Should Media Salespeople Have Inventory Visibility?

May 24, 2013 12:57:35 PM / by David Einstein

media sales inventory Do you get updated inventory information daily from your traffic system?
Traffic cop, Newport, c.1912. Bain News Service, publisher. Library of Congress.

When I was working in sales and management in the television sales industry, every day every salesperson received a full set of avails telling them how many spots were available by program and daypart for the next 13 weeks. It was a seller’s responsibility to know what was available for sale so they could effectively and reliably communicate with their advertisers and buyers about what was available for purchase for pending business. A sales manager was, of course, guiding the team as to pricing throughout.

There were pretty serious ramifications if inventory status wasn't clearly and concisely communicated on a regular basis. The last thing a salesperson wanted to do was sell something they didn't have. This, as you can imagine could cause a lot of trouble, especially on the agency side, since before any buy was put in place, it had to be put together and submitted to the agency’s client for approval. If the buyer then sent the order only to find out that the inventory was unavailable, the conversation didn't go well. Needless to say, this was never a position a buyer, seller or station wanted to be in.

By getting inventory updates each day a seller could not only avoid this mess, they learned about the ebbs and flows of inventory - how it moved seasonally and during political season, during holidays or slow parts of the year. They learned lessons about yield management and how to make sure the inventory was fully utilized in their day-to- day sales efforts.

However, when I moved into radio sales, I was surprised to learn that, in some places, this information wasn’t shared with sellers. Salespeople were told by management, “Keep selling and I’ll tell you when to stop.” There were as-needed communications and meetings about what was available and what wasn’t. We sellers just assumed that everything was available and for sale and kept selling that way!

I understand that philosophy to some degree. First of all, in television, there is limited inventory within a particular program, whereas there can be some flexibility in radio. Also, as a sales manager it’s up to you to monitor and manage inventory and not to add that burden to the salesperson’s work day. Their job is to sell and they need to focus on that.

I think that this approach does not allow sellers to gain the benefits of learning about managing inventory. They won’t have a sense for the ebbs and flows, and they won’t understand why they need to price inventory a certain way.

Consider the potential positives that come from keeping sellers informed about the details of the station inventory. They can use special opportunities to package at times when there is a lot of remaining inventory. Conversely, they will get a higher price for programming areas when inventory is getting tight or near sellout.

By having access to inventory available, they will also learn to determine if there is enough left for them – and the station – to make budgets. If not, they will learn to be more creative and/or stronger in their proposed solutions for their clients.

Perhaps some managers have resisted keeping their sellers informed of available inventory because it wasn't easy. Reports had to be pulled by the traffic system, they were in Excel spreadsheets and data just weren't easy to access. As logs were massaged for the upcoming week, things changed, but those static spreadsheets didn't.

But today there are yield tools and software that can give sellers updated inventory information daily. These tools make it so easy for the sellers to check inventory and pricing that the heat is off the traffic director or sales manager.

There are clearly multiple points of view on allowing sellers to have access to inventory, and sales managers need to do what they feel is best for their staff and stations. What’s your perspective on this? How does this work at your station/s and what’s the benefit or down side in your experience?

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Tags: using technology, Yield Management, yield management, Blog, sales management, sales talent development

David Einstein

Written by David Einstein