BIA/Kelsey Probes Industry CEOs on the Keys to ‘Being Built to Last’

In a session chaired by BIA/Kelsey managing editor Charles Laughlin today at YPA 2010, a panel of CEOs sat down to discuss the state of the Yellow Pages industry and share thoughts on what changes are critical to ensure long-term success and growth.

A key to the future, said Laughlin, is acknowledging the change in the “consumer purchase funnel” – i.e. the consumer decision-making process that leads to a purchase decision.  According to BIA/Kelsey data, in 2007, shoppers consulted 5.5 reference sources before buying.  Today, they check 7.9 resources before making a purchase.    How are Yellow Pages organizations staying relevant in this competitive environment?

Sensis CEO  Bruce Akhurst thinks it all about “[finding] buyers for customers.”  Answering the larger question about “what type of company are you, and where are we going?” he responded that: “Usage of our print products continues to be pretty much what it’s been for the last 5-6 years, so we’re not believers in the end of print.  But at the same time, we are adding a range of products to ensure that we are providing leads to our customers – including from platforms those we don’t own. Our role is putting out our customers’ content on Google, Twitter, mobile and online to ensure that they are visible in all places where customers are going to find buyers.” 

Speaking from a European perspective, Mediatel CEO Kimberli Lewis agreed that the core of her business is about delivering leads, but commented that Mediatel’s path to success has been about reinventing the sales model.  “So we have no rate card any longer. We sell only packages. These packages provide a certain amount of leads … This is the direction we see our business going…  This shift has margin implications, but we handle that by working more like the fast moving consumer goods market, prioritizing sales of high margin services, but providing product offerings to support all types of customers.”

From a systems perspective, Local Matters CEO Matt Stover commented that “the industry is up to the task, but different players in the industry… start at very different places… [One] approach is getting a better understanding of where each company is strategically, and what their priorities are… and then, what tools are needed to deliver the quality, speed, and interoperability they need to provide better service and drive down costs.”  In Stover’s opinion, being built to last will depend on being more aggressive and building a sales force that understands social media and can use it to connect with their customers.

Berry CEO Scott Pomeroy suggested that it comes down to making a fundamental shift from B2C to B2B businesses.  “In order to continue to provide consultancy to our customers and leverage the rich SMB relationships our industry is the historical beneficiary of, we need to acknowledge that yellow pages are no longer the sole lead generator and help local businesses crack the code on how to use those other 7.9 sources that their consumers are referencing before they buy.”  But that change is not easy to realize – it takes time and a focus on training, said Pomeroy.  In order to transform from product salesmen to SMB consultants, the channel needs to recognize that the goal is now to “listen more than we talk.”

On the question of increasing competition, Pomeroy added that ownership is not always best.  “We can provide leads through a myriad of portals. We don’t have to own them.  Honestly, I’d just as soon rather sell someone else’s platforms, because there will be some failure as things continue to evolve,” he added.

4 Responses to “BIA/Kelsey Probes Industry CEOs on the Keys to ‘Being Built to Last’”

  1. David Jenyns says:

    Great to see you guys focusing on how the Yellow pages needs to stay up to date. The fact of the matter is… times are changing no longer do people use offline yellow pages – it’s all about online! We recently did a survey with some clients and found people rare use the old school print version of the yellow pages… it’s time for a change.

    David Jenyns

  2. Phil Chan says:

    I would disagree, David. Not sure of the depth and scale of the research you are mentioning here. But if you are referring to the interview that you did on the street in melbourne, i suggest you interview people in businesses and trades to get a better picture.
    I have been working in IT and media industry for a while and multiplatform is the way to go.

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