3 Lessons Salespeople Can Learn From Journalists
At first glance, it may seem that salespeople and journalists have nothing in common. The former is known to focus on revenue and closing the deal, while the latter seeks to build an amazing story, oftentimes with little concern about the associated revenue. After working in the publishing industry for years, I’ve built up a tremendous amount of respect for the editors and journalists I’ve had the privilege to spend time with. I often envy their ability to build a story that can inspire action and create an emotional response from their readers.
Although we sit on opposite sides of the publishing firewall, I’ve realized the similarities between a great salesperson and a great journalist far outweigh the differences.
Here a 3 traits of great journalists that we can learn from:
Journalists Ask Great Questions
Great journalists aren’t the ones who have all the right answers, they’re the ones who ask all the right questions. Sales is the same way. While building a story, journalists are tasked with unveiling information that most people don’t have access to. In order to successfully accomplish this, they must ask strategic questions that tease out the information they need in order to create compelling content.
- Focus on open-ended questions, avoiding yes/no questions unless absolutely necessary. Oftentimes, yes/no questions can be easily converted to open-ended questions by asking “how do you feel about XYZ?” or “what are your initial thoughts about XYZ?” versus a yes/no question like, “do you agree with XYZ?”
- Approach each meeting with a prepared list of questions and a vision (question map) for how you’ll respond to each of your client’s anticipated responses. With experience, this process becomes very natural so you can easily avoid coming across as intrusive.
- If the client doesn’t fully answer your question, don’t be afraid to ask for more clarification. This shows the client that you’re truly curious and want to be well informed in order to ensure you’re recommending the best solutions (and be truly curious). Great journalists are amazing at the “deeper dive”.
- Get clients talking about an area of their business they’re passionate about. When a client starts “selling” you on their business, you’re in a fantastic position to start discussing ways that your company can help.
- Let your client answer! Great journalists don’t cut their interviewee off in the middle of an answer and neither should you. As salespeople, we’re often so excited to speak that we fail to listen. You asked the question for a reason, now listen to the answer!
Journalists Arrive Fully Prepared For The Meeting
Preparation is key to any successful meeting and journalists are some of the best in the business at making sure they’re fully prepped. Although most journalists speak far less than the subjects they’re interviewing, they need to be very educated on the topic in order to come up with appropriate questions.
- Know everything you can about the client’s business. How long have they existed? Who are their current partners? Who makes up the executive team? How do they source revenue and what drives their success? What’s their company stance on XYZ? It’s very easy to find these things using simple searches on Google or social media and it makes all the difference when you walk into a meeting.
- Learn about their competitors. A good journalist, like a good salesperson, researches the market thoroughly and gains as much “unknown” information as possible. If you can bring in an important piece of information about a competitor that the client hasn’t seen, you’ll reach a whole new level of credibility.
- Find a local expert. Before you meet with your client, utilize your network to get the opinion of an expert in the client’s field. This will allow you to say, “I spoke with John Smith and he mentioned XYZ, what’s your opinion on that?”Not only does this show you’re willing to do your homework, it also brings in an additional topic of conversation that will add to the quality of the meeting.
Journalists Break Down Their Interviewee’s “Wall”
All great journalists know the importance of finding out what their subject is feeling, not just what they’rethinking. In sales, we need to do the same thing. People make decisions based on what they feel, not what they think. In order to make a client feel a certain way (excited, confident, safe, inspired, etc) you have to be able to break down their “wall”. Journalists are some of the best people in the world at doing this and we can learn a great deal by watching their techniques.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. If you want the client to share information with you, first you’ll need to share information with them. During introductions, don’t be afraid to share why you love working for your company, what drives you, and why you and your company do what you do. Depending on the situation, there may be times when it’s appropriate to share stories about your family or kids, although it’s important to approach this area with finesse (too much personal info can make some people uncomfortable). Sharing information shows the client that they’re in a safe place and encourages them to open up.
- Ask, “where are you from?” as a first question (generally while walking to their office or conference room). Instead of talking about the weather or your “trip in”, asking where the client is from can spark an entire rapport building conversation that will start the meeting on a great note. In addition to finding potential commonalities, asking where a client is from encourages them to share as little or as much information as they want and allows you to gauge the height of their “wall”.
- Clearly define the reason for your meeting. Once the formal conversation begins, clearly state why you reached out to the client to set up this meeting and what you hope the group will get out of it. You should inject specific details into this explanation. For example, “I’m glad we could all find time to meet. After seeing that your company recently acquired Company X, we were excited to speak with you as we work specifically with Company X’s line of business. From our perspective, there seem to be some natural ways that our companies can partner, however, we felt it was important to learn more from you to see if there’s a fit.” This statement clearly defines the reason for the outreach, the purpose of the meeting, and the potential outcome if everything aligns. Depending on the industry/situation, this statement will certainly vary, however, the structure has proven to be very successful.
Overall, it’s important to remember that the more information we can gather from the client, the more likely it is that we can provide a solid solution for their challenges. Like journalists, it’s our job to learn as much as possible from the people we’re meeting with. This requires preparation that most salespeople aren’t willing to do… Don’t be like most salespeople. Remember, the sign of a great salesperson is notsomeone who has all the right answers, but rather someone who asks all the right questions.