Eleanor Cippel on how to close the deal

by Denise Cheng, MIT Center for Civic Media

Eleanor Cippel is the Corporate Managing Director Sales for E.W. Scripps. She was one of the coaches for Super Camp last year. She was today’s presenter to an undivided room for the second morning session.

Sales and editorial have traditionally been divided in American newsrooms. In today’s shifting terrain, this means entrepreneurial journalists often feel nervous about selling. As a one-woman session at BxB12, Cippel highlighted some of the most common concerns that BxB attendees voiced at last night’s dinner.

To begin, a few BxBers shared lessons learned from working with ineffective sales reps. Cippel’s own team is a mix of salaried and commissioned sales staff. If sales reps are out getting things done but there are few results, Cippel believes the problem can always be traced back to one of three things, all of which are coachable:

  • Confidence – Are they confident as a seller?
  • Competence – Does the person know how to get through a deal?
  • Belief – Do they believe in the product?

Part of the support is in setting the tone, creating structured and explicit time in the schedule. Cippel blocks off some time for administrative and research tasks. She sets weekly goals for calls and door-to-door knocks. She also holds a couple of “power hours” each week in which staffers gather to do nothing but set appointments.

“The more calls you make, the more biz you get, and so help me god, that is the truth,” she said. Those who do not make enough calls tend to waffle based on feedback from their few clients/potential clients, but there’s not enough evidence that support the client’s feedback for change to the sales package. She advised BxBers to use a CRM, and if not, then collect call sheets. “Make sure the data you’re getting is from a reasonable sample size. You wouldn’t follow a market sales study with a  sample size of five people,” she said, emphasizing that business owners shouldn’t make decisions about their business without digging in more.

Most sales reps are hired on commission, and it is important for them to see what they’re able to make. In motivating sales reps (regardless the size of the team), Cippel gives a few pieces of advice:

  • Ask sellers to determine their personal earnings goal for the next 12 months
  • Work the numbers backward to figure out how much they have to sell to get there
  • Have the reps design their 100-day plan of action that sets the model for the year

But the key to fabulous sales is not just having a high volume of appointments or a committed group of representatives. It’s about establishing a relationship with your advertisers. Before beginning, do research on your potential advertisers. Figure out where you can fit into the game. If you are not the dominant media player in a competitive local market, don’t sell like that. If you’re trying to position yourself better than others, you’re telling the advertiser that they made a bad decision.

“It’s the equivalent of telling them their baby is ugly,” Cippel said. She urged publishers to help advertisers understand that their decision is a good one for the reasons that they made it, but that they should consider spreading their ad dollars around to reach a wider audience, what she calls “stealing shares.”

Cippel advocates a consultative/trusted advisor sales approach. In a competitive market, business owners are constantly being called on by sales reps, so why would they choose you? Cippel then showed a graph that visualized how low a seller’s credibility is when walking in cold because the value of your product has not been established, nor has the reasoning for price. The value proposition has to be clear.

“At the end of the day, this isn’t about you … Advertisers want to meet an objective or a goal. Advertising works as a collective. Advertising should work together in synergy whether they’re buying from you or not,” Cippel said. “Virginia [Citrano of MyVeronaNJ] last night said the solution [to advertising] isn’t necessarily me, but those solutions include me.”

Develop the right combination of ideas and solutions to help advertisers achieve their goals, Cippel said. What publishers should be hoping for is collective lift for all advertising solutions, themselves included. By analyzing the advertising budget and needs of an business, you can help them optimize their current dollars to reach a wider audience.

“Any good prospect or advertiser you have on board with you is a seed for a referral. It’s a warm lead, and it’s far easier to work with a warm referral than a cold call,” Cippel said. She also emphasized the importance of setting expectations. Cippel once sold a coupon campaign to a pop-up golf course to buy a coupon campaign. She didn’t fully understand what they would count as an accomplishment and set reasonable expectations from the beginning, so when they got 69 coupons redeemed from a circulation of 4,300 households, the golf course manager was upset. This was a phenomenal result, but Cippel could not have said anything after the fact to convince the manager of that.

Another difficulty for publishers is closing the deal. Publishers are already sticky in their communities. As journalists, they know how to get a story out of someone, to ask the right questions.

But, Cippel says, “This is a sales call. They are never going to be more enthusiastic, they are never going to be more willing to flirt with you they are never going to be more willing to do what you’er talking about doing than at the moment that you have them excited. You have to ask for the money, you have to ask for the order.”

Raw notes over at the MIT Etherpad, and an archived recording to come from RJI.

A typical week for Cippel’s team.

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