Written by Brett Bergstrom, Medill Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship Specialization Graduate Student

More than twenty years after the Internet’s ascension, discussion around the landscape of sales in media still centers on the do-or-die reality of the transition to digital. Media institutions have shifted from advertisement hubs, large audiences, and easy sales to increasingly splintered distribution channels, more complex sales, and heightened competition.

Appropriately, the LMA Digital Summit kicked off its second day with a Keynote Presentation centered on “Complete Sales Transformation Case Studies.” The four featured executives and thought leaders spoke on their approach to the sea-change sales force transformations they effected at their companies, detailing their thoughts about culture, organizational structure, and vision.

LMA Chief Innovation Officer Jed Williams introduced the four featured speakers with a heck of a wake-up message: “Only one out of the 150 market leaders we surveyed said they strongly agreed that their sales team was doing a good job when it comes to selling digital,” he said. The presentation, then, would be about the “smart restructuring of sales forces to effect real, sustainable change,” as demonstrated by the “unique spectrum of voices” on the stage.

Blair Heavey, President of Sales, GateHouse Media

First up-to-bat was Blair Heavey, the President of Sales at GateHouse Media. Heavey’s presentation centered on how shifting the vision of what GateHouse is would shift how its sales performed.

“What we’re trying to transform is the culture, and the structure, so that it becomes more like a digital company,” he said.

Transparency is a key part of that, he said, as he detailed how his sales force now shares job descriptions, KPIs, expectations, performance criteria, and point-of-views across all its teams and offices.

“It’s so important, in GateHouse culture, to share, to be transparent,” he said.

As a media company transforms its sales force, it should also put a premium on employee training and developing data audience assets, Heavey asserted.

“Change is difficult. But it’s necessary for growth,” he concluded.

Catherine Badalamente, VP of Digital, Graham Media Group and Ashley Parker, General Sales Manager, KSAT-TV

For Catherine Badalamente and Ashley Parker, sales success starts with understanding the landscape, then formulating a plan. Badalamente began their segment by laying bare the industry’s current status: increased competition, shifting businesses and strategies, converging channels, and longer, more difficult sales processes.

The answer? In part, freeing up the schedules of account executives, so they can spend more time with prospects.

“It sounds simple, but it’s so necessary,” she said. Badalamente also added that managers should be laser-focused on generating an environment of positivity, creation, and innovation.

Just as important as culture and schedule shifts, Parker added, is the implementation of software that utilizes data more effectively and empowers decisions at every level. In the case of KSAT, adopting a combination of SalesForce and LevelEleven gave them better documentation for weekly one-on-ones.

KSAT also reduced its AE headcount and hired more assistants, so that its best performers could spend more time on deals.

“A great salesperson has the right discipline to do the right activities, day in and day out, that lead to closing business,” Badalamente added.

Greg Peterson, President, Deseret Digital Media

With an adult audience of two million and a Utah-based legacy institution with abnormally high engagement, Greg Peterson’s job with Desert Digital Media and KSL.com / KSL Marketplace was to continue driving the digital transformation of a company who sees 500 million a month in ad impressions.

“Selling TV and radio products is a hell of a lot different than selling digital,” Peterson admitted, as he apologized for cursing. That’s why he believes companies are stronger when they separate sales forces, and use that segmentation to empower salespeople to do things “in an excellent way.”

When he was hired in 2011, Peterson set about splitting the sales teams at KSL – a move that cost many account executives their jobs. Peterson’s strategy: digital buyers needed digitally-focused reps. And if an account at other KSL channels, like TV and radio, did not grow digitally over 90 days, too, it went into review.

The proof is in the pudding: the KSL Marketplace is the only classifieds site to outrank craigslist in any state. And those 500 million ad impressions sure do sound sweet for such a small population.

“Digital is so, so important,” Peterson said. “Never bundle it. Never underestimate it.”

And the most important investment a company can make? Training. Or in Peterson’s words: “Train, train, train.”

In his closing remarks, Williams reminded the audience that each of their situations would determine the strategy they needed to pursue to revitalize their sales teams.

“No matter what structure you are choosing, change can be progressed, sustained, and strengthened. That’s the story of sales transformation.”