There is a piece of wisdom as old as sales itself, and that is that the best salespeople are impossible to manage. But with print revenues declining and publishers offering an increasingly diverse range of options, the need for a well-structured sales team is more important than ever – so how do you get the best results?

Everyone knows sales people are motivated by money, that is the basis of the commission system. There are conflicting views on how this should be structured though, with many companies preferring a commission only and others finding they get a better team attitude from their reps if they also reward them well with a base salary too.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to know what you are reinforcing and why. At its simplest, people will do what you pay them to do. Some commission structures reward results, i.e. you get a share of what you sell, whereas others reward behaviours, such as number of calls made. Structures that pay for reaching targets or capped commissions among others can be seen as a combination of both these approaches.

If you go for the simple structure of commission only, percentage of what you sell, you can expect your reps to sell, and that may be all you want, but don’t necessarily expect them to be team players, strategic thinkers or otherwise engaged in the business – because you’re not paying them to do that.

Publishers are requiring their sales teams to understand and sell an increasingly complex range of options. Again, two approaches have been tried here. One is the account management system, where you have an account manager who deals with the one client across all platforms, and matches the solutions that best suit them.  The difficulty here is that many sales reps simply don’t have the skills to do this. The alternative is to have digital specialists, event specialists, marketing services specialists – of course the downside here is that you have internal teams potentially competing against each other.

I strongly favour the account management model, but it can only work if you have good quality, well trained reps, or a team big enough to have a structure to it, where a senior account manager handles the account, and various specialists help with their areas of expertise. Many larger organisations do this already, but it’s not viable for small publishers.

However, even a small team can have some structure. You may find you have two types of reps on your team, the straight-forward, numbers-focussed reps, who ‘dial for dollars’ and the reps who are more able to build relationships. You can split the clients between them so that the senior rep puts the integrated packages together and the junior rep hits the phones hard to keep the new business turning over. If your team is even smaller than that, then the sales manager, or even the editor can take on some of the role of the relationship manager.

More than an order taker
You need to make sure any sales reps on your team have at least one of the above skills profiles. If you have legacy staff who have been with you since the good times, you need to make sure your team isn’t carrying any glorified ‘order takers’. When the market is strong in any industry, some sales reps quickly find that they can earn an easy commission by doing little more than manage incoming orders. When the market toughens up, these people can be quickly exposed. As a publisher it’s no use playing the blame game, it’s your responsibility to ensure your sales team keep their skills honed and are able to actively bring in business that wouldn’t otherwise be there, even when times are good, because they are skills you’ll need when times are tougher.


Do you find the best sales reps are hard to manage?