How do you pick winners for your media sales team?

Do you know how to pick a winner?
Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky, 1921. Caufield & Shook, photographer. Library of Congress.

You may not be into horses or horse racing, but for two minutes each first Saturday in May, it seems as if everybody has a favorite. When I was searching for a place to live in Louisville some eight years ago, I stumbled upon Churchill Downs. I drove into the empty parking lot, staring at the twin spires with awe. Going to the Kentucky Derby should be on anyone’s bucket list, and it was certainly on mine.

As Derby Day approaches this week, one can hear “Who do you like?” in drinking establishments and on street corners, in gyms and in offices. My answer was always, “I don’t know yet,” because as an equestrian and life-long horse owner, I had to see the horses work. I always enjoyed attending our station’s Dawn at the Downs broadcasts during Derby week before the sun came up, because I could see the horses at their best. Were they curious? Skittish? Focused? Strong?

My record of winning at least mint julep money was 5 to 1 when I used to watch talented horses train at dawn (darn that Calvin Borel on Mine That Bird, anyway!). My record in picking talented sellers when I was a GSM in media sales was not as solid. So, what are some secrets to stabling winners in your media sales pit?

  • Analyze the AE at work. During the interview, they should be asking good questions designed to help you solve your recruitment problems. Ask your potential hire who some of their last clients were, then ask those customers how they performed. See if they prepare for meetings and if they are successfully using a CRM or media sales analytics tool.
  • Do they want to be a “racehorse” – or is this just a job in an industry that is “fun.” Racehorses can’t wait to run and their exercise jockeys have a hard time holding them back, especially when they feel the electricity of a big race. Your sellers should have that same passion, and you often have to slow them down to listen and help clients, because they want to sell and win. It is easier to pull back the reins and guide a racehorse than it is to try to get them to run faster.
  • Really analyze their track record. Maybe they came out a winner in their last job because the field wasn’t too deep. Look at the variety of jobs they had, who their clients were, and what they accomplished. Think about how they will hold up against your other thoroughbreds.
  • Don’t let looks fool you. Long legs and a pretty mane do not a racehorse make. Looks can deceive, so be sure you are wearing YOUR blinders. Don’t let that first impression keep you from looking for their talents and the “heart” to win the race.
  • Long shots rarely pay off. I have had my share of last place finishing sellers on whom I bet because they had a story that touched me. I have also had my share of winners on whom I bet based on a solid feeling. Listen to your gut. There is a reason you are getting those vibes. And remember, they have to win for you to win.

If you fill your media sales pit with racehorse sellers, it’s a sure bet you will hold a winning ticket as they head out on the streets and you hear those three words that spur them to action: “And they’re off!”

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