As sales pros, you might think you have nothing to learn from journalists. But if you look closer, you’ll find the same skills journalists use to uncover scandals such as Watergate and most recently the Panama Papers can help you become a top-notch social seller.

Harness your inner investigative skills

When Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein started their investigation into Watergate, they compiled all information they could on their subjects. Though it was before the digital age, the depth of their investigation can teach social sellers to exhaust all resources before picking up the phone: prospect your buyers on social media, analyze what content they engage with and dig up their digital profiles. Just like a journalist would use this information to craft powerful questions, sales pro’s can use insight to establish a point of contact or common interest.

In short, a great journalist would never call a source unprepared. Similarly, a great sales pro would never call a prospect without diligently socially surrounding them first. It’s no wonder one IBM Buyer Preference Study found that up to 97% of cold calls are ineffective.

Play interviewer 

Once journalists have their source on the phone, they turn on their interviewing skills. Successful interviewing involves, being flexible, prepared and listening. In Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide, the authors say that “conducting an interview effectively is a kind of verbal seduction.”

They categorize the questions journalists ask as hot, neutral or cool depending on the degree of emotional involvement.

Hot questions probe into personal experience — the source or prospect’s details, direct observations or concerns. Neutral questions tap people’s knowledge of matters where they are not directly involved, like a VP of sales’ description of company operations as opposed to the problems their sales team is having. Cool questions deal with concepts, such as the business principles. They also involve small-talk and common points of contact. Ideally, you want to start with cool questions and work your way to the core.

How you ask questions is also important:

  • Open-ended questions use how, what, why, when, encouraging people to open up about their experiences.
  • Closed-ended questions, ‘Did you attend the meeting?’ or ‘Your sales team operates globally, correct?’ risk dead-ended conversation but help confirm basic facts.

Above all, great journalists come in prepared but aren’t afraid to improvise. By listening to their subjects they get a chance to deeply understand their concerns or point of view.

Humanize content and own it

The first thing journalists learn — aside from reporting the facts — is to always add a human element to their stories. Journalism is about the people, for the people. At its core, business is also about people. Though sales pros are often writing for a more targeted audience, it is no excuse to not be human. Whether revealing professional anecdotes or personal details, creating content that is relatable helps it resonate, building trust between you and your prospect.

Laura Ramos, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester says we need to stir emotions. “Don’t be afraid to tap into humour and tragedy in our communications.”

stir emotions

When sales pros have figured out how to create content that stirs emotion and relates to your audience, they should capitalize on it and build a digital portfolio. They can best do this through their company’s blog or their own personal site (if their company permits it).

Just like great journalists have beats, specialty topics, great sales pros become experts on what they write about. Inbound sales? Customer engagement? Enablement? Whatever it is, own the space, then make it your own.

The Bottom Line

Many sales pros might think they have nothing in common, or nothing to learn from journalists. The way journalists find sources, get information and market themselves translates almost seamlessly into the world of sales. In the rapidly changing digital environment, we can all learn from each other.

If you apply techniques top journalists use to compliment your social selling tactics, you’ll be sure to gain an edge. Have techniques you think sales pros can teach journalists? Let me know @juliamanoukian or on LinkedIn.


Julia Manoukian

Author: Julia Manoukian

Julia is focused on creating, managing and producing everything content-related at Sales for Life. From product to content marketing, she is committed to constantly evolving the company's marketing strategy to exceed the demands of the ever-changing buyer.

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