How to Play the “I’m New” Card — and Why You Should

Media Sales Advice for Rookies

If you’re a brand-new media salesperson, you don’t want to seem like you’re new at this. When somebody asks you a question, you don’t want them to know you’re a rookie. You’ll be tempted to guess at the answer.

So here’s some advertising sales advice: resist the temptation. Guessing at the answer can only make a mess.

New salespeople can make a mess

Photo by jstaley4011

The Day I Guessed At The Answer
A Cautionary Tale

It was 1995, and I’d been a KEX Radio Account Executive for all of three weeks.

The Sales Manager had introduced me to the Program Director, the News Director and the Production Director. He’d handed me the Yellow Pages (note to millennials: kind of like Google, but on paper), clapped me on the back, and sent me out on the streets.

I got the call-ins that day. A call came in from the director of the local AFL-CIO. He was contacting every station in town looking for morning drive rates.

I quoted a number off the rate card. The prospect asked me why KEX’s morning drive rate was higher than KWJJ’s morning drive rate.

I had no idea. So I guessed.

  • Me: “Our ratings are higher.”
  • Him: “Really? They told me their ratings were higher than yours.”

At that point in my career, the caller knew more about ratings than I did. I tried to defend myself by explaining something I didn’t understand. 

If you’ve ever lost control of a car and landed upside down in a ditch, the conversation went kind of like that. It ended with the client saying this:

I think you’re trying to pull a fast one on me, and I don’t want to do business with you.”

This was followed by the sound of the caller hanging up. For those who’ve never experienced a corded landline, here’s a taste:

I spent the next 20 minutes staring at the wall, assuming I’d be fired as soon as the guy called my boss. 

Today’s Sales Tip From Experience:
Play the “I’m New” Card

When you’re new, there’s a lot you don’t know. You’ll get some training at the start, but much of what you learn comes when somebody asks you a question you haven’t heard before.

When the client asked me why our rates were higher that the competitor’s, the correct answer was, “Bill, I have a confession to make. I’m new here, and I’m not familiar with how our rate structure compares with theirs. Rather than making something up, let me find out the right answer and give you a call back.”

Radio sales veteran Joe Ferguson of Affiliated Media recently gave this advice on LinkedIn:

At the end of every meeting, make a note of any question you were asked to which you did not know the answer and then, learn the answers. In the beginning the list will be lengthy but as your experience builds, so will your knowledge and soon you won’t have many unanswered questions at all.

Don’t make an answer up — doing that will only create heartache when it turns out to be wrong. Admit you don’t know and promise to get back to them with the right answer.

Then get back to them with the right answer. This simple step, by itself, will give you credibility. 

Epilogue: I Wasn’t Fired, and It Got Better

With plenty of time to stew about it, I decided he was going to tell every other radio station in town that Phil Bernstein was a liar. Once KEX fired me, my advertising sales career would be over.

I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the court. I got in the car, drove to the AFL-CIO office, and asked to see Bill. 

He came downstairs and said, “You’re pretty much the last person I expected to see here. Come on up.”

When we got into his office, I said, 

“Bill, here’s what I should have told you when you called: I’ve been doing this for three weeks — I’m brand-spankin’ new at this. I didn’t want you to know that, so when you asked me about KWJJ’s rates I came up with an answer that sounded good to me. You caught me trying to fudge, and you had every right to hang up on me.

I know I’m not going to get any business from you, and that’s only fair. But I don’t want this to reflect badly on KEX Radio.

That broke the ice, and we talked for about 45 minutes. Two days later, he gave me a $2000 order. It was a “pity buy”, but the money spent like I’d earned it.


Question: If you’re new, what’s the toughest question you’ve had to deal with? 

If you’re a veteran, what’s the biggest mess you made as a rookie? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



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