EPISODE 026: PennWell’s Paul Andrews Says Becoming Your Industry’s Go-To Expert Is Critical for Sales Success

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EPISODE 026: PennWell’s Paul Andrews Says Becoming Your Industry’s Go-To Expert Is Critical for Sales Success

Paul Andrews is the PennWell Corporation’s chief revenue officer. He oversees the marketing solutions division, sales, and training and development and looks at all companywide revenue streams for growth opportunities, may they be in media, research, data, or live events.

Paul has been in B2B sales for more than 30 years, specializing in online advertising and marketing since 1997. PennWell is a family-owned media business that has been operating for more than 100 years. It has 650 employees worldwide and serves industries such as public safety, oil and gas, and power generation.

Find Paul on LinkedIn!


Fred Diamond: Tell us some things about you that we need to know.

Paul Andrews: Sure, thanks so much for having me, Fred. I’ve been in B2B sales for the vast majority of my career, recently moved into the chief revenue officer role at PennWell. I’ve been with PennWell a little over four and a half years now, all B2B sales experience, with the focus on online marketing since ’97. I’ve seen a lot of shiny new coins over the past 20 years or so and really just try to stick to the blocking and tackling that I look forward to sharing with you and your listeners today.

Fred Diamond: We’ve had some guests before who’ve been in the media space. You have the role of chief revenue officer, CRO, a relatively new title out there in the marketplace. We’ll talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned, some of the things that you’ve gathered, and how that’s changed over time. But let’s talk about your career in sales. How’d you get into sales as a career?

Paul Andrews: My first position in sales was at that time Bell Atlantic, now Verizon. I helped start the direct marketing listing service. If you were a Direct Marketer, if you wanted to buy listings from the phone company, you came to me. You’re taking me back. I can share that prior to then, I was told I was a natural-born salesperson, but I was in a lot of product and administrative-type roles. I finally took the plunge, and I never looked back.

Fred Diamond: Very good. Tell us a little more about what exactly you’re doing today and what excites you about that.

Paul Andrews: About four and a half years ago I started with PennWell. I created a new division literally from the ground up. Think of [my team] as an in-house ad agency. Everything from web design development to brand identity, anything relating to marketing as well as consulting, helping folks build their business, that’s what my team is all about.

Fred Diamond: And that, I presume, has become an offshoot because of the shifts in media.

Paul Andrews: As a matter of fact, there is a seismic shift in what’s happening in the media industry today. Historically, many media companies relied on the advertising business model, and that’s just getting thrown out the door or seeing everything move to digital versus print advertising. As a result, publishers are looking at diversifying their revenue streams. One major stream are these marketing services. I’m proud to say we’re now in the multimillion-dollar range after less than four years. We’ve been surrounded by really good folks.

Fred Diamond: Very good. Let’s go back to some of your first jobs in sales as a career. Tell us some of the lessons that you’ve carried through in your career based on those first few jobs.

Paul Andrews: The number-one lesson I’ve had, I keep telling people that there are good salespeople and then there are great salespeople, and I think the thing what distinguishes the great from the others is becoming a subject matter expert. Be the go-to person and really be a resource way beyond your own products and services. If somebody’s got a challenge, a question, a problem, I want them to call me, regardless if it’s something that I can sell them. I’ll find someone who can help them. I think it’s important that sales reps, especially folks coming up through the ranks now, start building their own brand. Why should people buy from them? I had a guy call me one day out of the blue and he said, “Paul, you’ve been recommended to me. I understand you’re the guy that gets stuff done,” and it was like, You know what, that is my brand. How do you want to be thought of in your particular industry?

Fred Diamond: Tell us about a person or two if you’d like, a true mentor, how they helped you and how they’ve helped you become more successful.

Paul Andrews: There are two mentors I quote almost on a daily basis. The first person really relates to when I was a sales rep as opposed to getting into sales management. Peg Reca, she was a vice president of sales at Bell Atlantic at that time, and what she taught me was for strategic account planning, to think of that opportunity as a Broadway play. I was scratching my head the first time I heard that, but what it was all about was the team selling approach. I Act 1 with this particular client, what are we going to do? Are we going to bring in the engineer? Are we going to bring in the CFO? How are we going to deal with this particular client versus in Act 2, the second phase of what we’re going to be doing from a planning perspective. So we laid a game plan for the next year in terms of how are we going to interact with this client and, obviously, grow our business.

The second person, who I still speak with today, his name is Paul Mackler. He was the CEO of another media company I worked under. From a sales management perspective, he said, “Paul, never believe the salespeople. Believe the sales numbers.” It’s kind of cold, but when you’re in that role, you hear it all, and at the end of the day there are no surprises in sales—or there shouldn’t be. It has helped me really maintain not only revenue growth but profitability as well. I think that’s a critical element you can’t forget about, profitability, as a salesperson and to really understand the numbers.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about your first sale and a critical lesson from it.

Paul Andrews: It was a $50 sale, and at that time our average revenue per sale was probably anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for advertising orders. This woman called me; she had a coin, and she wanted to promote it on our auction site. I’m going back to 2004, 2005. She was a T-shirt vendor and she had this new coin, wanted to promote it. I could tell just from my interaction with her that she had already run a business, sold it, was entering a new market, she had a business plan, and I was absolutely going to help her grow her business.

I took it, and it was no big deal. That account within two years turned into a quarter of a million dollars, and it was because we helped her build her business. It didn’t feel really good at that time, but looking back it was huge.

Fred Diamond: Did you have any indication that this going to potentially become such a large client for you?

Paul Andrews: I trusted her, and I invested a lot of time. It gets back to becoming that subject matter expert. She had dabbled in online advertising and knew a little bit, and I took it upon myself and my team to really educate her on e-commerce and how she could really grow her business, and as a result it did pay off handsomely for both of us.

Fred Diamond: I’m going to go a little bit off script here. You mentioned that one should become a subject matter expert, become someone who’s truly a resource, if you will. Tell us a little more about your area of expertise. Obviously, you’re a sales game changer or else you won’t be on today’s podcast, and you’ve had a very, very successful career, but tell us a little more about what you’re an expert in.

Paul Andrews: As part of my career I’ve had to reinvent myself quite a few times. Back in 1996 I was actually in the pay-phone division, and there was this thing called cellular usage at that time that was just eating our lunch. Pay phones were going away, so I knew real fast I had to reinvent myself. I could either go into the mobile side of the business at Bell Atlantic or I could go into this thing called the internet. It took me, oh my goodness, like six months to really figure out what the heck I was even selling.

I was actually selling pixels. I couldn’t believe it. I was the person who was selling banner ads in 1997. And the sales process—every time I was across the table, I would get this glazed look. I still get that glazed look depending on how complex a program we’re putting together. But what I realized way back then was that I’m selling a product and a service to people who have no idea what it can do for them, so I had to become expert not only in my own product and service, but just as important, in how do I create this bridge and get them to the point where, not only do they trust in me but, more important, trust in the product and services I was offering.

If I take a step back, what all these means is I always have to be one step ahead, at least one step ahead of my client base. Recently because there’s so much going on in the online arena it’s becoming very, very difficult to keep up. And again, it gets back to those shiny new coins: You have to remember the fundamentals of sales and marketing and stick to it.

Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment when you thought to yourself “It’s just too hard” or “It’s just not for me”?

Paul Andrews: It took a while. I was scared to death at the beginning of my career. When people were telling me “Hey, you’re an actual born salesperson,” I was afraid to take the plunge. I was making that base pay. Things were feeling good and all of a sudden, “Oh, you’re telling me I have to put money at risk.” Once I took the plunge I never looked back. It’s in my blood.

However, talking about earlier how I reinvented myself, I did question myself. I guess it was about seven years ago. What happened seven years ago? This company called Facebook. We were selling online advertising for years and years and years, and all of a sudden, we started seeing people’s behaviors change. I realized immediately that even online advertising could be jeopardized by all these other platforms from a social media environment. That’s when I made another change in my career, where I really started getting into the marketing side and started working with the manufacturers in the industry and said, ”Okay, you’re struggling with these concepts. How can I help you?” What I found out was, it was really the marriage of sales and marketing, in that I started selling marketing services.

It’s ironic because my customers, my customer base, they are marketers. One of the things I tell all our sales reps and in all our training is that you have to think like a CEO, think like a marketer. I get that sales training is so critical to becoming a truly effective salesperson, but you also have to walk in the shoes of the people you’re selling to. As much as our sales team is reading all of the sales-training manuals, going through training, etc., I have them doing as much of that on the marketing side as well.

Fred Diamond: Paul, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the multitudes of selling professionals listening to this podcast to help them improve their career?

Paul Andrews: There are so many things. Pay attention to the details. They do make a difference. Stay as close as possible to your customer. One of the things that we do on an institutional basis is every time we win business, I want to know why we won it. Every time we lose business, I want to know why we lose it. In as much as we do all of our training from the consultative approach about “What keeps you up at night?”, “What are your marketing objectives?”, “What are your challenges?”, one of the things that I really like to focus in on at this C-level suite with my customer base is asking them about what’s on their radar screen, what are they looking at in three to five years down the road. The reason we do that is I want to be able to figure out solutions to help them get there.

What we have found is a lot of our competition, they’re dealing with the problems of today. Believe it or not, that’s the easy part. I mean, you have to be creative. You have to do a lot of hard work. But how do we figure out to get ahead of the competition and to ensure that our customer base has success in their markets?

Fred Diamond: Paul, how do you sharpen your saw? What are some of the things you do today to stay fresh and to stay at the top of your game? 

Paul Andrews: The higher you get up in the corporate ladder, the easier it is to stay away from the street and to not carry that bag. The younger sales folks, they get a kick when I will tell them, “Get me into the streets. Get me into the streets. I’ll get on an airplane any time to meet with a customer.” Toward that end is to stay as close as possible, as I said earlier. We had a companywide sales meeting less than a month ago, and one of the things we did was brought in a panel of customers to get feedback, “How are we doing?”

We should have brought in customers who no longer do business with us. It was too much of a love fest. Stay sharp. Don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions, and never tell people what they want to hear. Your competition, there’s a good chance they’re doing that. How are you going to help your customer grow his or her business? If it means telling them some difficult things—two weeks ago, we have a very large customer out of Montreal, and we’re doing all these videos, and I basically had to tell the owner, “You cannot be on videos if you’re thinking of entering the market, because we’re going to be selling your product in the hinterlands of southern Virginia and they are not going to understand your Quebecois accent.” I said, “We will find someone with an Oklahoman accent like the Marlboro Man.”

They get it. They appreciate it. Don’t ever assume. Sometimes you just really have to guide and steer the customer, because that’s what they’re looking for. That’s why they’re hiring you: “Tell me what I need to do.”

Fred Diamond: That’s great advice. You’ve got to take your game up. The customer has so much information or access to information now with social media networks and the internet itself. They probably know more about you before you even get in the door… The other I like that you just said is “Get back on the streets.” There’s so much being done. We talk to a lot of sales leaders who manage young professionals and marketing automation for all its benefits. But just because somebody opened up a white paper doesn’t mean they’re halfway through the track to become a customer. But getting back out on the street, being with the customer, some of the traditional ways that you need to be engaging, are just so important.

Paul Andrews: It could be very daunting, living behind a monitor and looking at spreadsheets, but all those numbers truly come to life when you’re in front of a customer and they’re telling you of the pain points and what you guys are doing well. Do your homework, be prepared, understand their business. Last week I was in Houston, and I was meeting with this company that produces a type of drill for offshore drilling, and in the middle of the lunch he looked at me and he was like, “How do you know that?” I said, “Well, because you just had an IPO and everything about your company is public information.”

And the sales rep who joined me was looking at me. After the meeting I did some coaching. I said, “Don’t be surprised that I knew it. Why didn’t you know it? You have to be prepared.”  Based on those probing questions and open-ended questions, that you don’t necessarily know where a conversation is going to go. At least you need enough information to relate and to understand their business.

Fred Diamond: You’ve got to provide value. There’s no excuse for showing up and not understanding at least what industry the customer’s in and having some critical data points. Paul, what’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?

Paul Andrews: Tomorrow I’m heading up to New York to accept an award for this initiative on behalf of my team. What we did about a little over a year ago was initiated what we call the PennWell Sales Academy. We are taking recent college grads and putting them through a four-month sales-training program. We bring in outside trainers. We have a ton of volunteers. We have a training and development manager. We’ve graduated 10 reps so far, and about a month from now we have another six graduating.

They’ve brought in the reps who have graduated, have already brought in more than a million dollars in revenue, and it’s really changed the complexion of our sales force. Not only have they done really well, but it has lit a fire under the folks who are in the ranks and may have become what I’ll say is complacent.

Fred Diamond: Sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. You are in an industry that’s totally having to rethink its purpose and how you make money and how you continue to provide value from customers. But why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?

Paul Andrews: Two reasons. One is I get my energy from people. I love the social interaction. Couple that with growing up in a household where I’m first-generation American and what we did was never good enough. You always had to be better. You always had to strive to succeed. My sister and I, whatever we did, no one was ever satisfied. When you marry the never-being-satisfied with that social interaction, sales was the perfect fit for me. It’s been an absolute passion. One of the things I do when I interview salespeople, to ensure that they’re really in the right career, I ask them what’s more important to them: “Is it more important for you to win the business or to go through the process of selling?” The folks who enjoy the proverbial journey, those are the ones I hire because what I found, for at least myself, is by the time I make the close, it’s almost anticlimactic because I’m already onto the next one. I want people who love the hunt. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll take the closer any day of the week, but I like the people who just have the passion running through the blood.

Fred Diamond: What’s a final thought you want to share with the sales professionals listening to today’s podcast?

Paul Andrews: I would tell you all out there to own it. Whatever it is, make it yours so that when you are selling your product or service it is genuine, you believe in it. That’s how you can really start building the trust with your client base. And that’s a wrap.

Produced by Rosario Suarez


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