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Vantage Points: Broadcast TV Sales is Broken

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Blog, Vantage Point

In this edition of BIA Advisory Services’ Vantage Points series, David Buonfiglio, Fractional (Outsourced) VP of Sales and President, Mammoth Sales Solutions, examines the state of broadcast TV sales.

The Vantage Point series taps the perspectives of various lookout points from around the local media and tech sectors. Email us to discuss a topic for consideration.

I love TV. Always have. I’m still convinced it’s the single most effective branding medium ever created. I worked in (or for) local broadcast TV for 35 years. Briefly in news, but almost entirely in sales.

That ended last year. And now that I have some distance and time between me and the medium I’ve loved for so long, I realize a couple a stark and unnerving truths about the business of local TV.

I’m not talking about the work being done by the stalwart broadcast TV sales consultants doing good work on behalf of their clients. I’m talking about the structural flaws that exist in the way TV stations continue to manage their salespeople and sales processes.

These traffic systems are not sales tools. That’s why TV sales consultants never talk about them. Outside TV, they would be considered client service or operations. But somehow, they’ve been rolled into the responsibilities of the salesperson. Hand that task off to a sales assistant and let the sellers go sell something.

Here are three examples of the how broadcast TV sales is failing.

First, TV sellers are asked to spend a ridiculous amount of time on non-selling activities. The worst offender of this is how they’re tied to traffic systems. I’ve seen great TV sellers spend an entire day on placing makegoods. How can that possibly be time well spent for sellers asked to focus on new business? Those spots are already sold. The AEs did the job. That they are now forced to spend significant time on finding homes for preempted spots is absurd.

Second, TV sellers are asked to find their own leads without adequate marketing resources. In the world of sales outside of a TV station, marketing departments deliver leads. Sellers close leads. Traditional (non-TV) marketing focuses on the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), the qualities and attributes that make a company most likely to buy from you.

What’s the ICP for your TV station? Have you ever discussed this in a sales meeting? More importantly, do you have resources that help TV sellers find them? I’m talking about actual identified customers with names, titles, phone numbers and emails. A zero-share report doesn’t do that. Qualitative research that identifies high indexing audiences doesn’t do that either. Leads are supposed to contain contact information. As a result, new AEs spend way too much time prospecting clients outside the station’s ICP.

Third, one of the most effective new business tactics for TV sellers is, at best, barely an afterthought. Outside of TV stations, there’s a phrase that described the best source for new business for salespeople focused on medium-sized local businesses. It’s called a referral partner.

Referral partners are people who work with clients you’d want to work with but are not competitors: business coaches, lawyers, IT companies, marketing freelancers, PR firms, bankers and recruiters, to name a few. Eventually, referral partners will run across clients who need what you do (great advertising), and if TV sellers have done the work, they’ll get the referral.

Using LinkedIn Navigator in the last three months, I’ve scheduled and conducted 173 separate referral partner meetings as I’ve ramped up my Fractional VP of Sales practice. During 35 years in TV sales, I don’t think I conducted one.

TV Broadcasters have enjoyed significant profitability for more than half century. In a real sense, broadcasting invented the concept of “scale.”  As another round of political revenue comes screaming down the path in 2024, it’ll be another crazy profitable year for the industry.  So, I actually understand why the corporate folks haven’t done anything significant to tackle these systemic challenges. They haven’t really needed to, opting to manage for profit rather than growth.

But I hope that some local station operators will rethink their sales processes and strategies, take a page or two from other business categories and fix what is essentially a broken sales system.

Updated 4/11/2024 1:30pm EDT