Salespeople and Buyers Biggest Competitor


I am in the process of writing the fifth edition of my textbook, Media Selling, that is the most widely used book in the field and has been adopted by over 70 colleges and universities in America and internationally.

In Chapter 2: Selling in the Internet Era, I write that there are four new approaches to selling that are completely different from approaches to selling in the pre-Internet era:

  • New approach #1 – Serving the customer
  • New approach #2 – Focus on customer success
  • New approach #3 – Selling as educating
  • New approach #4 – Algorithms are the competition

Serving the customer - Pre-Internet media selling emphasized maximizing revenue, which in radio and television often meant the sales managers would preempt up to half of a schedule to take higher-rate spots.  These preemptions caused broadcast salespeople, especially those in television, to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with makegoods, which also meant that an inordinate amount of buyers’ time was spent the same way, to their vast frustration and anger.  Amazon has become consumers’ favorite brand because Amazon puts the customer first, so legacy media companies have had to adjust and start thinking as much, if not more, about how to keep customers than how to get them, which means they have to treat their customers (advertisers) as well as Amazon, Google and Facebook do.

Also, the notion of serving customers appeals to younger, Millennial media salespeople, a majority of whom are women, who get satisfaction from serving, from helping others rather than tricking buyers into paying higher rates or dealing with makegoods.

Focus on customer success - By focusing on getting results for an advertiser and not slamming down a deal, salespeople become partners with their customers and agencies. The duopoly, Google and Facebook, have become dominant because of their partnership approach, ease of use, and ability to target specific audiences.

Selling as educating - Persuasion and the hard sell doesn’t work with sophisticated and harried buyers.  Virtually all media selling and buying today is cross-platform – involves digital advertising in some way – and digital and mobile are complicated and vastly multi-dimensional.  Buyers don't need to be hawked or sold, they need help in understanding how to best use digital, mobile and legacy media in a variety of combinations that get results for their advertisers.

Algorithms are the competition - The biggest competition, by far, for sellers and buyers is not other media salespeople or other agencies, it’s algorithms.  AI and algorithms can plan, negotiate, buy, and serve ads in milliseconds – infinitely faster and better than planners can plan, buyers can buy and salespeople can implement orders.  But algorithms can only function based on data that was gathered by activity that occurred in the past.  They are prediction machines based on a book of the same name.[i]  Algorithms aren’t good at innovation, coming up with new ideas, or creativity.  And, most important, they can’t give hugs.  They have no emotional intelligence.

Therefore, if buyers and salespeople are going to survive the coming wave of automation of their job functions, they’d better learn to emphasize what makes them human, what they can do that algorithms can’t – give love, compassion, hugs (emotional hugs in this era of #MeToo) and be creative.

I’ve been involved in media since my 60-year old son was born, and over the years I have met (and trained) thousands of sellers and buyers.  Over those years, I have met more dumb salespeople than dumb buyers.  The vast majority of buyers and planners that I know are smart, curious, and horrendously overworked, especially in the big holding company sweat shops.  They desperately need emotional support, connection, compassion and hugs – all the things algorithms, robots, and AI can’t give.

Therefore, media salespeople who sell primarily with numbers, rational arguments and data collected in the past need to ask themselves what they can give planners and buyers that their main competition, algorithms, can’t.  Of course the answer is love, compassion and emotional hugs.

Get to work, sellers!


[i] Agrawal, Ajay, Gans, Joshua, and Godfarb, Avi. 2018. Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence. Harvard Business School Press.