There is a fundamental disconnect between what many publishers sell, and what their customers want. Publishers value and sell reach and demographics while their customers value and need campaigns that measurably increase sales pipelines. Today’s publishers need to be able to measure the full impact of client campaigns from initial awareness through to a final sales transaction. 

Yes, this can be done. 

Railroads and the Evolution of the Publishing Industry

To illustrate the shift occurring in the publishing industry, let’s turn our attention to the United States at the dawn of the 20th century — a time when the railroad industry was booming.

The railroad industry dominated land freight shipping in the early 1900s, much as print newspaper and magazines dominated access to potential prospects of advertisers decades ago. And just like the railroads, newspaper and magazine publishing was a capital-intensive business that severely limited any new competition. 

Yet by the 1970’s most railroads had gone bankrupt.

Why? Because the leaders of the railroad companies in the 1920s and 1930s thought they were in the railroad business, when in reality, they were in the transportation business. The railroad companies sold freight movement between railroad station A and railroad station B, but that was completely disconnected from their customers’ need to move product from their own loading dock to the seller’s delivery dock/store.

If the railroad leaders had thought of themselves as transportation companies instead of railroad companies, they would have bought or built truck and airline systems to complement their rail infrastructure. They would have seen how these emerging technologies could significantly improve their ability to deliver on their customer’s real need.

Publishers must be careful not to make a similar mistake by thinking they are solely in the publishing business (selling reach and demos). Rather, they must understand their customers’ marketing goal and recognize they are in the sales pipeline delivery business.

To do this, publishers need to think, act, organize and speak like marketers. Stop selling your media kit and start selling your ability to identify and accelerate a real prospect for your clients.

Getting Back on Track: How Publishers Can Think Like Marketers

Align Your Organization with Your Customer’s Goals

Your entire organization needs to understand their role in the context of the overall mission; to identify, influence and deliver high quality prospects to advertisers. 

Excellent, independent editorial content drives the top of the funnel, finding new audiences for your brand. Editorial also provides critical insights to your audiences’ buyer journey and can guide your marketing team to map content against each stage of the sales cycle.

Marketing needs to work less on media kits and more on converting anonymous visitors to contacts in your database. Marketers need to embrace the same tools and track the same metrics your customers currently use. 

Audience Development needs to align closely (perhaps even merge?) with marketing to implement a marketing automation platform that will transform your business by:

  1. Capturing more audience data, and doing it faster.
  2. Enabling you to identify the subset of your audience signaling purchase intent and actively seeking product solutions, and then engage them for your target advertisers.

Transform Your Sales Team into Consultative Marketers 

The single biggest challenge publishers face today is transforming sales teams into consultative marketing partners for customers. Selling reach and demos “smells like display advertising” and kills many conversations quickly. To be clear, display is still an important component of any campaign, but if your sales team cannot articulate how display is only one step to your multi-step approach to reach the customer goal of sales pipeline, then you aren’t a partner—you’re a vendor.

Your sales teams must be able to speak like marketers. They need to understand the basic marketing principles of attract, convert, close, and delight. They need to know industry benchmarks for moving prospects through each of these buyer stages. And they must have support from your marketing team to compare your industry beating benchmarks when clients participate in your programs.

Which leads me to …

Prove Your Value for Each Campaign 

CPLs seem to be negotiated as if all leads are the same. They are not.

Publishers need to prove the unique value of the prospects they generate, and this needs to be proven with the same metric your customers are using—how many leads became sales opportunities and what was the overall revenue potential created. Note, publisher’s cannot manage their client’s’ sales process or skill so our delivery and measurement stops with our ability to create incremental sales opportunities.

When creating both internal and customer facing reports, put your marketing hat on and start tracking key marketing metrics including:

  1. Contact to Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) rate
  2. MQL to Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) rate
  3. SQLs that become identified Opportunities
  4. Opportunities to close
  5. Average sale value
  6. Customer marketing return on investment (MROI) = campaign cost / client revenue recognized

All publishers know closing the loop with customer sales close-data is nearly impossible. Publishers need to do this themselves. Simple follow-up surveys to leads you have identified can be your most powerful sales material. These surveys arm you with real data on the number of leads that purchased product and the average value of each sale. This speaks directly to your customers’ end goal.

The Tracks Ahead

This is hard! Not only do you need to adopt new practices internally, but also re-work the way you sell. 

However, the payoff for this hard work will be a significant improvement for your top line revenue and bottom line margins. Now is the time to act. Don’t keep laying track…. Start complementing your brand infrastructure with added marketing skills and tools that ensure you are delivering the products your customers want.

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