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The Next Generation Sales Team -- Suzanne Grimes

suzanne grimes

Published: January 30, 2014 at 11:27 AM GMT
Last Updated: March 12, 2014 at 11:27 AM GMT

By Suzanne Grimes

AdExchanger’s inaugural Industry Preview conference held in New York City last week drew an attentive, tuned-in crowd at The TimesCenter — even in blizzard conditions. Seated in an audience full of media powerhouses, rising startups and high-tech vendors, I saw the “The Next Generation Sales Team” panel had the attention of the audience from the start. What skills will the sales team of the future possess? Will they be half human/half robot, able to read the minds of clients before they speak? Will these omniscient sales associates be beamed from sales meeting to sales meeting? All kidding aside, with the increasing prevalence of automation in media planning, the evolution of the sales team is weighing heavily on all of us.

Walker Jacobs, Clear Channel Outdoor’s CRO and President of Sales, took the stage with Lisa Valentino, CRO at Condé Nast; Brian Quinn, CRO, Triad Retail Media, and moderator Doug Weaver, founder, Upstream Group. Having worked together before, this group is known for being the risk-takers and innovators among their peers. I listened tentatively to them as they described the sales associates following their path and/or sidestepping it.

Robotized staffers were quickly dismissed. “People are invaluable in the workplace,” stressed Valentino. “Of course, automation can help us,” added Jacobs. “It provides high quality audience data, but how can we use automation to make the process easier? It’s not about letting the machine spit out the answer.”

I agree that mounds of data are just that without having a way to translate them effectively. One of the hottest hires has become the “Director of Insights,” an individual who has the ability to dig through data, applying context and building stories for the sales team. At Clear Channel Outdoor, that hire is checked off and has already dug in. Eric Z. Sherman recently joined our team to grow this part of our business as VP, Research, Analytics and Insights. Today’s marketers are rightfully demanding data that demonstrates ROI, and it’s a must to successfully compete.

With $7 billion spent in out-of-home in the U.S. alone, and the addition of real-time marketing, product innovation and proven programs that drive consumers to retail, we’re continually unlocking keys to value. As Jacobs noted, “We have been in the trenches responding to RFPs, but now our goal is to reach 10,000 feet and be talking directly to CMOs.”

Sales associates can become too immersed in day-to-day reactive mode and must remember to reach out to those who hold the most buying clout. We are a company that values diversity of experience. We also require a sales team that has an understanding of digital and new ways to grow revenue.

Beyond an impressive resume and deep Rolodex, the human qualities desired in a sales executive were discussed. What traits are needed to propel a company’s success?

Valentino got a few laughs when she said her hires “need to be balanced.” Visions of overzealous sales reps did not escape me. “Most importantly,” she added, “be passionate about what you do -- and take risks.”

Curiosity, generosity and paranoia made up desirable qualities for Weaver. “I want someone who is looking for the one thing that can go wrong when the deal is 95% done.” I agree. One should have a bit of cynicism, especially when a deal comes wrapped in a bow. It’s the New Yorker in me.

Jacobs shared his musical chairs analogy. “When the music stops and I grab my chair -- would I be comfy sitting next to that person beside me?" It’s an interesting test to examine the culture in your own organization. At Clear Channel Outdoor, we’re adamant about building an environment of collaboration and teamwork, and that’s why I hired Jacobs. As he noted, “The attitude ‘Me first!’ doesn’t work.”

When meeting candidates, I look for intellectual curiosity, passion and a bias to action – the ability to act or decide without customary analysis. Essentially someone who will test, benchmark and revise. It’s also healthy to have a fear of failure; it keeps one grounded.

One thing really hit home for all of us – process reform, which will continue to evolve with emerging sales tools. Weaver shared a powerful point: “Creating demand has to be done by humans. Processing demand can be done by machines.” Watch out, Siri, I like my human team.

Suzanne is leading the transformation of Clear Channel Outdoor North America into a dynamic media business that fully recognizes the potential of integrated digital and mobile marketing opportunities in out-of-home across the US and Canada.

Follow her on Twitter at @SuzanneGrimes

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