Finding the Right Sales Person

There's no one way of hiring and keeping a good sales staff.

To hire or not to hire — as far as I am concerned, that’s the question. For alternative newsweeklies, finding, training, and streamlining a successful sales team remains an imperative investment as the media market continues to evolve at an exponential pace.

Despite this unilateral fact, weeklies from all over the nation rely on a multitude of theories and practices with very little commonality when it comes to building the perfect sales beast. A notable source of industry static is the nature of candidates with — or without — print sales experience.

“We find that our most successful folks are those who come to us because they have a passion for the paper,” said Linda Baldwin, national sales director for Isthmus. “[P]eople who have sold other print products are the ones who come to us with an interest specifically in Isthmus.”

“I hire only people who have sold newspaper print. I don’t buy that sales is sales is sales,” agreed Ottawa Express Advertising Director Mike Beard. “I want people with that kind of experience.”

Certainly, many ad folks believe print experience can only enhance a newbie’s chance for success. But not everyone agrees.

“I would personally rather hire a green applicant that is teachable than an experienced sales rep that may have developed bad habits,” said Cara Yowell, ad director for C-Ville Weekly.

Managerial interaction also makes a difference in a salesperson’s longevity.

“Once you find a person with eagerness and determination, loyalty is usually not an issue,” asserted Jason Philips, classified advertising director of Pitch Weekly. “Making them successful stems down to how well they are trained.”

Of course, in order to make these decisions about who to hire, weeklies need applicants for the jobs. According to Jadey Ryndak of AdPros, a Chicago-based placement service specializing in marketing and advertising careers, only a precious few even choose to apply for sales jobs at weeklies and successful salespeople within the alt industry represent a targeted lot.

“Those candidates who do best within a weekly environment for the most part are those who have a special connection to the market the paper serves,” she opined.

Many of the positive attributes of weeklies attract those who seek out a chance to work closely with both clients and coworkers outside the confines of corporate America. “It’s the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and be a part of a family atmosphere,” Ryndak said.

And if your existing sales staff bears more than a passing resemblance to the Manson Family? “Cleaning house of the deadwood was imperative if we wanted to move forward,” said Kerry Farley, Vice President of Operations for Yesse! Communications. After a major overhaul of staffers — about 80 percent of salespeople were let go and replaced — the long-term likelihood for successful sales seemed more feasible.

“The current teams exist on a much higher skill level than ever before and our potential clients will reap those benefits, as well as the paper,” Farley said.

Of course, a generous compensation package also can attract those with more advanced sales skills. “If you are paying on a mediocre level, you will receive mediocre performance,” Phillips said.

Ultimately, of course, it’s the reps willingness that determines the level of success, both professionally and financially.

“To determine if they are cash driven I try to figure out if they have another large source of income from a spouse or a family,” says Jessica Stern, national sales manager for New Mass Media newspaper group. “I also ask them if they would like a substantial commission and a small base, or a larger base [and] almost no commission. If they answer that they want more commission, it’s a good sign that they have the right confidence and attitude.”

Joellen Ivey, an account manager at Cincinnati CityBeat, relies more heavily on a personal commitment to the product itself.

“Do they have other interests outside the office that will overtake their desire to perform their duties well? Can they be passionate about our endeavor here? Can they delay some gratification for long-term success?” she asked. “These [questions] may seem silly but these are qualities essential to sales.”

There’s the rub. What distilled essential qualities reveal the perfect salesperson? Many of these assertions and insights among our industry’s leaders resonate with years of experience and hindsight, although no alchemical equation for hiring has yet been produced.