The office is teeming with people moving between desks, rushing to write information down or share something with a co-worker. Phone conversations can be heard from every corner of the office, and the voices mingle to produce one low drone, a din heard throughout. In one corner of the office, a man hangs up the phone and emits an exasperated sigh. In the other corner of the office, a woman jumps up for joy, pumping her fists in the air. There’s an air of excitement in the office: success could happen for anyone; anyone can make a difference. It’s a wild house of ambitious thrill-seekers; it’s a jungle in there.
This kind of excitement is felt in many different offices across many different industries. Two businesses that share similar qualities, and can actually learn from each other, are journalism and inside sales.
Last summer, I worked at a local newspaper in Rhode Island with hard-hitting journalists who reveled in interviewing interesting characters, investigating key players in a scandal and persuading people to answer questions honestly. In my time there, my coworkers and editors taught me the tricks of the trade. While this summer I’m working at a desk instead of running from some event to another, I’ve noticed there are a lot of similarities between the inside sales reps surrounding me and the journalists I knew last summer. Conversations in cubicles around me sound vaguely like conversations a journalist would have at the computer next to me. “Did you hear back from them yet?” “Can you refer me to the right person to speak to?” and “I’m calling to ask about…” are phrases I heard all the time. Inside sales and journalism aren’t that different. There are even some techniques inside sales reps can learn from seasoned journalists.
Inside sales reps can learn how to ask prospects for more information by studying how journalists ask contacts for more information. Here are some tips I culled in my experience, applied to an inside sales arena:
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Use an opening line that limits awkward small talk and instead gets right to the point, giving you more time to get the information you really need. Something like, “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so shall we dive right in?” would work.
Prepare beforehand. Write down questions and any other notes, and anticipate what the prospect will say. Keep taking notes during the talk, even if it’s being recorded.
Don’t ask closed questions that can only be answered with a “Yes,” or “No.” Instead, ask short questions that are open-ended, allowing more time for the prospect to voice their worries.
Wait a few seconds after the prospect answers instead of automatically interrupting their thought process with your next question. Let their answer sit for a bit; they may decide to add to it or even change it. Revel in the awkward pauses.
Work on your conversational flow. Listen actively, thinking about how you can transition what the prospect is saying into your next question.
Always empower your interviewee. Asking a question such as, “What is your opinion on this?” for stories would always generate interesting responses. For an inside sales rep, a question like “What is your ideal solution?” would allow your prospect to have control over the conversation’s direction.
Every time inside sales reps research new prospects, they’re creating a dossier for that person, or a collection of everything about them. They’re being investigative journalists. In order to be successful detectives, they should take a leaf out of the journalists’ book and:
Ensure correct spelling of both first and last names. Look for a picture that shows their age so you can relate to them better.
Find their online presence. Research them not only on their company website, but on social networks, seeing what they’ve written and what they do.
Make friends with every person you talk to. Learn the name of the person who refers you to the next person to contact. You may run into them later, and if you do, you can act as though you remember everything about them.
If you get a new phone number, write it down right away in a collection of numbers important to your work. This also applies for when a number or extension is changed.
There are many ways journalists have learned to be persuasive over the years, developing key techniques for prying information out of sources by using certain words and phrases in certain ways. Here are some persuasive techniques inside sales reps can learn from journalists:
A little flattery goes a long way. Complimenting a congressman on his perseverance can be the same as complimenting a CEO on the success of his company. A great way for inside sales reps to flatter their prospects is to say things like, “I’d like to discuss the way your company runs; I think it’s very interesting.” Most likely, who you’re talking to will be delighted to be the one talking for once, and might actually give you important information.
Repeat what you’re saying more than once so you ensure that your listener understand what you’re saying. Make your point in several different ways, not in the exact same words. Use an example, tell a story, quote someone within the company, explain a case study or cite a testimonial to repeat your point in several different ways. It’s also important to repeat the prospects’ name more than once, as it’s been proven that people respond positively to hearing their name.
In the journalism world, we use the term “polite harassment” to indicate how we treat sources we’re chasing for quotes. At AG Salesworks, the term is “polite persistence.” Show your perseverance: you’re not going to give up until you get the information you need.
The word “because” is very powerful because it indicates a cause-and-effect relationship. “This product is great because” and “Do you think this is because…?” may give your prospect a glimpse into the future, or what life could be like if they took your solution.
And lastly, don’t forget to persuade your prospect with a call-to-action at the end of a discussion. If you don’t need any more information from them, thank them for all the help they’ve already given you.
All in all, journalists and inside sales reps are not that different, except for the fact that journalists write stories and inside sales reps pass leads. However, both employees use the same techniques to garner success in their career. While both industries at first seem very different, inside sales reps can actually learn tips from journalists, and vice versa. Hopefully these techniques will help your reps learn how to investigate, question and persuade prospects for information like a journalist does with sources.
What experiences do you have in journalism that can relate to the inside sales industry?