Building a productive sales environment


Newspaper companies can't take a passive approach in how they approach the hiring of salespeople.  They must implement a proactive hearts-and-minds marketing campaign in order to build what Charity Huff, managing partner of Maroon Ventures, calls the A-Team.

During the SNPA-Inland Annual Meeting, Huff shared proven, successful strategies to build a productive sales environment, maintain a healthy pipeline of qualified sales professionals, and reach new customers with compelling marketing tactics.

The A-Team needs a diversity of people, experiences and skill sets, she said.  It needs the:

  • Socializer, who is really proactive, outgoing and willing to be your cold-caller, your hunter. These individuals are great at presenting, persuading and networking. They are best at things that don't require lengthy follow up.  They are self-motivated, grow bored easily and don't like paperwork.  They often struggle, she said, at selling high-dollar offerings.
  • Relaters, who are good at building relationships and cultivating long-term relationships with customers.  They get through the sales process methodically, and are naturally consultative.  They are great, she said, as an inside sales person and excel with fewer clients and deep relationships.
  • Problem-Solvers,  who will roll up their sleeves and dig in. These individuals tend to provide data and logical information and do well exploring problems and explaining solutions. They are reliable and strong when it comes to technical selling.
  • Directors, who are willing to take charge and own the relationship with the customer.  Huff said these individuals like cold calling more than most people and aggressively tackle sales goals.

In addition to managing these different personalities, sales managers also are challenged with the complexities of knowing how to best motivate the multiple generations they have working as a team.  The dual challenge, she said, "is why we see the churn in our sales teams and why we see some frustration with our sales managers."

These various generations are motivated by different things:


  • The team and culture is important to job satisfaction.
  • They prefer environments where they feel empowered, supported and have freedom to do their job, their way.
  • They learn through trial and error, rather than by rules and guidelines.
  • Flexible work hours, workplace are motivating. Give them a deadline or goal, and let them build the path to get there.
  • They don't jump jobs because they are finicky. They jump because of culture and their manager.

Gen X:

  • They work hard and play hard.
  • Work/life balance is a motivator.
  • They like options: options for task selection, options for challenges, options to formulate new processes.
  • Focus on the outcome, and let them determine the path.
  • Gen Xers are multi-taskers, collaborative and prefer structure.

Baby Boomers:

  • Have paid their dues.
  • They prefer static, linear methods when learning new things.
  • Publicly recognize their efforts and contributions to motivate them.
  • They view meetings as a structured, important way for management to communicate expectations, goals and information to the team.
  • Feedback should be specific and direct when bad, and best accompanied by monetary or public recognition when positive.
  • They want to know they are valued.

Assessing your sales team
Aptitude and attitude are really important qualities to look for when hiring a sales team, Huff said.  While you can train people on your newspaper's sales process, she said there are certain things "that just come naturally to those of us who are in sales."

Hard skills focus on sales acumen: How do current and prospective sales professionals stack up against your company's expected sales competencies?

  • Preparing: How a salesperson prepares for the sale.
  • Targeting: Assess what sales strategies and tactics the sales  professional has developed.
  • Connecting: The initial contact step in selling; you must appeal to people intellectually so they see you as a credible resource and emotionally so they trust you as a person.
  • Solving: How this person presents solutions, tells their stories, recommends services or describes the outcomes that buying will produce.
  • Confirming: Assess how well a sales professional will confirm the commitment to purchase.
  • Assuring: A confirmed sale needs assuring that the value promised will be received. 
  • Managing: Assesses how a potential candidate will manage sales and accounts and manage themselves.

Soft skills are harder to find ... and Huff stresses three specific qualities:

  • They are thoughtful.
  • They take initiative.
  • They are coachable.

It takes good ole fashioned marketing to recruit A-Team sales professionals, she said.  She said the sales candidate journey looks very similar to that of the journey a newspaper's advertising clients are taken through.

"You need to be able to attract the folks," Huff said, "who are most relative to your business, to your mission and to what you are looking for.  You've got to use more than one tactic to reach them.  And, the job description should act as an advertisement."

She said every touch point with a potential hire should reflect the brand, the mission and the promise of your organization.  And, your hiring process, timeline and expectations should be 100 percent transparent.

View this recruitment video by Kirk Davis, CEO of GateHouse Media

She recommends to companies that she works with on sales recruitment that they start blogging or use content they have created that speaks to the mission of their organization ... and then distribute it widely.  Put it on LinkedIn, on the career page of your company website, etc.  She cited the video by GateHouse Media CEO Kirk Davis as being very effective.

She also encouraged newspaper executives to seek out and engage with community influencers – just as you would from an advertising or journalistic standpoint.

Next, she said, they need the proper tools to do their job:

  • A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that they can work from to manage their interactions, their workflow, their pipeline.
  • In-bound marketing support.
  • Research tools.
  • Coaching and mentoring.

Then motivate them, based on their personalities:


  • Show them that you admire and like them.
  • Create a fast, optimistic, up-beat environment.
  • Support their feelings when possible.
  • Avoid involved details, focus on the "big picture."
  • Vary the routine; avoid requiring long-term repetition. Compliment them personally and often.
  • Do it together.
  • Support their ideas and don't poke.
  • Mention their accomplishments, progress and your other genuine appreciation.


  • Approach them in an indirect, non-threatening way.
  • Show your reasoning.  Tell them "why" and "how."
  • Give data to them in writing.
  • Allow them to think, inquire and check before they make decisions.
  • When delegating, let them check procedures and other progress and performance before they make decisions.
  • Compliment them on their thoroughness and correctness.
  • Let them assess and be involved in the process when possible.
  • Allow them time to find the best or "correct" answer.


  • Create a steady, consistent environment.
  • Show reasoning.
  • Provide data and proof.
  • Demonstrate your interest in them.
  • Personally "walk them through" instructions.
  • Compliment them for their steady follow-through.
  • Act non-aggressively and focus on common interest or needed support.
  • Allow them to provide service or support for others.
  • Provide a relaxing, friendly atmosphere.
  • Acknowledge their easy-going manner and helpful efforts when appropriate.


  • Show them how to win. Give them new opportunities.
  • Display reasoning.
  • Provide concise data.
  • Agree on goal and boundaries, then support or get out of their way.
  • Allow them to "do their thing," within limits.
  • Vary routine.
  • Compliment them on what they've done.
  • Let them take the lead, when appropriate, but give them parameters.
  • If necessary. argue with conviction on points of disagreements, backed up with facts; don't argue based on "personality" basis.

View Charity Huff's PowerPoints (in PDF format) from the conference.

Huff, advertising sales, advertising training
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