I began my broadcasting career as a disc jockey when I entered the 10th grade in high school. Broadcasting would pay for my college undergraduate and graduate degrees. Anyone who knew me from the outset would have told you I was a real radio guy. I thought I knew it all.
That is, until I decided that if I were to ever to be promoted to the position of general manager, I would need to have proven myself in the area of sales.
The way I would become an account executive happened when I was approached by a general manager, at one of our competitors, who wanted to hire me to come work for him as his program director/operations manager; the same position I currently held. I thanked him for the offer but said my goal was to become a general manager and I wanted my next move to be in sales.
“Seriously?” he asked astonishingly. “Let me get back to you on that,” and the phone call ended.
Two weeks later, he called back and said, “I’ve got your sales job. Let’s talk.”
The offer to become a radio account executive would pay me the same money I was currently paid as a program director/operations manager as a salary with 10% more for each sale I made. I was stunned and wondered why I had not made this move sooner. I took the job.
Front & Back of the Building
From my earliest days in radio, I learned there were two parts to a radio station building. The front half and the back half.
The front had all the executives and sales people. The back had the DJs, production people and engineering. Both ends seemed to always get a rug burn when they met in the middle.
My First Week in Sales
When I was hired for my new sales position, I was told I would be given an active list of advertisers. That might have been the case, but my current employer wanted me to give them two weeks’ notice before leaving – unusual in broadcasting when a person is crossing the street to a competitor – and I did, which meant by the time I arrived at my new station, the active advertisers had now fallen in love with other account executives who had been asked to babysit those accounts until my arrival.
So, my first day in sales would see my list of active advertisers whittled down three and on my first morning all three of those called in to cancel their advertising. But I was still excited to be in advertising and could not wait to hit the streets.
My boss told me at the outset, that since I would be using a lot of gas for my car driving around to prospect for new advertisers, I could sell a gas trade to off-set this expense. It didn’t take a lot of math skills to realize that such a sale would result in 100% commission to me.
All that first week, the only businesses I called on were gas stations.
I heard a lot of “NOs.”
Until Friday around noontime, I called on a gas station owner who was eating his lunch. He said if I would come back after he finished eating he’d listen to me. I did. He liked the plan I proposed and I signed my first sale, a gas trade.
Friday Afternoon at the Sales Office
At the end of a week, sales people are usually back in the sales office, taking care of orders and planning out the coming week before going home for the weekend. They also are sharing stories of their week in sales.
“So, how did your first week go in sales?” someone asked me. “Did you sell anything?” inquired another.
Yes, I responded. I sold a gas trade.
The room went deathly silent.
“You sold a gas trade?” they asked, almost in unison.
“Yes, yes I did.” I replied. “Don’t each of you have a gas trade?” I asked.
Don’t Tell Me It Can’t Be Done, Until I’ve Done It
It was at that moment I learned I was now the only sales person in that radio station that had a gas trade. And the reason was simple. They all knew what I didn’t. They all knew gas stations didn’t trade gas for advertising, but I didn’t know that.
Pam Lontos often says in her sales training, “Don’t tell me I can’t do something, until after I’ve done it.”
I was sure glad that I hadn’t been told that gas stations didn’t trade advertising for gas at the outset or I might never have had that gas trade for the entire time I was in sales and sales management at that radio station.
The Lesson Learned
The lesson I would learn from my first sale was not to let others tell me what I could or could not accomplish. If I was going to be successful, I would need to set my own goals, make my plan and work my plan.
I became a general manager at the age of 30. That job morphed into a market manager as the radio industry began consolidation.
My next goal was to use my college education in teaching to land a job as a broadcast professor at a university. That happened in 2010 when I joined the faculty of The School of Journalism & Broadcasting at WKU.
In 2014, I began this mentorship blog with the goal of paying-it-forward to others.
Throughout my life, so many people have been there for me, openly sharing their knowledge, wisdom and help to further my career.
That’s why I work every day to lead and mentor others in finding their own success in broadcasting.
6 responses to “My First Sale”
Dick….what you say about the rough spot when the Sales and Program sides of radio stations meet is very true, and something I’ve never understood. The fact is that one without the other is a failure! If the Program side doesn’t produce, Sales has nothing to sell, but without Sales, how do the Program folks get paid! In 44 years in radio, I think the smartest folks on both sides of the divide knew that.
Also, the best Sales folks I’ve known, understand exactly what you said…never say no! While others whine, the really good ones craft an approach that works. They know their product and know how to craft a pitch that works for the client. That’s called success!
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A good GM is like a symphony conductor. Getting everyone to play together and make beautiful music together.
Thank You for adding your thoughts and experience to the discussion Frank. -DT
Worked as a DJ at several station where the owners saw the sales side of the hall as the heroes who brought in the checks, and saw us across the hall, jocks, studios, engineers, transmitters, etc, as an expense, a necessary evil, nothing but a barely tolerated expense and a bunch of trained chimps they’d get rid of if they could. Of course, now with deregulation and consolidation, most stations have done so.
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What we see over time, is the ones that understand it takes all the members of an orchestra to produce a symphony.
The best radio people in the business get it.
Thanks for adding your thoughts Brian. -DT
Bravos, Dick. Great post, important lesson. It brings to mind one of many times I’ve witnessed a rookie (never-sold-before) seller score an impressive first sale. On their first day a new hire was told our sales manager was out all week because of a family emergency. Not wanting to sit in the office the newbe took a handful of her new business cards, five media kits and five contract forms then hit the street. She ended the day with a signed contract for a 12 week flight priced at the top of the rate card from an advertiser not only new to us but new to radio. She was simply too dumb to know it could not be done. My thought is we are often limited by the accepted (conventional) wisdom and the performance expectations of others. Dare to be naive!
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Thank You Dave for adding to the discussion.