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Radio’s Biggest Peril

Midweek Motivator

100_100_timby Tim Moore


It’s not predatory media, audience slippage, or ownership declivity. It’s among us daily; seldom talked about in columns or at conferences other than RAB. No, the terrible beating of dark wings wounding us with metronomic regularity is the failure of our business to recruit, advance, and retain a high caliber sales force. But there’s little glamour in talking about it; after all, “turnover is inevitable and we’re helpless against it.” If you accept this decades-long rationalization, you’ll be in the same place next year and the year after. Even as a programming strategist I see it a lot.

A while back I was invited to help develop a true sales curriculum which I saw as the ultimate challenge as a very young executive, soon-to-be owner. Our small concept team scanned the horizon for the brightest and best with whom to assemble a true “sales curriculum.” We happened onto Don Beveridge who at that time was doing impressive global sales management work with major companies like 3-M, Chrysler, and many others. One of Don’s models grabbed my attention; I’ve used it and advocated for it ever since. To present moment it’s the most enlightened approach to understanding advanced sales development I’ve ever seen.

Media’s Four Generations of Selling Skills

In the following ascending order, everyone in media sales falls into one of these “Four Generations.” Two come from the company’s hierarchy of needs; the other two come from those of the client. Strikingly, only eight percent of all sellers will graduate to the top two generations.

The Commercial Visitor: he or she is necessarily very new and confuses activity for results, manifesting in comments like “gee I had a great lunch with that woman…I really liked her and I think she ‘liked’ me.” Weeks later when queried by the sales manager about progress with that prospect, the Commercial Visitor timidly reports “she said she’d get back to me.” The good thing about this most common and undeveloped seller is that they’re either up-or-out.

The Product-Oriented Peddler: on the surface these people do fine. They usually meet goal, are often so-called “senior sellers” rolling along with time and tide. But they come from the company’s perspective, “pitching” schedules and talking radio-speak. They’re neither happy nor sad, instead they’re at a sales plateau and usually aren’t great mentors for junior team members.

The Problem Solver: with this small-but-enlightened group, we have sellers who’ve had an epiphany, whispering “The less you hammer a client with radio jargon and competitive banter, becoming instead a credible creative advertising problem-solver, the greater your control over the client relationship and budget.” This person comes from the client’s point of view and goal array. Of course they’re big producers getting their un-fair share of budget because the client values their position as a skilled advertising advocate. Only a small percentage of sellers graduate to this tier.

The Sustaining Resource: the “masters” version of the Problem Solver, the Sustaining Resource discovers because of his or her competency and breadth of support skills, a client is even more eager to buy than they are to sell! Sustaining Resource people provide their clients with creative help, knowledge of their alternate media considerations, and are often asked opinions on non radio marketing issues. Closing ratios are astounding. They are the Delta Force of media sales executives. They are also rare; if you have one or two, celebrate them!

If radio sales tolerates high attrition with most first or second year sellers, gone by year three, we’ll be at the same place same time next year. It doesn’t require genius–simply commitment, awareness, and leadership. But…that’s the rub.


Tim Moore

Managing Partner

Audience Development Group