How I learned integrated sales teams don't work

Dale Darling | VP of Sales, DDM | @dalezane | June 1, 2015

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." – Theodore Roosevelt

One of my professional mile markers is October 2009, late one afternoon in Salt Lake City. I was the local sales manager for KSL5, an NBC affiliate and the home of ksl.com. My professional background was 20 years in broadcast sales, all in TV, except for the accidental success of ksl.com and my “other duties as assigned” with the website. The “Great Recession” was in full swing, and this thing called disruption was killing the newspaper business, and it felt like the same virus was attacking TV. I was underequipped to deal with disruption or sell interactive ads, as we inadequately described our digital display responsibilities.

Then, on that October day, Clark Gilbert walked into my office around 5:15 p.m. We talked for more than 75 minutes and Clark proceeded to change my opinion about the overall direction of the media industry and, more importantly, the direction of my career. Clark had more energy and determination than any business leader I had ever been around. He finished our “brief visit” by informing me that our digital selling efforts would no longer be needed at the TV station and that a new division of Deseret Media Companies — Deseret Digital Media — would be taking over ksl.com.

It was a visit I will never forget and one that changed my thinking and my career. I was determined, however, to convince Clark he should continue to allow broadcast teams to sell his digital products.

Fleeting success

Over the next 15 months I was able to persuade Clark to trust me enough to be his sales solution for ksl.com and grow his revenue numbers by using our TV and radio teams to accomplish that goal. We did it! We ran those revenue numbers up by 120 percent in 2010 and accomplished it with a legacy sales team. However, the data told us there was much more revenue that we didn’t capture. Despite my best efforts trying to evolve our legacy teams into digital sellers, they still had a TV and radio budget that was more important to them. They kept their job by selling the key platform products they each had been assigned. I couldn't change that dynamic inside our KSL broadcast management structure.

I understood the broadcast sellers’ fear and needs, but I also saw the digital revolution knocking down our door. The legacy sales teams resisted training and coaching to improve their digital sales skills. The digital sales strategy for our legacy account executives was to ask, “… If you also might have some digital needs we could help you with?”

Clark was not ready to stop growing after 15 months, but that’s exactly what we did. He and I debated, argued, pushed and consumed sales data at a pace I had never experienced in my sales career. And then it happened.

What’s good for the goose

An old Irish proverb goes something like this: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In a meeting with all of our KSL broadcast sales management members, Clark pointed out that TV and radio each have specific sellers for their specific platforms. And even with their similarities, the different radio stations each have specific sellers and dedicated sales teams. The logic was unarguable and the snare was set. If legacy products need specialized sellers, then why would digital products and clients be any different? Clark had just ended the debate.

Within days I was moving my efforts from KSL Broadcast to DDM and tasked with creating a dedicated digital-only sales team. We have never looked back and our revenue growth has never slowed. The single most important decision DDM has made regarding its revenue strategy was to build platform-specific sales teams. I have experienced various sales models that swing from dedicated seller to uber-seller and back to dedicated seller. But I have 100 percent conviction that platform-specific, product-specific training and product-specific sales management will result in not only increased revenue, but more successful and much more passionate sales professionals.

Painful progress

None of this disruption and necessary innovation is easy. In fact the changes in my own career and the need to reinvent myself caused both professional pain and personal disappointment. Unfortunately, I lost relationships with broadcast team members and was even vilified for jumping ship and taking up arms with the digital revolution. It has been a very difficult transition from a broadcast vernacular and data to an almost non-stop avalanche of digital products and platform evolution. I was deemed a traitor by the broadcast teams and found to be unqualified by my new digital peers.

The need to change is never easy, but the need to do the right thing at the right time is always the appropriate form of education and learning. None of the changes I’m suggesting will be easy or comfortable. They will in fact test you as a leader, thinker and competitor. The easiest thing for me would have been to say, “Good luck Clark, but I think I will stay here and sell broadcast TV.” Deseret Digital Media would have found another vice president of sales and DDM would be in the same spot it is in today when it comes to sales revenue and platform-specific sales teams, if not further along. But I promise any of you facing the decision to change from a legacy multi-platform sales team to a platform-specific sales team, it will be worth the fight and will be the very challenge and experience you are looking for in your sales management career.