(By Laurie Kahn) Here’s the question – What are small-market stations doing differently to compensate sellers? All of the stations in our market are using old techniques and I would like some ideas.

Good for you for asking this great question. I can tell you wholeheartedly that if you are starting people with 90 or 120 day guaranteed draws and then moving to 100% commission, you WILL struggle to hire and retain a solid, quality team. Especially after the last year, a top employment desire is secure compensation.

Radio Ink and Media Staffing Network conduct an annual radio sales compensation study where we ask how sellers are compensated. We are starting to see a small shift in how radio stations compensate new sellers. Those that paid only a ninety-day guarantee fell in 2020 from 2019, 22.5% of respondents to 19.7% and we are seeing a slight increase of those who are offering a full-year guarantee from 25.4% to 25.9%. When we conduct our 2021 survey, I expect to see more companies offering some type of security to keep their high performers.

We encourage our clients to offer a secure period to get the new hire up and running and to include ‘measurable’ tasks and goals to ensure that they are moving in the right direction in the way of improving knowledge, skills, and experience.  Include completing training, attending client calls with other sellers, creating a promotion, making a list of prospects, etc. as tasks to confirm they ‘get the new job’ vs. just basing performance on billing which is hard to do in the current economy.

I do believe that this year will be a turning point for new ideas in compensation in our industry. Perhaps more stations will limit the number of sellers, pay them a base salary plus incentives to offer security. Utilizing part-time sellers, especially those that are on the payroll already to take on more responsibilities, think of using an on-air person who wants to earn more money, taking on a few sales accounts. In my early sales career, we had the TV Weatherman on our radio sales team and he never had a problem getting an appointment and continually was a top biller. Including ‘multi-tasking’ for many of our positions is becoming more popular.

As you decide if you need to lower the number of sellers, think about more of a team approach, where you pay those who excel at conducting CNA’s or closing business to focus on that while paying another team member an hourly compensation to set appointments and help with follow up so that the ‘outside’ seller can focus on getting business.

Most importantly, you really need to do some homework and find out what the cost of living is in your market, what it will take to hire and keep exceptional people, and not worry about how your competitor is paying their people. You need to review benefits and perks to see if that is a way for you to better compete.