Why Journalists Can be Great at Sales
Right out of college, I worked as an editor of a newspaper in Pittsburgh. A rabbi was facing potential deportation because of a messy legal issue with his visa. I called him up and told him I was a reporter and asked him if I could ask him a few questions about the situation for an article I was writing. Without hesitation, he said he’d rather not and hung up.
I waited a few days later and called him back. Instead of asking him if I could ask him a few questions, I explained who I was, the time I had taken to do some research on his situation and if I could ask him a few questions to tell his story. He agreed to talk with me, and we had an interview that lasted well over an hour.
This was years before my first sales job, but I had just unknowingly learned the power of a strong 30-second commercial. The first time I called, it was all about me and what I needed from the rabbi. The second time around I explained the value the rabbi would get by talking to me and when I explained that I had done some research on his case, I earned his trust.
Journalists make the best salespeople for many reasons. While I’m no longer a full-time journalist, the lessons I learned have been invaluable throughout my sales career.
I’m not expecting you to go out and look to hire former journalists, but there are certain traits that come naturally to people in journalism that transfer over to sales that can be easily coached to.
The first and maybe most obvious is that journalists are used to making cold calls to people who might not necessarily want to talk to them, and they’re experts at hearing the word ‘no.’ Having to call someone who has been impacted by a terrible tragedy is never easy and can be quite uncomfortable so getting that person to talk to you takes compassion and trust.
In my first sales job, I had no problem cold calling 70-80 times a day. In fact, it was easy. I heard the word ‘no’ a lot but it’s true what they say, “Each no gets you closer to a yes.” When I get a ‘no’ today in sales, it’s just an opportunity to provide more value and explain why taking my call will benefit the prospect and not myself.
Once journalists can secure a conversation, then it’s all about discovery…I mean the interview. In fact, there is little to no difference between a discovery call for a salesperson and an interview for a journalist.
A journalist needs to prepare for every interview by doing research ahead of time, compiling a small list of open-ended questions and being ready to pivot the conversation based on what their subject talks about. But the most important thing a journalist can do in an interview is ask follow-up questions. That’s where the emotion and the real story lives. Every interview I went into I had no more than five questions written down – that’s it. I made sure to listen to what my interviewee said and be able to continue down specific talk tracks to get more information and have them open up.
The same goes for a discovery call for a salesperson. If you don’t ask open-ended follow-up questions, you’ll get Sandler Level One pain that might not be pain at all, and you’ll either lose the deal or be unable to sell the biggest deal possible.
When I’m interviewing for open spots on my team, I’m almost always asked what traits do I look for in a salesperson. I tell them the two traits I look for most are “tenacity and curiosity.”
Journalists can’t lay back and hope the story finds them; they have to find a potential story and once they do, they have to be curious enough to get the most detailed and interesting version of that story. A salesperson needs to be on the hunt for the next deal, and if they aren’t curious enough to learn how the product they’re selling might help their prospect, they won’t close the deal.
Too often salespeople go into a call with their list of questions and run through them one at a time. I hate long lists of questions, because the salesperson will just be thinking about going down their list and they won’t be listening – they aren’t curious, they’re running through the motions.
If you’re not listening, how can you pick up on that quick tidbit of information your prospect unknowingly mentioned in passing that might unlock a massive deal?
An easy exercise you can do is to have a sales rep listen to their discovery call. Immediately after, have them write a 150-200 word story about the call and how the prospect can benefit from your product. What kind of story will they write? Is it detailed about the prospect’s needs and how they’ll solve true pain with the product, or is it high level and basic?
For reference, 150-200 words is about two paragraphs so it’s not a long writing exercise. It will open the salesperson’s eyes if they can’t write even two compelling paragraphs on the discovery call they just had.
The story that they write should be the blueprint for the demo. I believe what makes me so successful as a salesperson is my ability to take what I’ve learned in the discovery call and tell the story of how my prospect will use our product in the demo.
Journalists aren’t afraid to cold call, hear ‘no,’ ask lots of questions and tell a good story. If every salesperson did the same thing, we’d all be well over 100% to our quotas.