Q&A: Bloomberg Media’s Global CRO Discusses the Modern Sales Team

Keith Grossman on challenges as it undergoes transformation

Grossman oversees about 250 reps across 15 offices that are responsible for selling Bloomberg inventory. Sources: TicToc

Keith Grossman loves his job, as he views it as a giant puzzle, with interconnecting pieces to form a bigger picture. As the global chief revenue officer of Bloomberg Media, Grossman oversees about 250 reps across 15 offices that are responsible for selling all types of Bloomberg inventory: print, TV, radio, digital and now OTT. Adweek spoke with Grossman about some of the challenges a modern sales force faces as it undergoes a digital transformation.

Adweek: It’s 2018 and many sales teams still struggle to “converge.” What are some of the pain points in educating a sales team to embrace different formats?
Keith Grossman: The two biggest pain points are time and the willingness of the organization. As it relates to time, it is important to respect that individuals learn at different speeds. To that extent, rolling out “one-and-done” training courses creates a faulty foundation.

When we initially evolved Bloomberg Media to a digital-first organization, we required everyone to pass the IAB exam, provided training materials and I personally taught classes once a week for six months.

Linear TV is our second largest revenue stream and, for that, we worked with a trade association to develop a test that we then trained our team on equally as well as thoroughly. In total, we invested much of 2014 and 2015 in education, and much of our success today is the result of that foundation.

What’s this test look like? What happens if someone fails? Have people failed?
We required passing, so individuals continued to take the tests until they passed. We had extraordinarily high pass rates as everyone continued to recognize how important this evolution was. They took studying very seriously. For those that did not pass, we continued to tutor them and provide support.

As a company that has print, digital, radio, events and TV components, what do you look for in a sales rep?
Personally, I look for three qualities in an individual: intelligence, work ethic and heart. Heart is essentially the individual in Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech from 1910 or the persistence of the Black Knight to never give up in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The Black Knight, eh? Interesting! Though, some may interpret that less as persistence and more as arrogant stupidity. How do you tell the difference in sales folks?
With every profession there is a fine line between persistence and arrogance. Not sure it is solely a sales trait!

Why is selling OTT a challenge?
OTT is not necessarily a challenge, but more akin to being the new “Year of Mobile” in marketing-speak, so to say. If you remember, for many years, individuals in media would say, “This is it!” The investments by brands in the mobile space would say otherwise. However, the reality is that everyone was ultimately correct with this trend. When it finally became the Year of Mobile, it was not celebrated, rather just seen as the natural evolution of consumer behavior. OTT is the same thing. Every year the percentage of cord cutters will increase based on the simple fact that the technology to deliver a simpler, more bespoke and cheaper form of consumption has created a new consumer appetite that will slowly displace the existing structures designed for the previous generation’s consumption habits.

We bet that OTT was real many years ago and began to invest heavily in it. This bet is finally beginning to pay off as we are seeing the marketplace change. To provide context: Last year at this time, our sell-through rate on our OTT offerings was 24 percent. This year, with more inventory, it is 68 percent. That signals something.

How much of an issue is it that many agencies are not built for a converged world, where media agencies are often siloed between TV, print, digital?
This is definitely a real issue; however, it is something that is currently being addressed—albeit, unevenly within the industry. For many years, the industry was not set up to strategize and buy media like the consumer experiences it in real life.

Agencies thought in terms of platform silos—such as linear TV and digital video—as opposed to experiences—such as viewing (regardless of what screen). A lot of individuals love to lament that “agencies are dead.” Personally, I find this to be “marketing extremism” at its best. The reality is that agencies are evolving to deliver upon the new needs of their clients, partners and consumer behaviors.

Brands and publishers are doing the same thing. When we launched TicToc by Bloomberg, very few agencies were set up to invest in a product that was the convergence of social, mobile and video. For the most part, it was a client directive that was implemented by agencies. However, there were some agencies that did understand the value and investment of this converged platform. These were the agencies that started “idea first” and then looked at how the platforms supported their clients’ objectives, not the other way around.

This story first appeared in the November 12, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.