Member Q&A: How Incisive Media Drove Audience Engagement From 10% to 60%

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In speaking last week with Michelle Godwin, head of enterprise sales for London-based Incisive Media, the biggest takeaway is their commitment to face-face communication—both in holding on-site product how-tos, and especially in challenging sales people to schedule five face-to-face meetings a week.

Though a bit counter-intuitive in our new culture of Skyping, virtual everything and data-driven email, the results for Incisive have been impressive. Sales have greatly increased, and it does fall into a new trend, one that associations have already picked up on.

"There has really been a shift in how associations onboard new members," said association consultant Lowell Aplebaum. "And it's one that favors more experience-based membership. And at the heart of that experience is the creation or feeling of a sense of belonging to the organization."

Godwin and colleague Ben Wood, group marketing & subscriptions director at Incisive, will lead a SIPA Europe Chapter Executive Roundtable this Wednesday on Sales Management and Training. (A networking dinner Tuesday night in London precedes it.) Here's the Q&A I did with Godwin explaining their success. 

SIPA: What's on the agenda for Wednesday?
Michelle Godwin: We will basically go over our transition at Incisive from one-to-one selling to a more enterprise, cumulative selling approach. It has taken us three years and is very successful. 

Learn more about our Winter Executive Roundtable in London on Wednesday, March 1 and sign up today.

What was the main problem before?
We were split into four areas. We had success, but we weren't growing. We usually had three or four different people talking to the same company. There was no system in place for communications internally, and no real onboarding. We decided that we wanted to change our approach from an individual transactional sell to an enterprise sell. We gave everyone a book of business and then a year to grow that book. 

Did the change in approach necessitate new skills?
Yes, our sales used to be conducted over the telephone. Now we have added a lot of face-to-face meetings into the mix—especially with our biggest clients. The idea is not just to sell but to make sure customers are engaging with our products. [That engagement] used to be less than 10% and now it's 60%. Our sales team is going out and seeing customers, making multiple visits. It also gives motivation to current subscribers to renew. We'll spend a whole day on-site demonstrating the product or service, showing features, running an engagement day. Or we could just take up a couple of hours of their time where they book a room for us within the clients' office and current users and potential users drop by for one-to-one sessions. 

I'm sure there also steps that take you to those conversations?
Yes, we'll talk about the analytical tools we use to look at people's usage and what content they're consuming. Knowing that information for a client conversation can be a huge help. We also now have client engagement teams who support the usage of our content once a deal is in place. We've got four different case studies—ways that we grew our enterprise accounts. All of our sales teams have grown; New York has gone from 4 to 14 people. 

It sounds like the face-to-face meetings have made a huge difference.
Yes, by going out and meeting these people we've learned a lot [such as] you need multilayered contacts throughout organizations. Because if you have just one and he or she leaves, you're a bit flummoxed. So it's making sure that you have contacted every single user and seeing if they're engaged. Doing that for 150 people can be time consuming. We challenge [our sales people] to schedule five face-to-face meetings a week. So they have to be prepared. 

Where do you spend most of your time?
I looked after one of our biggest clients. That can mean making sure that their 1800 people all have logins and are using them. If not, you push a bespoke engagement email to them. It takes a lot of work. On the phone you might get a response like, "Yeah, yeah, I know the content." Ultimately for us now, by walking through a trading floor we can learn a lot more than on the telephone. We can also get additional users from the visits—by going in and explaining what we do.

It does sound like a lot of work.
Yes, we have to push quite hard at collecting names. It's a big task to pull that information together—emails, job titles, departments and region. We try to collect that information up front. We often ask, "What can we do to help get those 100 names? Here's what we have to offer." If it's paid for by that department, they might only want their people on. It's a challenge; it might take two years to get those 1800 names.

Onboarding can be so important today; we just dedicated an entire day's conference to it here.
If customers don't log in in the first seven days, they [probably] won't log in at all. [So for us,] they'll get a phone call if they don't. Usually, they'll thank us for that. It's a matter of getting close to your client, understanding the market you're serving and knowing what information they're consuming.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…