Will Yellow Pages Face a Sales HR Issue?

Flickr picture by Dok1

In my recent travel, I bumped into a couple of young entrepreneurs (early/mid 30’s) who just launched their local search engine optimization (SEO) / search engine marketing (SEM) firm. Very knowledgeable about online advertising, it turns out they’re ex-Yellow Pages sales representatives.

They tell me they quit to create their own company because they were tired of having to sell online Yellow Pages ad products they didn’t believe in. They were reading about Google, Facebook, Twitter and felt the products they were offering to SMBs wasn’t up to par with other online options.

Hmmm…

In the last 10-12 years, directory publishers’ sales organizations went through huge changes. Most of the publishers had to go through a re-engineering of the sales personnel ranging from hiring online-savvy sales individual, giving packages to older employees who couldn’t adapt, offering training, training, and more training to the sales force to get them to sell online YP ad products (outside of print) and then a new basket of products that includes web sites, videos, Google AdWords, etc. Huge efforts. But it’s a well-known fact that directory publishers still don’t really like to re-sell third-party branded products like Google AdWords (which partially explains why Google recently launched their own telesales effort).

Thinking about these entrepreneurs, I was reminded of this interview I did with Seth Godin two years ago. Godin had told me “Google is the Yellow Pages” which would make a jump into SEO/SEM natural for ex-YP reps.

And it got me thinking. Smart merchants want to buy smart advertising but the corollary is true also: smart reps want to sell smart advertising. Sometimes it’s print Yellow Pages, sometimes it’s internet Yellow Pages but sometimes it’s Google AdWords. And if smart entrepreneurial reps don’t get the products they think their customers will buy, they might choose to leave and create their own company.

This means two things for directory publishers (and probably for other local media sales forces as well):

1) Sales rep retention might become an issue if publishers don’t properly execute their multi-source product strategy, by offering best-of-breed ad products.

2) This might force them to fully embrace their “one-stop shop for SMBs” sales strategy, without looking back, even if it means selling Google AdWords without any directory component.

3 thoughts on “Will Yellow Pages Face a Sales HR Issue?

  1. Seb –

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I have sold for several companies that talked a great game but then stumbled badly on delivery. As a result, the desire to sell moving forward was compromised. Most people buy from reps because they trust them. When that trust is broken by the company not following through (or simply not innovating) it is a huge de-motivator for the sales team.

    While money drives reps for sure, the best ones are interested in selling something of value and not just something for a buck.

  2. Sebastien,

    I was one of these ex-YP’ers who left SuperPages to start my own company. I started with Verizon Yellow Pages just 2 months out of High School in 2000. After 9 years (and the industry losing the grip on a strong monopoly for many of the years) I grew tired of the terrible decisions management consistantly made as it pertained to both products and client churn. New reps every year, no retention, getting new assignments, fraud, excessive CEO pay, and a terrible working environment that was created by a management team that saw little to no change in personnel.

    I began offering FREE SEO advice back in 2002 to compliment my yellow page product sales. Soon this turned into providing SEO services to sell phonebook ads that had less chance of performing to expectations.

    I was told by my former RVP that no other rep in the country had my same passion for search marketing. I am a loyal follower of your blog as well as Screenwerk, LocalSearchGuide, Mike B., David Mihm, Chris Smith, and many others.

    In late 2009 I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association http://www.DFWSEM.org. I am serving my second term as a board member. I must say that it has been a pleasure working with folks that exude the same feelings for search marketing as I do.

    My company site is http://www.SMBSEO.com. I am extremely thankful for the loyal clients that I have represented over the years. Most of my current clients originated from relationships I built as a YP representative. Unlike many of those that claim to “offer local search,” YP reps have a distinct advantage of working with small businesses and understanding directional media and ad design (landing pages and conversion science.)

    Before I left what was left of Verizon Yellow Pages, I hoped that the company would fix the corporate culture and product offering. New leadership decided to go a different route. They are now suffering from terrible marketing decisions or lackthereof.

    I no longer feel sympathy for them.

  3. Great article, Seb. Also, CEGEPs/Universities should be teaching a more practical (technical?) degree in ad purchasing and SEM. What 10 years ago was “magic” is now a standard marketing tool that requires more training than wizardry.

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