Transforming the Sales Organization at the Houston Chronicle – Stephen Weis
A colleague of mine recently forwarded me a link to a series of video presentations from the Newspaper Consortium 2010 conference hosted at Yahoo! in 2010, and impressed upon me to PLEASE check out the presentation by Stephen Weis on reorganizing the sales organization at the Houston Chronicle. So I watched Weis’s presentation, and was very impressed with what he and his team has accomplished at the Chronicle. First, the video:Vodpod videos no longer available.
I also transcribed the presentation for those interested in a more concise summary.
Below is a summary of some of the key messages I took away from Weis’s talk (with some insights from other NPC talks sprinkled in):
Rebuilding the Sales Organization from the ground up
Clearly, Weis completely redesigned the sales organization at the Houston Chronicle. I thought his the quote below from his presentation was telling:
We were looking at [revenue] numbers … indicative of a larger problem within our sales organization – and I use that term loosely, because I don’t think we were really a sales organization.
Changing the way we sell
Several common themes are repeated throughout the NPC conference around changing the way the sales force sells. Some of these are, most of which Weis calls our are:
- Increase focus on Digital Ad Sales
- Focus on integrated Multimedia Ad Buys
- Instilling a “hunter” mentality within the sales organization – moving beyond being just order takers.
- Moving away from Product-based selling to Audience-based selling
- Focus on improving customer performance, with ability to deliver measurable ROI to the customer
Reorganizing for better sales performance
The heart of Weis’ presentation, however, was about reorganizing sales roles and responsibilities at the Chronicle to improve sales performance. Probably the most fundamental problem for Weis was that Chronicle Account Executives were spending less than 50% of their time selling, and far too much time on low-value administrative activities.
The Chronicle also had issues with their Sales reporting structure – whereby operational and admin roles were reporting up to sales managers, and not into an operational group.
Impressively, the Houston Chronicle skill-mapped their entire sales organization – something they had never done before. They identified 10 core skills that they expected for different types of roles in the new sales organization. These new roles – with some of Weis’s comments, are, are listed below:
- Regional Sales Specialists – Go sell. I really don’t want to see you in here unless we’re at a sales rally or there’s an emergency. And we’ve equipped them up with the tools to do that.
- Account Strategists – Client retention. Prospecting and Selling on active accounts. Do all the things that our account executives were probably really good at. And the ratio BTW is 3-to-1 (Regional Sales Specialists to Account Strategists).
- Multimedia Coordinators – Sit in a completed different area – responsible for ad order entry, ad fulfillment, and pulling performance reports.
So sales is sales – there’s only 2 roles in the Sales department. After that we drew a line and said we’re creating a department called Advertising Services.
The Chronicle was built on many, many silos. So you had your Printing group over here, and your Digital group over here. And I’m talking from an Operational standpoint – and I don’t even know how many there were, I stopped after 5.
So we brought them all together under Advertising Services, so that they could be managed by people who know that, and how to be efficient in that. Not Sales people, because I wasn’t, I’m not efficient. I’m Sales, I have no idea. And we can get rid of the noise.
So at the end of the day, get rid of the noise. Sales go sell. Advertising Services. Your client is the sales department of the Houston Chronicle
The Chronicle also reorganized how reps were allocated to specific clients and geographic territories.
Find the right people for the right job, and give them the tools and training to succeed
Weiss doesn’t speak too much in his presentation to the re-training challenge. Other presenters addressed this more directly. However, he does mention that they “blew-up” their training department, and redefined it as Sales Development.
Weiss also doesn’t talk much about how new sales tools and technology were used to improve the productivity of the Chronicle sales force.
Performance-driven Sales Organization
Finally, Weiss implemented an increase focus on measurement and performance. There was in increased focus on:
- Tracking Sales results
- Increased transparency of sales data, and sharing high-level sales data throughout the organization, and how the sales organization was performing.
- Aligning compensation to performance
All in all, a fascinating window into the challenges of modernizing a traditional Print sales organization to sell in a highly-competitive, multimedia world.