local media insider

Mother of all Sales Contests generates $2.4 million

Alisa Cromer
The SellsumBlues showed no lack of imagination or pop culture references.
Teams came up with their own names and slogans (more to follow).
The Mother of All Sales Contests shouldn't be dull.

Note: One of the best of the top ten revenue ideas at the SNA/Blinder Revenue Summit was this contest that not only raised revenues but transformed the organization. Many thanks to Patti Hannan of OPUBCO, for sharing her experiences.

Media: The Oklahoman

Key executive: Patti Hannan, VP of Advertising
Owner: OPUBCO Communications Group
Initiative: Mother of All Sales Contests

The Oklahoman launched a sales contest in 2011 that drove more than $2 million in new revenues, increased digital of sales by 46% and transformed the organization. The contest, copied from the Houston Chronicle, relies on aggressive, sports-themed teams,  switching sales managers and dropping siloed legacy sales roles. Many of the contest structures have since been incorporated into a new personnel structure for the sales department.

Challenge:  The downturn in print revenues arrived later at The Oklahoman than in many other markets - a blessing and a curse.  Going into 2011, the sales teams were still "product pushing" and hovering around 9% digital sales as a percentage of revenues,  in spite of numerous products offered. "They weren't used to making outbound calls," says Hannan, "but the days of picking up the phone and taking an order are gone." 

A glance at the team prior to the contest shows a traditional structure: 

*There were 44 sales executive and 6 supporting digital specialists, working in a collaborative, "assist" role
*All reps were paid a salary plus commission from dollar one
*Digital sales were 9% of total revenues
*A robust porfolio of digital products had gotten ahead of the sales effort; digital products included sem, seo, facebook ads, video, mobile and more

The management team wanted to achieve significant change including:
*Increase  digital penetration
*Aggressively prospect for new business by leading with digital
*Sell audiences rather than product-pushing
*Start a culture shift in sales
*Develop company-wide buy-in and support

The revenue goal was to produce $1.5 million in 100 days, from a contest “shamelsess ripped off” from a Houston market.

Strategy:The Mother of All Sales Contests, (MOASC) was designed to involved the whole company; everyone within the Oklahoman was made aware of the initiative. Team standings were posted in elevators and hallways, and brought up at staff meetings. The contest itself was designed to mimic competing sports teams.

To really understand how the contest could work, "We went to the Houston Chronicle, and toured the sales organization with a bunch of ther senior sales exeuctives. It was really interesting to see  'how they roll'" long after the contest had ended."

A. Team structure
In keeping with the sports theme, the four different teams organized like sports teams, who chose their own names and slogans (see images to the right).  According to the team structure:

*Team owners are the sales managers
*Team coaches are the digital sales AE's
*Players were the account executives
* The officiating crew was senior leaders, whether or not they were in the sales department.

While there were four teams originally - auto, real estate, recruitment and retail - the new teams  were mixed up so that classifieds AEs were paired  along-side retail AEs and every sale person was paired different sales manager for the length of the contest (they kept their original managers outside the contest, but the teams had new "owners.") 

Training camp was held for 30 minutes at the weekly sales training, in addition to team meetings.

B. Audience package rules
Every AE was charged with presenting 100 accounts in 100 selling days, basically the length of one quarter. The rules for packages were:

*Campaign must run minimum of four consecutive weeks
*Must have three or more products in the package
*Minimum 20% digital in each package

C. Bonuses and prizes
Since the players are account executives, the monthly $100 player bonuses included:
*Most revenues for "audiences" sold
*Most Yahoo sales
*Most packages sold
*Most digital products bundled

Players also earned an extra 10% of digital sales monthly on top of goal as a "double pay." And winning players were treated to a Happy Hour tailgate party. The winning teams also  got an extra $100 each.

D. The other shoe
Besides the fun part of the contest and extra bonuses, there was also a new level of accountability.  AE's had the the next three month to achieve 20% digital penetration in their territories.

Managers were also under the spot-light; they had to be able to lead digital teams, not just print product sales to continue in the new post-contest managerial roles

Results: The teams far surpassed the $1 million goal, selling a total of  $2.4 million. During the 100 days, print did not erode more than current declines. While digital revenues were up 37.5% over prior year and on pace to double this year. 

There was also a significant culture change. Today all 40 remaining AE's sell all products and the specialists have become AE's.  Classifieds and retail are fully merged. The four new teams now include two new sales managers promoted from the ranks; one of the prior sales managers took on a special project role and one went back into sales.

Compensation was changed to be more aggressive and more performance-oriented. Instead of paying a commission on dollar one, Kannan says the new compensation plan kicks in a higher commission, but only when sales are close to goal,so  reps who make goal to earn higher overall dollars than previously.

Without real estate or automotive reps, there has been no erosion in the categories two months after the contest ended. 

Lessons learned:

1. As one audience member at the Blinder Revenue Summit pointed out, the contest was really about creating more  accountiblity: ie "you are forced to sell digital or you're dead." Hannan agreed with this assessment,  "Yes, was really scarey. We have a bunch of happy productive sellers today, because we stuck to our guns."

2. Shifting the direct reports for the contest helped identify existing and new leaders, and move managers who were not as team-goal driven into other roles in the company. Two new sales managers emerged internally from AE's in the contest.

3. A new philosophy of accountability often works better with a new start - and amped up compensation plans for account executives who succeed. 

4. New compensation plans that are higher and weighted more on achieving goals than paying from dollar one sales are becoming more common as a mechanism to keep sales people from settling into comfort zones. 

5. "It used to be that you made a decision and you didn't change anything for ten years. If we try something and it doesn't work, we are going to retrench and do something else."

Many thanks to Patti Hannan, Vice President of Sales at OPUBCO for sharing the contest with us and to the SNA/Blinder Revenue Summit for putting together the Top Ten Revenue ideas.

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.


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