Stuck In Their Ways - Charlie Warner

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In the February 17 issue of the New York Times Magazine Robert Draper wrote an article titled " Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence? " The graphics are awesome; check them out.

Draper reported on a Republican-conducted focus group session in which a researcher asked what younger swing voters associated with the word "Republican." When the facilitator wrote the word "Republican" on a whiteboard ,"… the outburst was immediate and vehement: 'Corporate greed.' 'Old.' 'Middle-aged white men.' Rich.' 'Religious.' 'Conservative.' 'Hypocritical.' Military retirees.' 'Narrow-minded.' 'Rigid.' 'Not progressive.' 'Polarizing.' 'Stuck in their ways.' 'Farmers.'"

Except for "Military retirees," "Farmers," and, perhaps, "Religious," the focus group could have been talking about legacy media top management, especially the comment about "Stuck in their ways."

And there is no better example of being "stuck in their ways" than the legacy media way of compensating salespeople, primarily on commission.

As Daniel Pink suggests in his best-selling new book, To Sell Is Human and in his Harvard Business Review article "A Radical Prescription For Sales," "the reps of the future won't work on commission."

What if paying salespeople commissions is rooted more in tradition than logic? What if it's a practice so cemented into orthodoxy that it's no longer an actual decision? That's what a handful of companies have begun discovering. To the surprise of many, these firms are showing that commissions can sometimes do more harm than good—and that getting rid of them can open a path to higher profits.

We know that most legacy media CEOs care only about two things: One, compensating themselves an undeserved, gargantuan amount of money, and, two, higher profits.

Don't these CEOs read? Can they read? That's a legitimate question, because either they don't read (or can't) or they don't pay attention to the latest trends in compensation and often make their salespeople perform worse by paying them the wrong kind of commissions. For example, using yield management programs to determine optimal rates and then paying salespeople commissions based on getting higher rates.

The assumptions management makes are: One, that all salespeople are motivated solely by money, and, two, that salespeople have control over the rates advertisers will pay. Clearly legacy media managers are motivated by money, so they assume everyone else is. Plus, their bonuses are based on higher profits every year, so they assume all of their salespeople are interested in helping them receive a higher bonus. Wrong, arrogant, and stupid.

But stupid is as stupid does; even Forrest Gump knew that. And that's what paying salespeople primarily on commission does - makes them stupid. Makes them hunters. And what do hunters do? They kill and eat their prey.

Commissions, especially commissions based on higher rates or higher shares, force salespeople to treat their customers as prey.

But do you think the new media companies such as Google or Facebook, or companies such as Amazon or Apple consider their customers prey? Of course not. Their primary business strategy is to delight their customers, not kill them. Their salespeople are educators who, to use Daniel Pink 's term, up serve their customers, not up sell them.

Yes, the legacy media are stuck in their ways, particularly when it comes to compensating salespeople, and they can't be unstuck from obsolescence any more than the Republicans can.

Charlie Warner teaches sales, media ethics, and innovation in the graduate Media Management Program at The New School and is author of Media Selling, 4th Edition. From 1998-2002 he was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School and a highly sought-after media sales and management consultant and trainer. Charlie can be contacted at charleshwarner@gmail.com.

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