local media insider

CRM launch contest boosts digital sales by $600,000 at the Buffalo News

Pipeline tracking of digital sales plus incentive contest helps transform department

Alisa Cromer
Ad Rep Trip Incentive

Company: The Buffalo News

Owner: Berkshire Hathaway

Market:  Erie and Niagara counties of upstate New York, 1.6 million population

Audience: 235,000 Sunday print circulation, 4500 unique Web visitors monthly

Contributors to this report: Sean Radlich, former Buffalo News Digital Sales Manager, (note: Radlich is currently employed by another company), and Matt Griffith, East Coast Digital Sales Manager, Brainworks 

Initiative:  Introducing a new CRM to help managers track digital sales efforts

Challenge:  The Buffalo Daily News wanted to fully convert its print sales team into multi-media reps, and managers were spending more and more time tracking digital calls on an account by account basis.  They needed a new CRM system that could more readily provide this information and make reps accountabie to a degree not previously required. They also needed reps to "buy in" to a system that required logging in all of their activities. 

“To start holding people accountable for digital objectives,  tracking activity is important.  We thought the activity was going on but there was no way to measure, except reps telling us word of mouth." Radlich said.

Missed opportunities included the ability to see why underperforming reps were failing to sell digital:Were they not proposing these products, or was their a training issue of both? 

Strategy: To change the culture team decided to incorporate digital training, a new CRM with pipeline tracking, and a travel incentive contest to help the sales departments adapt to additional reporting requirements.

• Customizing the CRM

Prior to the  the roll-out,  the department was tracking the digital sales effort by spreadsheet for a sales team of 50 reps.  So the first step to introducing the CRM was to  outline requirements for the system. Criteria included the abilty to:

• Roll-up by product type  including digital

• Roll-up by team

• Track activities against activity goals such as required digital sales, attempts and closes

•  Graph the sales pipeline by visually by client and percentages

• Track revenues versus goal, and the revenue per sale by rep and team 

The vendor Brainworks, already provided an accounting system, so adding a pipeline CRM meant the system would already be integrated. 

• Creating the travel incentive program

Step two was to design an aggressive incentive program that required using the CRM.  The new dashboards were more complicated and reps needed training and incentivization to change their work process. And sales people tend to resist the extra time that pipeline tracking requires. A screen shot of the information on each account is below: 


Brainworks detail page

To overcome these barriers, the Buffalo News started out with a 100 day launch contest focusing entirely on digital advertising sales. This approach is one of the keys to the successful adoption and big increases  of 23% digital revenue gain over prior year.

As an incentive, the News set up trip packages for reps based on advertiser spending higher than their previous year, if they were not new advertisers.

Both managers and reps had goals. Sales incentives travel packages were numerous; one included a four-day flight and hotel to any city, and came with Visa gift cards of $200. There are also trips to exotic places like Asia and Australia, though none of the ad reps has earned those so far.

The advertising revenue goal for the trips was set at least  5 to 10 percent more than  the cost to the paper of each trip. The results were much more lucrative as many reps grew sales but not enough to earn to the trip-reward level. If for instance, the rep sold $20,000 worth of advertising, with reward levels at $10,000 and then $25,000, that rep earned the $10,000 trip.

Ad Rep Incentives


While the program is ongoing, the trips were more  aggressively rewarded in the early days, to get print reps comfortable with digital ad sales. The cost of the trips was well worth that result. 

“We started out our use of the CRM system as a 100-day campaign, digital only,” said Radlich.

“We then expanded the 100 days to infinity. We were trying to increase the focus of taking your traditional print rep and turning him or her into a multimedia rep, so we needed to increase their accountability.”

•  Graphical reports focus reps and managers on the pipeline.

From a manager standpoint, the key innovation was the ability to  assign a “place in the cycle” and interest level via drop down window for digital as well as print from a single presentation or phone call.

 “Brainworks ...saved us hours and hours of work,” said Radlich. “But when we introduced it in August 2011 it wasn’t well received. The reps viewed it as another way to micro-manage. Upper management told them it was mandatory, and would help them close sales and sell new packages. It took them a couple of months to get the hang of it, but there are no complaints now.”

• Use of  the CRM evolves

Using the CRM has changed over the last year and a half as the group became more proficient at digital sales.

At first the digital sales manager look very closely at all activities, such as sales calls per week, close ratios, average sales, with very specific documentation.

Two years later, he looked primarily at sales, and if someone is not hitting the number, then delved into detail.

Weekly sales meetings  included ongoing training,  role play, and reps reporting successes. Radlich made a study of results of prior week into a  basic part of the sales meeting. Color coded reports show where the accounts are in the pipeline for each rep.

“I just download the Brainworks reports,” said Radlich. “It creates nice charts. I then put up a spreadsheet on our screen and we talk about it on a weekly basis.” See graphic below.

Brainworks Reporting on Rep Sales



• The Buffalo News gave away more than 40 Disney vacations, and 15 or more iPads.

• Digital advertising revenue has increased by $600,000 - a 20 percent year over year increase.

• Advertisers are making long-term commitments with greater regularity.

• The revenue the CRM generates was ten-times what the News spent for the system.

•  The digital campaign helped print sales as well. 

“Our conversations with prospects lead with digital, but we found that this has opened up other doors as well, such as commercial printing,” said Radlich. “We’ve brought in some  clients who had not been with us for awhile, such as those pulling back on their print buy. Since signing with Brainworks print has either held its own or realized a modest increase.” 

•  "When we introduced it in August 2011 it wasn’t well received. The reps viewed it as another way to micro-manage. Upper management told them it was mandatory, and would help them close sales and sell new packages. It took them a couple of months to get the hang of it, but there are no complaints now."

Lessons Learned:

· The one flaw with any close pipeline tracking is that the information reliant on what rep puts in system. News managers had to keep drilling the reps to input their activities, and demand that the information must be accurate. Best practice for a pipeline CRM is recording daily basis, but no less than once a week. 

· To get an accurate close rate, the number of sales calls made must be an input requirement, with a minimum goal set. Without the minimum, ad reps tend to leave out unproductive calls to cheat the system– i.e., boost their closing ratios.

· Patience is crucial - allow at least two months for reps to learn the system well, and up to four months before measuring results of introducing it.

·  Commit to a huge amount of sales training, to assure that everyone is knowledgeable about everything digital.

“While we started to increase revenue and change the culture in the first 100 days, we found that if we did get people over the first couple of months that they really bought into it and that’s why we kept it going,” Radlich said. 

For another CRM approach please see this case study on Opubco's use of Salestouch, a system that prioritizes accounts based on spending trend data and other factors. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

brainworks, CRM, the buffalo news, advertising sales incentives, customer relationship management