The Secrets to Surviving Your First Year in Sales

Staff Writer

…….(or How Not to Become a Statistic)

Identify with this picture? You have been appointed a media sales person, the future looks bright, you excitedly anticipate your new career with plenty of hopes and dreams of success.

Unfortunately the reality is often the opposite – the hopes and dreams quickly shatter.

Here’s the thing. Around 30-40% of media sales people don’t survive their first year. That’s scary!! Too many potentially great sales people quickly leave, disillusioned, frustrated and angry at their lack of progress and it’s not a recent phenomenon.

In his excellent book 'The Desk Closest to the Door – How to Master the Art of Selling Direct Media' Mike Brunel says the traits of successful media sales people are:

  • Be accountable
  • Pursue self education
  • Set goals
  • Find a mentor
  • Be persistent


That list is a great starting point for any new sales person however it got me to thinking. I wonder what some of the sales leaders in the Australian and New Zealand media industry had to say about this.  Here are their thoughts on how to avoid becoming a statistic and successfully break through that critical first twelve months.

Ric Camilleri who is ex-Sales Director at ARN and now Director of Sales at NRS Media International and to my mind one of the radio industry’s top direct sales people says:

1. Live for the job – Every minute you work you are investing in your future

2. Do the hours – The more hours you work, the more people you will speak to, the more sales you will make

3. Follow Up – Attention to detail is the key.

4. Assertiveness – At some stage you need to ask for the sale, always close hard

5. Professionalism – Make sure you look a million dollars, car is clean and you are always on time. It make a difference

6. Do the kilometre’s – Don’t worry about how much you spend on fuel, it’s tax deductible and will come back to you in sales

New Zealand has a highly competitive media sector and I tracked down Glen Smith a Business Development Manager with The Radio Network. Here’s a guy with a strong background in account and Sales Management. His take?

1. Your employer and your future customers are depending on you to leverage listeners/online users from the market to believe in the advertised product and services. Uncover enough listeners to show a positive return on your customer’s investment.

2. Know everything about your listeners. Segment them – get inside their heads. This gives you confidence and positions you in the market as a genuine resource for your prospects.

3. Work harder and smarter than everyone else. You have to be prepared to go beyond your current thinking. Extraordinary feats require extraordinary effort. What percentage of budget would change the paradigm of success in your workplace? 150%, 200%, 300%

4. Be prepared to change the lives of your customers. Remember, you carry a great deal of responsibility to do your due diligence on the campaigns that you are pitching. With the right campaign you can contribute to the morale in your customer’s business, affect their families – even create more jobs. 

With 17 years in television and radio sales, including a stint of international experience, Sydney based Southern Cross Austereo sales manager Liam Scullin recommends that new sales people do the following:

1. Look for a buddy or mentor with a senior sales person you can relate to but don’t harass this person with silly questions.  Ask them about key clients or successful campaigns.

2. Don’t rush and try to close the first sale, without first clearly chunking down the process.

– Prospecting what is a good prospect? Do you have a check list to qualify?
– VBR (valid business reason) or foot in the door, what or how will you make first contact?
– In depth diagnosis to discover a need or their KMC (key marketing challenge)?
– Develop a sound solution that will fix needs within the prospect’s budget.

If you try to sell before having this information your hit rate will be low and you will burn through multiple prospects.

3. In the first month make a daily list of at least 5 questions for your manager. Address them at the end of each day. Relate these questions to how you operate naturally, people buy from people so don't try to be something you are not.

4. Develop business acumen to add to your credibility. Start with simple things – the state of the economy on a national and local level. Interest rates, housing, retail.  Start nationally then locally. Master your medium. Learn as much as you can.

Here’s some terrific advice provided by Wendy Gee, NSW Executive Regional GM at Grant Broadcasters:

1. Radio sales is not just a job but a professional career.  Any successful profession has various levels of training to achieve success. An ice skater does years and years of training, doctors continue to study for many years. Solicitors, Accountants, Pilots, whatever the profession it takes training to be successful. Radio sales is no different and needs the same effort, dedication and expertise.

2. Set goals to achieve each month. A series of incremental goals will help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel – this helps you feel your success is building. 

3. Understand the full picture. Understand clients businesses and how they operate. Work with clients to meet their advertising needs by utilising everything that radio has to offer. 

4. Always be learning – there is much to master in radio sales so buddy /mentor with a successful senior rep who can help you on a day to day basis at the coalface.

5. Over prepare. Do the preparation for each client and each sale, there are never any short cuts.  Cover every angle from the research to the presentation and everything in between.  You can never over prepare and you can never over service.

David Hefter is the National Sales Director – Direct at ARN, with over 30 years media sales experience in both radio and television. He takes a different tact by posing some thought starters for the future:

1. Market/media industry consolidation, convergence is changing the face of media sales. What type of person will best fit this environment and what characteristics, experience and knowledge will they need to meet the next 5-10 years of massive change? Yesterdays “rep” won’t cut it.

2. What’s the next immediate change in 1-2 years, because today’s digital market will look different again in 2016? Individuals coming into this environment might be better off studying trends not history! The changes we’ve seen in 7 years will happen again in 3!

3. Solution selling as a guiding sales principle is not dead, but the pulse is weak. Now it’s more about identifying the unseen “opportunity”.  Clients are more sophisticated, they know what their problems are and often already have the solution if its marketing related, so how can we challenge their thinking and take them somewhere they never thought they’d go?

4. Personal characteristics commonly associated with successful individuals still apply and these can’t be “trained”, tomorrow’s survivor will need to take it up a notch or two. Self-development will be critical as companies won’t have time or money to get you the coaching and knowledge at the rate you’ll need it.

5. Media companies will need to recognise the need for a different type of sales person in their recruitment process and raise their own standards.

6. Relationships are still king, the content and context (the value you add) is queen and accountability is the prince.  If you are not prepared to be measured on all of these – stay home!

The experts have spoken – it’s now up to you, so here’s to your future success in the most exciting, rewarding and at times challenging role, media sales.

Stephen Pead is a media industry veteran of 30 years with significant experience in sales, sales management and general management. He is based in Sydney and specialises in providing training for sales people and sales managers. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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