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How the YPG Sales Force is Walking the Talk

Our industry hinges on relationships, so it’s no surprise that we invest a lot in training and arming our sales force with everything they need to provide customized marketing strategies to their customers.

Recently, Kelsey Group blogged about sales innovation and whether Yellow Pages companies are moving quickly enough. As a whole, I believe we are moving in a right direction. There are numerous examples of innovation in recent years that we can be proud of.

One YPA member, Canada’s Yellow Pages Group (YPG), comes to mind. YPG started a focused effort to innovate its sales force in 2002.

I sat down with YPG to hear about how a few starting philosophies blossomed into its “Customer First” program in 2004. Through Customer First, the company automated and integrated the various end-to-end processes involved in serving its directory advertisers. The program goes well beyond technology, extending to the ways in which YPG views, treats and serves its customers. The program, which is still going strong today, has benefited its client relationships, work culture and bottom line. Here are a few key learnings to share:

  • Customer Segmentation & Sales Channel Alignment: Recognizing that all advertisers are not equal, YPG started a program in 2002 to segment its customers and train its sales force accordingly. Think of this as sending a specialist M.D. out on house calls, instead of a G.P. In addition to changing their training, YPG adjusted account volume and sales targets based on the amount of face-time their designated customer category required.
  • Walking the Talk on Technology: In 2004, YPG decided that if the team was expected to provide counsel on innovation and digital integration, they had to “walk the talk” – i.e. they could no longer rely solely on print sales materials. They armed their sales force with tablet PCs and developed proprietary “Customer First” software that today provides product video demos, design mock-ups, pricing options, and critical ROI data for customers on the spot.
  • Marketing/Media Consultancy: To ensure that the team is knowledgeable about the broader local search industry and the options available to their customers, YPG established a Sales Certification Program offering courses on selling skills and marketing counsel, Google Ad Words, Video advertising, SEO/SEM and a host of other topics. This effectively transformed their sales channel from an army of ad reps to a team of media account consultants.

Today, 60% of YPG’s advertiser base includes online advertising as part of their marketing programs – indicating that these changes are working. And after some early resistance to change, the sales force has embraced the new technologies and is now pushing for faster adoption.

These are all exciting developments that represent our overall industry migration. In fact, a Borrell Associates report last summer suggested that:

The proof of the industry’s rapid transformation is in the numbers: Of all local media companies, yellow pages publishers have been the most successful in moving toward digital sales.

I’d be happy to hear about yours too. Drop me a line.

9 Responses to “How the YPG Sales Force is Walking the Talk”

  1. mike says:

    Fascinating! Congrats to YPG! How did they get around incentivizing salespeople enough to want to spend time training and selling their online products when the opportunity cost of selling the offline product was too high?

  2. Sales Skills says:

    Today there is greater effort to maximize sales, increase revenue and protect margins. The ten calls that once generated two customers have increased to twenty. Farmers must now become hunters.

    Here are a few points that might help facilitate the transition.

    The greatest hidden asset in any company is the untapped potential of its sales force. The best investment opportunity available to any company, or salesperson, is not to add more tools and technology but to unlock that potential within the sales force.

    Just as there are right ways and wrong ways to sell, there are right and wrong ways to teach salespeople how to sell more effectively.

    For companies to unlock the true potential of its sales force and optimize benefits to the bottom line, three things are required. They should always be present in sales-training situations, but rarely are.

    1. Teach a sales system that is genuinely more effective than what your salespeople are doing now. This should be obvious, but it isn’t. Many courses teach selling as a collection of tips, tricks and techniques that might be helpful in various circumstances. Maybe they’ll work for a short period of time – maybe not.

    To achieve dramatic gains in performance, salespeople need to master a systematic and superior approach to selling that has proven to work consistently in virtually any circumstance. Tricks and gimmicks won’t cut it. Salespeople need a better way to sell.

    The system must be based on the way buyers actually behave and make decisions. And salespeople need to know not just what the system is but how to master and execute it – every step of the way.

    2. Teach skills that can be taught. A thousand traits and characteristics may contribute in some way to sales success: an outgoing personality, the gift of gab, etc. The trouble is, those traits can be talked about (and often are in training courses) but they can’t really be taught.

    Research proves that improvements in only five critical selling skills translate directly into greater sales performance. These skills can be taught and improvements in them can be measured. They are:

    * Managing the Buyer/Seller Relationship
    * Sales Call Planning
    * Questioning Skills
    * Presentation Skills
    * Gaining Commitment

    Google “Action Selling” if you want to know more about those five sales skills, how and when to use them, and why they are so critical to unlocking actual potential to achieve measurable gains in sales performance. They also provide the following: a free sales skills assessment that determines selling skill strengths and how to improve in using these skills, a number of great quick-read sales books describing how and when to use the above skills (http://bit.ly/vf7qE), sales training white papers and more.

    3. Train according to the realities of adult learning and behavioral reinforcement. Educational research has established a great deal about how adults actually learn and master new skills. Salespeople learn far more effectively when sales training adheres to proven adult learning principles.

    But teaching new skills is only half the battle. Sales performance can’t improve unless salespeople actually use their new skills consistently on the job. Old habits die hard.

    What to teach and how to teach it are important issues. But, “How will we reinforce the new behavior on the job?” is critical. Reinforcement must be an integral part of the training plan, right from the beginning.

    If you select the right system, based on the right skills, then get the teaching and reinforcement right, you’ll have taken a huge step towards unlocking the true potential of your sales force and reaching new heights of sales productivity.

    To Your Success

  3. Thanks for your comment. At YPG, we are training the reps so they generate leads for advertisers no matter what the platform is. Our bundle strategy (print and online) has come a long way.

  4. Great to hear, I spend alot with YPG every month and I rely on my sales rep being well informed.

  5. Good article, this is very similar to a site that I have. Please check it out sometime and feel free to leave me a comenet on it and tell me what you think. Im always looking for feedback.

  6. i seriously needed sales training to sharpen my skills in selling online products.,~’

  7. Lillian King says:

    Sales training is really necessary to properly promote those products that needs to be sold in short amount of time.*;:

  8. Yellow Pages has helped our business greatly over the last 10 years and we still find it to be a very effective advertising medium.

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