Always Be … Listening

Like many of us, I learned a lot from Jim Williams. But like many of our mentors in life, some of what I learned was what not to do.

I have a feeling the foregoing statement will be regarded as sacrilege to many of the prominent broadcasters who owe much of their success to the consistent application of The Williams Method. In fact, recently there was an exchange among J. R. Fans at the wonderful Radio Sales Café; some excerpts:

Thirty-one years ago WIZM Radio in La Crosse, WI sent me and several other sales reps down to the week long training. My sales went up when I got back to La Crosse to WIZM and my clients. He was terrific. (Al Arneson)

I first attended a session with Jim when I graduated the University of Oklahoma and spent a week with Jim, learning how to do local news. Went to work for Dr. Jeryl “Jay” Smith at KBTC in Houston, MO. Moved to sales in 1974 and went a number of times to Tulsa for Jim’s Sales and Sales Manager sessions.

I just met Larry Bauer again; he was the man who was on the High Control Plan testimonial for that furniture store you might remember. Larry continues to use most of the system Jim created. (David G. Stern)

My first Jim Williams Boot Camp was in Casper, WY in November 1975–a watershed experience, as Jim’s other students will attest.

My former sales manager in Winona, Rick Charles, now owns WRJC AM-FM in Mauston. He gets together now and again with a few other “old-timers” to listen to Williams tapes and discuss his methods and ideas.

Interesting how many of Jim’s proteges have enjoyed successful careers in radio. Joel Swanson, a fellow RSC member, is with Cherry Creek Radio. He’s a big believer in the Williams Method.

Chuck Mefford, formerly with Midwest Family’s Springfield, IL station (WMAY), was the sales rep who helped create the Jim Staff Furniture legend. Chuck spent some time under Roy Williams’ tutelage, not sure where that went but I recall seeing Chuck in the last installment of the Wizzo’s radio sales training videotapes ten or so years ago. As you may know, Chuck is now a full-time consultant/speaker/trainer, with a couple of books under his belt. (Rod Schwartz)

Yes, Jim Williams was directly responsible for a lot of good things in our industry. And those who knew him back in the day saw the whole man, the whole plan–not just the fragments of knowledge that survive in radio’s legendary rumor mill. We’ve heard all the stories–my favorite is his keeping people from taking bathroom breaks as a lesson in self-mastery–but perhaps the most potentially damaging anachronism is Jim’s oft-quoted aphorism, “Always Be Closing.”

To some, the phrase invokes a take-no-prisoners approach to sales where the objective is blissfully simple: Close the deal at any cost. This dictum might have been effective 35 years ago, but does it still apply at all?

The answer is yes. Times change, approaches change, but true fundamentals don’t. The way we apply “Always be closing” is not the same as it was 35, 25, 15 or even five years ago.

In olden times, a seller could apply “the A-B-C’s of sales” through a series of rote techniques designed to get the prospect agreeing with him (or rarely, her) at every juncture. Nowadays, the seller’s objective is almost the reverse: to agree with the prospect at every juncture.

This shift in objective transforms the transaction from a one-way to a two-way conversation, in which the seller must listen more than she (or sometimes he) talks.

Another way to look at the evolution of the process is to say that the most effective sales call is a combination of “A-B-C” and “CNA” (client needs analysis). Just as we can no longer make progress kicking the “Always be closing” concept old-school, so we can no longer elicit effective information by simply asking, “Tell me about your business.” But the artful gathering of knowledge about the prospect’s business leads to myriad opportunities to get closer to the prospect–but only if you listen.

Through active listening, you find ways you can help the prospect. For example, you learn about. . .

  1. The target customer–and how your station can reach that customer
  2. The business goals–and how your station can help achieve them

As you listen, you are always looking for connections between the prospect’s business and yours. That’s the “active” part. But the “artful” part is learning not to blurt those connections as they arise. . .to remember those connections and apply them later in the conversation, or in the written presentation that will follow.

The best radio sales people today are reinventing the classics. I think Jim Williams would approve.