of our nearly half million customers, there are a number who use both our print and digital products. We take pride in innovation and success in both areas. We’ve been focused on evolving our portfolio of solutions – search, display, mobile and print – to help business reach consumers across all the media and devices they use.
Your sales transformation story that led to $1 billion in digital revenue is incredible. You told Innovation Conference attendees that you looked at some of the best sales organizations in the world such as Salesforce, SAP, Cisco, UPS, Northwestern Mutual and many more. Can you tell us what you learned from them?
World-class organizations stay in sync with their markets. They know what the market wants in sales and support, and they invest in meeting future needs. At YP, we applied those insights to evolve how our sales and support team operate with clients, cross functional partners and each other. We also updated our technology, tools and processes to meet with demands and to facilitate communication.
What are the core sales structure elements at YP? What’s different now vs. how YP used to sell?
We started out more than 100 years ago as a company that sold one product – in our case, a print book – and because of that, we saw selling as a simple transaction that happened once a year. Clients bought for the year, their program ran and it worked. Today there are still many clients who buy once a year. However, they also choose to enhance their marketing programs sporadically throughout the year around their key selling seasons. So we are in touch with our clients much more than ever, either to review results or to offer additional campaigns that help their business grow.
To stay in sync with a changing market, we have shifted our mindset, skill set and toolset. That includes a more frequent sales and service model, and piloting many best-in-class processes including territory structure, role specialization among reps and much more focus on delivering insights to our clients. Moreover, we are investing heavily in learning, development of our people and in tools and technology.
How would you characterize YP’s competition?
It’s a different competitive set than it used to be. Anyone who has a local relationship with an advertiser is technically a competitor. This might be an agency or another local sales company, like a newspaper or radio company that sells digital. There are also vertical players that cater to the home services or legal verticals. We have much more scale and capability than they do.
What do you envision as the biggest challenges and best revenue opportunities in the digital space over the next 18 months or so?
Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity. Like a lot of companies that started out as traditional media companies, we’re seeing the migration of our audience and advertisers to digital. We spend a lot of time working with our clients offering them insights about the marketplace, their competitors and their customers so that they can grow their business. At the end of the day, we succeed when local businesses succeed, and we view trust in our relationships and expertise in our offerings as foundational in our partnerships with clients.
Tell us something about YP that we might not know.
One of the things that surprises people all the time is our reach. YP has nearly 60 million monthly users across YP.com and the YP app. Our research shows that this audience is 20 percent more likely to buy than the average searcher.
Finally, turn back the clock a few years and the tides of social media and mobile have yet to fully come in. What do you think is the next digital wave to hit?
Advertising used to be about building a brand. Then it was about generating leads and results. Increasingly it’s about the intersection of commerce and advertising. So that’s a big place where the market is moving – connecting to consumers as close to their point of sale as possible. We’ve also seen a lot about the use of data to target to consumers. Yet, I think there’s much more to come to enable advertisers to deliver consumers the right message at the right time. Ultimately, that’s what everyone wants, and that’s what will deliver the best ROI for advertisers.