246: A Sales Force Army, with Morgan Stevenson

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Continuous training of a sales force army in the ever-changing digital market is crucial, a must, and a necessity.
Conquer Local is in the UK this week with Morgan Stevenson, Director of SME Solutions at Newsquest Media. Morgan has an army of 1,000 salespeople in the UK and is a pivotal part in tearing down barriers that his army is facing in the transformation to digital. George and Morgan dig into the real transformation challenge in the digital marketing space, training the street-level sales force. They explain how investing in your salespeople is a must with the ever-evolving Facebook and Google landscape. Morgan shares how salespeople need to demonstrate that one piece of content can be turned into a digital ad, magazine article, social posts, blogs, and the list goes on.
Morgan is responsible for the delivery of best in class Digital Marketing solutions for local businesses in Newsquest markets. He leads the development of the Newsquest Sales Academy and is responsible for driving revenues via Newsquest Medias part in the UK media -first publisher partnership, 1XL. Morgan joined Newsquest from Trinity Mirror where he was Digital Innovation Director, and he has previously held positions as Commercial Development Director, Local World and Head of Display at Johnston Press. He started his career in advertising sales and has a degree in Engineering from the University of Leeds.


George: It’s the latest edition of the conquer local podcast, you’re going to love this next guest. He is probably one of the most highly likable people that I have ever met in my career as a salesperson. Morgan Stevenson is the director of SME solutions for Newsquest in London, and they are one of the largest newspaper publishers in the midst of a transition into a digital selling army. And Morgan has almost a thousand salespeople that he’s responsible for with a couple hundred sales managers. I had the chance to sit down with him here recently in London over some beautiful gin and we talked more about the transition that Newsquest and other organizations are going through. He’s an avid listener to the podcast, and we’re super excited to have him as our guest Morgan Stevenson, to know him is to love him he’s on next.

George: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast and I’m always pumped to speak to guests on the podcast, but I’m especially pumped today. First off, I’ve had 21 coffee and secondly my good friend Morgan Stevenson the director of SME solutions at the mighty Newsquest out of London, England is joining me. Morgan, great to have you on the podcast, my friend.

Morgan: Great to speak to George. This is an absolute treat and a real honor.

George: We try to find people who walk the walk, talk the talk and when it comes to selling to local businesses and in your role you are directing quite a larger organization. Just give us the 10,000-foot view of Newsquest and how many people inside your sales organization. Just give us the overview.

Morgan: Sure. So Newsquest is one of the largest media companies in the UK. We are primarily focused in regional, local markets. We support a number of fantastic news titles, about 200 newspaper and website titles and a growing portfolio of fantastic premium quality magazines. We have an army of just under a thousand salespeople supporting local communities and it’s the engagement with the local SMEs of our markets that is fundamental to our business model that is primarily driven to fund local journalism and support the democracy in our local areas in those markets.


Transitioning from the Perception of Being a Print Company of Old to Being Guides for Clients in This New World: A Challenge and Opportunity

George: So local you eat, live and breathe it and it’s a challenging time. You and I have talked a lot about that over the last four years that we’ve known each other and what do you think is the biggest challenge that organizations like yours are facing?

Morgan: It fundamentally boils down to this transformation, that word around being a traditional media business and being perceived as a print company of old, both in the consumers that consume our media and also, more importantly, the SME owners. To being able to articulate and help navigate this explosion in opportunity and options in the digital space with digital marketing. And having SME owners see and having confidence in how they can understand this new world of digital marketing and more importantly, see us the type of partner that they can trust to help them navigate and the expertise that we can bring them. That’s probably our biggest challenge.

George: When we started selling ads years and years ago, we sold one thing to the customer. We sold maybe different sizes, we sold different budgets, but it really was one deliverable and not a lot of training. In fact, I remember when I started there was no training at all, but I think organizations got a little bit better at training over the years, but now we’re selling something that changes all the bloody time. There’s new innovations happening, the arenas that we play in are changing because Google and Facebook is changing their game and that’s kind of where the audience is living. It really is that in this transformation challenge, it really is the training of the street force that is the bottleneck.

Morgan: Absolutely. I mean back in the day what was the training? How tall do you want your ad, how wide you want your ad and would you like it in color or black and whites, sir or madam? That’s as complicated as it got-

George: And do you want to change the copy of this week? No? Great we’ll run last week’s.

Morgan: Correct. Do you want it on the front page or somewhere in the middle?

George: You got a bunch more inventory let’s get you a front page ad.

Morgan: Where now it feels like every year is the year of this fancy solution and this new platform that’s launched. TikTok I hear now is the fastest growing social platform for teenagers, young adults and what is it? It’s another video platform, it’s slightly less than the YouTube standards. So it’s another thing to learn, it’s another thing to understand how it relates to another solution. So it’s just as hard for a salesperson as it is an SME owner. It’s forever changing.


Move from the past to the Present and Future by Offering Curated Solutions

George: So let’s talk about those customers of ours, the local business person because as you know, the audience of the Conquer Local podcast are the salespeople that are serving those local business people. And when I hear challenges because you’ve identified a bunch of them, we know you and I from our experience there is a bunch of them, usually there’s a pretty damn good opportunity around those challenges. So what do you think is the best way of presenting the opportunity to the local business person? You’re the trusted advisor, you’re sitting across from them, how are you training those thousand salespeople on how to go in and talk to that local business person about the opportunity?

Morgan: So we’ve got a great starting point because we’ve got some incredibly powerful trusted brands. Being a publisher means we have huge amount of brand trust in creating platforms of brilliant news around the local community that people have been enjoying for many years. And we’re demonstrating that by repurposing that content to fit both online or in apps or in mobile or magazines, we are able to create these phenomenally trusted environments. So that’s a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate that we have been very successful at growing these fantastic audiences and within that produced some fantastic display awareness base solutions. So we’ve really got to leverage that relationship that we’ve built, and the challenge now is to demonstrate to those SME owners that were more than just a display sale. And we’re really fortunate in Newsquest being part of Gannett, and we feel we’ve been extremely fortunate in the way that they have invested in the last few years in acquiring some fantastic digital marketing services, technology and partnerships.

Morgan: So they’ve extended this offering to incorporate the best in breed, both in technology and the skill sets that they’ve inquired to allow us to take more opportunity to the low collective SME owner and leverage this trust value by offering them more solutions. So more than just awareness, building their presence, ensuring they are able to connect with local customers and build a connection and some loyalty and tools that allow them to track what’s working for them, and I think that’s our big cultural shift. Is going from this brand currency of who we’ve been in the past and really stepping out into an area that particularly traditional and very much big parts of digital advertising is still uncomfortable and less transparent. In this world, what is working? Is it delivering customers? Is it generating some engagement? Is it really helping my business grow?

Morgan: And that’s the big cultural step we’re really facing. So we’re extremely lucky off our history building on the audiences that we’ve had and we enjoy, and being the solution experts in connecting brands to those audiences. And particularly with Newsquest having the investment that Gannett has made, we’ve now really got to invest in the salespeople’s confidence and credibility and being able to articulate in a very simple way and support the SME on it and navigate what is working? They’re spending some hard-earned and money is this helping their business? How do they pivot? How do they understand what works for them? What are the challenges they face? What are the aspirations they want? And that’s how we’re going to succeed in positioning ourselves as that trusted partner.

George: So you said some great stuff there and I just want to highlight a couple of them so that our listeners… I want them to really be able to understand the nuggets that are in there. The one thing that you said is Gannett and Newsquest curated a set of solutions that were best in breed that you knew delivered so that when you went out and talked to… It’s hard enough to explain the bloody thing to the customer much less have to deal with any sort of fulfillment issues or delivery problems or things like that. So you want to have a curated set of solutions. Now Gannett’s got tons of money so they just bought them and put them in. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue to add to that stack as the innovation happens. They probably will because they’re all in on this.

George: They didn’t invest a little bit of money, they bought ReachLocal for God’s sakes that was not a small purchase. But having the best products you got to leverage that with a brand and with a trusted provider. And I know that you and I have talked a lot about salespeople and this is one thing we both believe and I want you to help us with this in your experience because I know you’ve got 141 bloody sales managers that you work with and that is the piece that we both agree needs the most work, it’s that management layer.


The Importance of Training Sales Managers to Lead

Morgan: Absolutely. So not only do we have that large number of sales managers, but they’re responsible for the best part of another 900 salespeople. So that’s an army, that’s an important asset to our business. It’s a huge part of the community that we serve and the challenge for those guys is they’ve got to take the staff that they’re responsible for and re-engineer an exciting career for them. Because a lot of these guys probably they don’t wake up when they’re nine or 10 years old and go my dream is to be a salesperson, but really with the way that digital marketing, the opportunity is and through the investment with the tools and technology that can help provide us, there is a fantastic positive vision to create a phenomenal sales career and we believe that in Newsquest.

Morgan: That’s a lot of vision that we feel needs a lot of investment and a lot of work to promote the being able to consult a small business and articulate where the solutions are going to help them and help them understand how to get the best use of that tool for that small business is not an easy job. It is not a sales job like it was 10 years ago to ring up and go would you like the same message in your print ad this week, sir? This is about understanding where people are consuming their time in their media consumption. Where are consumers researching when they’re looking for the next purchase? Whether that’s going to be a car or a new conservatory or they’re going to upgrade their kitchen or they want to redo the bathroom or they want to go out for a meal or they want to go and see a show or they want the kids to enjoy a different education.

Morgan: They’re researching online and this is now the norm for us and that’s a huge landscape to understand and navigate which marketing tactic suits where that behavior is. So it’s a huge not only a knowledge understanding for those salespeople, but those managers have to understand that and they have to still do all the sales fundamentals. And that’s where I think not just your podcast, but a lot of our training is focused around reminding those sales managers that the fundamentals are still there. Sales is still there around understanding what the customer need is, understanding what the priorities are to that business and how those facts and benefits for the sales solution fit that need and that priority, and I think a lot of the time we get lost in that.

Morgan: We get wrapped up in the pressures there to hit the number for that week and we can very easily forget those fundamentals. And that’s why I particularly enjoy your podcast because it reminds me so many times of those fundamentals of understanding where we’ve got to as a sales individual. Sales has changed, it’s much more consultative, it’s much more insight through data-driven so there’s much more positioning of context on why this works and how does this compare to this solution because they… we all want that customer that’s got the money to spend on all of it. Yeah, I’ll have all of it 10 times give me more.


Best Sales Day – Teamwork and Success

George: All right, so here it is. It’s a new feature and I’ve been waiting to roll it out, but there hasn’t been anyone worthy to roll out a new regular feature on the podcast until the great Morgan Stevenson agreed. I beat him in an arm wrestle after two bottles of gin at the Hilton Paddington here a couple of weeks and he had to do this. So you’re ready? Here it is.

Morgan: Yes.

George: Your best sales day. The best day that you’ve ever had as a sales leader give it to us.

Morgan: Great question. It was a previous company that faced similar challenges. I’ve been very fortunate where I have worked for pretty much all four of the largest regional publishers in the UK, I’ve got a set of steak knives that the industry kindly sent me. We put a lot of time in investing, aligning a similar sort of sales team, big numbers, hundreds of salespeople to take on the mantle of multimedia sales combining print and digital. So this was a fairly strong concept we wanted a whole army to take and we put a big incentive in, we wanted these guys to synchronize across 100, 120 markets single complex sales days and to take that hit, I think it was something like 250 grand in a day or a couple of days across the whole business. And that was a lot of fun because for a lot of people this was out of their comfort zone.

Morgan: So we’re setting a standard that a large army people were going to meet. This wasn’t just a small team of five people and we were going to be with them physically in the room or go out with them and meet some customers. This was my team in London coordinating how the army was moving across the whole of the UK. So we were putting in updates from around the country and there was a huge amount of energy given how spread these guys were and that was a lot of fun because for a lot of people that was their first time they were pitching a multimedia proposition and it was kind of the unity of such a big team doing it all at once, sharing mistakes, sharing successes kind of getting everyone across the line. It’s a bit like a group of people that go on and kind of one of these tough mudder runs, these kind of wet muddy obstacle courses, leave no man behind that was a big buzz. To do that across so many teams-

George: Local sales is exactly like that, that’s a great analogy. You get a little muddy sometimes.

Morgan: Yeah, and then you get that electrocution at the end every time.


Worst Sales Day – Opportunity to Grow

George: Tell me about your worst sales day.

Morgan: That’s an easy one. You go into that customer, I remember it was with a couple of guys who we were a couple of sales guys. There was a particular difficult customer who was very against digital; client had said, “Never going to work; not right for my business.” They were a stay agent and it was off the back of we’d had a couple of really good case studies, and I love the case study. I love going in and saying don’t just take our word for it, here’s some great examples. Businesses like yours that are thinking about how they’re going to really grow their business, not necessarily what that owner thinks themselves. And they’re investing, they’re taking the jump and they’re seeing the difference. And this guy had been historically really against anything other than print, and I thought I was a bit cocky and thought we can turn this guy.

Morgan: I’m going to come over I’m going to come myself, we’re going to show out the big guns, and he was having none of it. And I think my learning or my takeaway from that moment was you can talk passionately until you’re blue in the face about any type of solution. What I think you really need to have particularly with those types of customers who personally don’t go on the web or don’t do any of the research themselves just buy of relationship, is you need the data to prove where they can’t really argue against it and you need to leave it with them, there’s no point in trying to fight it out with them it’s not an argument worth having. You got to step away and you got to give them the impression that that’s cool, it’s your business it’s your decision. What we’re going to do is going to go and speak to the 50 other businesses like yours and they’re going to spend, they’re more likely going to spend and that’s where I’m going to spend my time and if you’re happy with the size of your business, that’s your call. Not every business owner wants to build a huge business, some of them are quite happy with just the size they are.

George: And an excellent example of the takeaway close. You can’t have it, I’m gonna go sell to your competitors.

Morgan: Yeah. What do we say? When a traditional sales team is going through this transition it’s too easy to hold on to those customers because we’re under pressure, we’ve got to hit the number, we tend to lose customers because we think they’re the only customers out there and we don’t remind ourselves there are loads of customers out there, loads. Because culturally it’s our comfort zone to go to the customer we always know about, we’re a bit fearful of cold calling. So I would remind anyone to check out your podcast on cold calling two weeks ago because it was fantastic. It’s a skill set. I think that’s my number one recommendation to any salesperson.

Morgan: Have zero fear for cold calling because we are always selling. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the supermarket in the queue and speak to the person next to you they may be a business owner or they may be in charge of someone else’s business marketing. Be that individual, treat everyone as an opportunity, and I think that you will find out how many sales you will then convert because everyone needs an opportunity. And if with a bit of investment they are not giving you the sign move on, don’t waste your time. There’s someone else out there that’s a yes, a bigger yes than they are.



George: Well, the best two answers that you can get in order, yes and a no. Absolute worst answer is no answer or maybe because it’s wasting your valuable time. I appreciate you covering that because it’s a long forgotten topic. It’s especially in organizations that were used to selling to everybody, they just went up one side of the street down the other and renewed the copy and there weren’t a lot of nos at that point in time and a no is not a bad thing.

Morgan: Correct, and we got comfortable with that didn’t we as a culture traditionally?

George: Absolutely we did. We didn’t know at the time it was the best of times. No, I think the best of times actually are still to come because I think we’re really starting to get our hands around this. It’s interesting how you’re in my conversation today is maybe a little bit different than it was four years ago, but it’s easy for me to see how far you have come in your career and in this transition. And Newsquest very lucky to have you as the director of SME solutions and enjoy your evening. Thank you for jumping on the podcast to suit our schedule, and I look forward to seeing you again in London.

Morgan: Always a pleasure to speak to you, always a treat to see you. Thank you for the opportunity, it’s been an absolute dream.

George: Thanks Morgan.

Morgan: Thanks guys. Have a great time.

George: Well, with a thousand salespeople spread out all over Great Britain and sales managers that are transitioning from selling one thing to selling numerous digital solutions, Morgan definitely has his hands full in this transition but the interesting thing is this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s been doing this now in four different positions across different organizations. I would call him a veteran in the space of transitioning digital sales teams. We heard that the sales manager is really where it all starts and those managers need to be holding people accountable and then we need to be constantly learning the solutions that we are selling and being able to present a data driven argument a lot of those times because selling by relationship is great, but a lot of times we are going to have to have more than that relationship. We’re going to have to back it up with some very keen product knowledge and then the ability to explain the ROI. Plus that’s a great lesson in if you’re going to be in sales, you better be highly likable like Morgan Stevenson, the guy definitely has a smile on his face all the time and he loves the challenge that he’s been thrust into at the mighty Newsquest based in London.

George: We’re always looking for feedback on our Linkedin channels, so come find me on Linkedin. It’s George Leith L-E-I-T-H and we just appreciate all the comments. Thanks to Dave who messaged me earlier today saying that just loves the podcast. He just recently found it and offered some suggestions for some teaching lessons and we’ve got some great teaching lessons coming up on more into how to develop that value proposition. Watch for those episodes. I’ll tell you more about what is inside them when we dig into them in future podcasts additions. I do appreciate the comments and the suggestions, that’s where we’re getting all these great ideas for the teaching lessons is from your suggestions. Please reach out with suggestions of topics that you would like us to cover. My name is George Leith this is the Conquer Local podcast, I’ll see you when I see you.

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