Beyond the far-reaching impact it’s had on ad sales, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a profound effect on how media is bought and sold. An online survey of 820 media sales professionals in the U.S., conducted in mid-April 2020, shows a dramatic decline of in-person sales calls, rising reliance on email and a growing embrace of video communication technologies like Zoom and Facetime as sellers pivot how they interact with clients and prospects. For its "2020 State of Media Sales Study,” consultancy SalesFuel surveyed 820 media sales professionals in the U.S., of which 253 were sales managers and 567 were sales reps. Conducted in mid-April 2020, the 10th annual online survey included 132 radio sales pros. Before the pandemic started, one in five media sellers surveyed (20%) did 90% of their client and prospect business in person. Now with social distancing the norm, only 3% of sellers are conducting 90% of business personally. Instead, they’ve shifted to email. The percentage of sellers relying on email as a communication tool for 90% of business surged from 13% to 40%. Marketing software developer HubSpot analyzed its own client data and found a 25% increase in marketing emails since the virus began. But while clients and prospects have opened email messages at a 25% higher rate than the same period a year ago, response rates are dropping. SalesFuel cautions that increasing email outreach to clients and prospects without a good reason could backfire. Stay-at-home orders and other restrictions have caused many sellers to make video chat their new go-to communications tool. While only 1% of sellers turned to video chat for 90% of their business in the pre-pandemic days, 12% now do, the survey found. Millennials stand out as the group most likely to embrace video chat with 21% using tools like Zoom and Facetime for nearly all communications. “What’s great about that is you can cover a lot more ground and make a lot more calls,” SalesFuel CEO C. Lee Smith told a webinar audience last week. “But the downside is it’s easier to say no to you over video chat than to say no to you face to face. Looking for a replacement for face-to-face meetings, many media sales departments have invested time and resources training their sellers in how to use new communication technologies like Microsoft Teams. The study also found that texting and phone calls are up significantly. “Sales managers, if you always wanted your reps to not email as much and pick up the phone, that’s actually happening,” Smith said.
In other findings from the SalesFuel survey, 45% of media sales managers voiced their concern about a lack of general sales talent or competency. Digital sales managers, with a score of 58%, are particularly concerned about this topic. On the other hand, media sales reps have their own grievances, with 60% citing their own lack of motivation this year. That issue is higher for radio sellers, coming in at 67%. Some motivational problems may stem from reps’ belief that it’s harder to get new business (81%) or upsell existing accounts (70%) than it was last year. “This situation underscores the need to individually coach reps to improve their skills,” SalesFuel says. The report also suggests business leaders should pay attention to their millennial sales managers. Just over three fourths (77%) of millennial-aged sales managers say it’s harder to generate new business this year, compared to the survey average of 72%. And 69% of millennial managers are having trouble motivating their team members, versus 57% of all sales managers. The cratered ad market has also impacted how sales pros feel about their job security. Nearly 57% of media sales professionals say with complete confidence that they will be working for the same organization six months from now. That’s based on a score of 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. In the print and direct mail sectors, those numbers are lower, coming in at 43% and 41%, respectively. Broadcast radio and TV sales pros are the most confident about staying with their current employer – 67% said they’re completely confident they’ll work for the same company six months from now.