Sales boils down to the fine art of telling a story that people buy.
Ideally, the tale's true. It must at least be believable, and told in a believable way.
Oh sure, there's more to selling. Service beyond the sale. Understanding the client's needs. Knowledge of what you are selling. Accuracy. Creativity. Competence. Confidence. At root it's the same stuff as journalism, only with a tangible payoff.
The sales story also must be told to the right person, one who is ready to spend, whether consciously or not. We can be talking about a pillow, a perfume, a car, a vacation. It can be selling an attorney, an assisted-living home, an insurance policy. The art crosses products, services, companies, countries, even cultures.
What do humans have in common? Love, death, taxes. And sales.
Some of us sell advertising. Now there's a challenge. Selling a seller on a means of selling. Whew. You'd better be good.
That picture of the natural born salesperson? Cool, confidident, a little slick? That's not necessarily the one who gets the sale. Think about this. If you start suspecting the seller is maybe a little too sharp, too smooth, too practiced, they've already started to lose you.
You have to trust that the seller is capable, can follow through with delivery and service, sure. But there's something else, too. You want to believe the seller is working for you, that you can trust them, beyond their story. You want the story to be true, and the story teller to be true, too.
Under the surface, a cornerstone of the newspaper story is credibility. The hometown paper remains the dominant medium in a community, for sales and news resources as well as having the most unified audience. Still, the bedrock is integrity, the mother of credibility.
So we demand the sales pitch be true, just as we insist on the same with the journalism. Both are crucial for their own sake. But that's a selling point, too.
In the realms of writing as well as sales, our genre is strictly non-fiction.
There's only trouble when we get the story wrong, whether in the coverage or the sales pitch. Make a mistake, correct it quickly. We're in the truth business, with every reason in the world to do our best to get it right.
A newspaper advertiser picks up some of this by osmosis. People find newspaper ads simply more credible than the penny saver, mailer or flier stuck under the windshield wiper. TV is a persuasive medium, mainly for its ability to convey emotion. But there's good reason the newspaper still reaches a better educated, wealthier, wider audience.
Of course, I long ago drank the newspaper Kool-Aide. I don't think my observations are less true, though.
It means something, at least to me, that we're as tough on ourselves in coverage as any wayward politician or CEO gone bad. Our sense of image building is a bit stunted, but on balance I'll take maybe a little excessive contemplation of our own belly button over being a bit smooth in telling our story.
We frustrate at least some of our advertisers with coverage of this economic slump. That's not out of arrogance or some weird urge to bite the hands that feed our business. There's often room to argue over the facts chosen for a story, or more often what the facts mean. But our motives are true to the journalists' higher calling: Tell it straight, unflinchingly and fairly. No cheap shots and no holding back, either.
A recession is a real test for news media. Live and sell by the truth, well, that can hurt too.
Saying all this, I confess I'm ready for the coverage to change - legitimately - to news of the upturn to come. It will come. It will be news. And we'll be happy to report it, believe me.
I don't think I have to sell you that we all want business in our community to thrive again, for a whole host of very good reasons.
Now there's a story we're eager to tell.
- Don Rogers, publisher of The Record-Courier, can be reached at 782-5121, ext. 208, or email@example.com.