EPISODE 323: Alex Chappell, Now with AWS, Shares Lessons Gleaned from Interviewing Top Sports Stars that Will Help Your Sales Career

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Fred Diamond on January 21, 2021. It featured Alex Chappell. At the time, Alex was a sports reporter for ESPN and MASN. She is a now a sales professional at Amazon Web Services.]

Register for the Women in Sales Leadership Forum starting on March 5 here.

Find Alex on LinkedIn here.

ALEX’S TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Have that 1 and Oh (1-0) mindset. These are all things that I’ve learned with my time with the Nationals because there are so many games and if you lose or win, it’s on to the next day. Maybe a game didn’t go the way they wanted but that 1-0 feeling that the next day they can turn things around or how can they build off their last win in order to keep it going. Not every day is going to be a winning one, but how do you keep that momentum going? How do you stay up and not get discouraged? Going 1-0, that will to win, that passion, drive. When somebody says no, that’s when the sale starts so how do you turn it around?”

Fred Diamond: Today is the Optimal Sales Mindset. Our guest today is Alex Chappell and this is an interesting show, we’re going to be talking about building relationships. Alex is a sports reporter, she works for MASN, she covers the Nats. Those of you who are in the DC area probably recognize her, a couple great years ago the Nats won the World Series and Alex was there doing all the interviews, a great asset to the team. She also got a chance to be recognized by the team as well and if you’re a college football fan you may recognize her, she’s also covering college football for ESPN.

The reason we invited you on the show, Alex, is because one of the big things we talk about all the time is building relationships. If anybody has to quickly build relationships it’s a sports reporter, someone who has to ask athletes, “How do you feel?” after they just lost the biggest game of their life or coming up with a question when they’re not answering. They probably don’t always want to be talking to you, I don’t know why, you’re a great interviewer, we always enjoy watching you during the Nats games when people were going to games. First of all, it’s great to see you, thank you so much for being on the Optimal Sales Mindset show today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? We already have questions coming in. Someone says, “Hi, Alex” so you might have some fans here as well, but give us a little bit of an intro and then I’ve got a whole bunch of questions as we tie what you’ve done to the sales professionals listening today.

Alex Chappell: Hey there, Fred. Thank you so much for having me on with you today, I’m pumped to be here and I can’t wait to hear questions from all of you that are on here right now. My career started going back as a young kid, I actually visited the Newseum in Arlington, Virginia and I immediately fell in love with it, I was 8 years old and I said, “This is what I want to do.” Over the last decade or even before that, going to the University of Alabama, a huge sports school, I became very passionate, jumped right in when I was on campus to start covering the football team. From there, my career took off. One person banding where you’re shooting, editing, writing, reporting for three years in Birmingham, Alabama and then up to Boston covering the four major sports teams in New England, had an opportunity to cover Bill Belichick, Tom Brady which was extraordinary, David Ortiz with the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and then most recently, like you said, our World Series Champions in 2019, the Nationals, the last two years. What an incredible organization, as their motto is, go 1-0 every day and that is a winning mindset for the Nats.

Fred Diamond: For those who followed the Nats back then – I’m based in Northern Virginia and Alex is in the region as well – they weren’t doing all that well and then they made an unbelievable recovery to take the World Series and it was just an absolute tremendous journey. We have a couple questions coming in right now, the first question is, “Does Alex love sports?” It’s an interesting question. One thing we talk about is if you’re selling software or you’re selling CRM or if you’re selling computer products, having a passion either for what you do or for the sales process is something that a lot of sales leaders say is helpful. A question for you, do you love college football? Do you love professional baseball? I’ll ask you that question first and then we’ll come up with the follow ups.

Alex Chappell: Yes, I love sports, especially baseball and football, that is my bread and butter. I grew up, my father played minor league baseball in the Red Sox organization so we were always a big baseball family. Then my mom was just a huge football fanatic and that’s who I really got my passion for football from, we would go to Washington football games together growing up and then going to the University of Alabama, that is a football school through and through. Nick Saban came my sophomore year and it’s just been an unbelievable ride cheering for the crimson tide since that time. I think, Fred, going back to what you were saying, I truly believe you can’t be successful in something, you can’t be talented at something if you don’t have the passion there.

When you’re selling something it comes natural for you, you don’t feel like you’re necessarily selling something, you’re just working with a customer and finding solutions for them. I think your passion comes through, your customers, the people you’re working with, the athletes – for me when I’m working with them, if they know you love what you’re doing maybe you’re not a full-on expert and you’re referring to somebody or you’re learning from somebody, but the fact that you’re passionate and you want to learn and you’re going to help the people you’re working with, that’s the biggest key to success. So yes, I love sports and if you’re passionate, selling comes natural.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get into some of the things we talk about all the time on the Sales Game Changers podcast and by the way, you mentioned your mother, Lynne Chamberlain was a guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast a couple years ago, she was one of my favorite guests of all time. I’m going to ask you a quick question, one of the things that I really enjoyed about Lynne’s interview, we’ve talked about this many times, is I asked her the question about mentoring and she mentioned that one of her mentors was a woman named Grace Hopper who was one of the All Stars of federal IT. I don’t want to get into that right now but go back and listen to salesgamechangerspodcast.com/lynnechamberlain. Talk about some of your mentors, it’s a related question to coaching. You could talk about a mentor or two but then I also want to know, how are you coached? Is it the producer who helps you prepare? I’m just curious, how do you get coached before you actually go do the interviews?

Alex Chappell: Fred, I’m so glad that you talked about my mom. My mom is Lynne Chamberlain, she’s the President of Regulated Industries for SUSE and Rancher Labs and for me, she’s one of my biggest role models. Watching her, the success that she’s had in the IT industry, her passion for what she does, being in a man’s world as well and she’s somebody that I turn to for advice all the time. I think when you grow up around somebody that’s in the sales world, you learn different tactics and how to communicate with people and what makes things successful and that will to win every day. My mom is just amazing, I love her so I’m really glad you brought her up [laughs] but Lynne Chamberlain is everything to me, she’s incredible.

As far as in my direct industry, those of you in the Washington DC area, maybe you all remember Arch Campbell, he covered entertainment for NBC4 and we went to the same church together. I had told him I was interested in getting into the news industry and he recommended before I went into college, “Make sure you pick an avenue. If you want to cover news, weather, sports, entertainment, whatever it might be, follow that and whoever gives you an opportunity to be on television, take that chance because no matter where you start, it’s your chance to improve and get better and it’s your foot in the door.” I would send him my resume reel, I would ask him for advice and it’s funny, when I go back and look at initial clips I had to work on my voice a lot. I had a really high pitched voice, you’re 18-19 years old trying to work on your resume tape in college and [high-pitched voice] I’m talking like this covering the Alabama football team [laughs]. No, but those are things that you need that kind of feedback and people telling you, “You have to change this to improve.” That was one of the things he really helped me with.

As far as preparation, it’s a lot of individual work. Your role as a reporter, you’re the one that’s doing the research, the homework, you’re studying the players, you’re figuring out what you need to do to be successful. Yes, we work as a team and our broadcast, we all have the same goals so you’re always communicating with your producer. “Here’s the story I gathered, here’s what I’m thinking to tell today” but through and through they’re relying on you to gather that information and then relay that back to them. As for the questions we’re asking, that comes down to all the research that you’re doing so by the time we get to the game, that’s the easy part. That’s the part that you’re just flying, you’ve done all this work going into it but the preparation, the talking with the team, talking with the manager of the Nats, whatever you’re doing going into the game, that’s a big part of what you need to do in order to be successful for the group that you’re working with and the team that you’re covering.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about preparation a little bit more because that comes up. Again, we’re doing webinars every single day, every Tuesday we do a Women in Sales webinar, every Wednesday we interview sales VPs like Lynne and other great sales leaders, preparation comes up all the time. We’re going to get into how you deal with tough athletes and how you find the information, how you get it out of them but let’s talk about preparation a little bit more. Are you a student of each player or do you have like, “Here’s my 10 go-to questions”? Because if you’re doing the Nats and if you’re doing the home game, in a normal season that’s 81 games. A lot of it is repetition, if you will but I’m just curious. You probably know who the great players are and you probably know a lot about them, you’ve probably interviewed Ryan Zimmerman maybe a hundred times and Max Scherzer potentially and you probably know everything about them.

Do you want to know the minutiae of all the players so that you have new things to ask? Because it’s interesting, when we talk in sales, the customer has dealt with hundreds of sales professionals and they’re not sitting around waiting for you to call. They don’t want to hear the same thing, they want to know that you’ve prepared, that you understand their challenge. How can you relate that to interviewing the athletes? Do you do unique special preparation or again, do you have the same 5 questions you ask every time?

Alex Chappell: Great question. I think it’s really important that you tailor your question towards the individual or the teams that you’re working with. I’ll talk about the preparation with the Nationals. For me two years ago when I was coming in for the role and starting, my job starts at spring training. Pre-COVID, this is 2019 and we’re headed to West Palm Beach. Some people may think, “I’ll just show up to spring training and learn everything I need to at spring training.” I do not believe in that, I feel like first and foremost, especially for me since I didn’t play baseball, what are some keys that I can do to show them that I’m a fan of the sport, that I watch the sport, that I’m passionate about the sport but also finding common ground with them? You bring up Max Scherzer, I was never a pitcher so what is it with Max Scherzer that maybe I can talk to him about? Something that Scherzer is really passionate about – and that’s just doing research on Scherzer – is SCC football. I went to the University of Alabama, he went to Missouri.

When he played with the Detroit Tigers and they were playing against the Red Sox, he came into his press conference wearing the score on his jersey of Missouri beating Georgia. It was one of those things, they showed it on Sport Center, his photo is everywhere, that’s a thing where maybe it has nothing to do with baseball but I know my first day on the job at spring training I’m probably getting an opportunity to meet one of the biggest faces of the Nationals. How do I find that common ground? Right away it’s bringing that story up to him, talking with him about SCC football and you build that rapport where both of you feel this is great professional relationship and it’s something you can laugh with. Then you’re getting into everything about baseball and you’re getting ready for those interviews but finding that common ground, whoever you’re working with, I think is always really important. We’re very fortunate that you can research anybody and everyone over the internet today.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Tyler, “I imagine you have to compete with other reporters for an athlete or coach to get time for an interview or for a one-on-one interview. Are there any tactics you’ve leveraged to ensure that the athlete or coach wants to talk to you?” Talk about other things that you’ve done to build the relationship so that, to use a sales parlance, they’re going to take your call.

Alex Chappell: Tyler, thank you. I think with every team that we work with, Fred, like you mentioned, you have your biggest players, the people that you have a goal that you want to work with. Part of that is everybody is so vital in the operation. The PR department, they’re your gatekeepers to the team so first and foremost, right out of the gates they’re the people that you want to build a really strong foundation with because if you don’t get along with them, they’re not going to grant you access to the team. When I was covering the New England Patriots, Stacey James had been with the Patriots over a decade. He was head of their PR department so right away going up to him, introducing myself to him and just making sure that he knows you’re going to do everything you can to cover that team in a successful way and that you want to bring the best light out for each team that you’re covering. That’s always really important, it’s the people and even sometimes if you have an opportunity to get to know family members of the players or anybody that you’re working with, but not just the person that maybe you have your sights on that, “I need to get this interview” or, “This is who I need to talk with.” Who around them is going to help you? That’s probably a big factor into what we do as well, those strong relationships that feed up to everybody that you’re working with as well.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great point and in complex sales it’s not just a person, usually there’s anywhere from six to ten people that you need to engage with plus other people in your company as well who need to be partners. We have a question that comes in from Jerry and Jerry is in Cleveland. Jerry wants to know who’s the toughest interview you’ve ever had and I’m going to ask that a little bit differently. You mentioned Belichick and there’s probably some other people who are crusty, but when you have a tough interview, someone who’s known as not particularly gregarious, someone who doesn’t necessarily wants to be on camera, a little cantankerous potentially – using a lot of announcer words here. What are some skills that you’ve developed to loosen them up a little bit? You may know that they might not want to be there, maybe they just lost the game or maybe they went hitless or for some reason you were told that you need to interview this person. What are some skills, Alex, that you have? Because that’s a critical thing with sales too, we always say this too that not everyone is sitting around waiting for your call, they have tons of other priorities. Talking to a salesperson that they’re not in relationship with or a company they’re not doing business with is something that may not be a priority. How have you eased the tough interviews a little bit and how have you begun to, with some of your strategies, ingratiate them so that they are willing to talk to you?

Alex Chappell: I think the way you phrase things is really important. They say in sales, “Don’t overpromise.” You want to make sure that you’re coming through and that everything you’ve talked with the customer, you’re going to come through for them. That’s how you gain that respect in a great working relationship. The athletes, specifically with the Nationals, they play 162 games, they know they’re not going to win every single series, every single game so they’re going to respect you more if after a loss you’re able to ask them a fair question. As you cover the team you learn which personalities prefer certain things, some players want you to just ask them flat out direct, some maybe want you to soften the question a bit, whatever it might be that you start to learn what’s the best way to navigate through if they didn’t have a great game. You’re right, Fred, who wants to talk about losses or if they make an error in a game? But I think its a, “What can you tell me, what happened there in the fourth inning?” and you just let them take it. They know what happened, they’re going to tell you and they’re going to want to share their side of it. I think it’s just once again knowing that we all have two ears and one mouth, allowing them to speak and share what happened through their perspective.

As far as the toughest interview goes, I’ll just tell you a situation. There are times that right coming off the field the guys are hot, they don’t want to talk, they just want to get back into the club house and shower and go eat or whatever, they played nine innings so they’re tired. Sometimes they don’t want to do the walk-off interview, and especially when you’re new to the job they’re going to try to see, “Can we just get away with not having to do this?” I was blown off on the field and I take responsibility, that’s part of my job to get those on field interviews. One of the things that always strikes me sometimes with people I work with, if they have a conflict with somebody, a player, whatever it might be, they never want to just go up to them and talk to them about it. To me, you don’t solve anything if you’re just sharing things with your peers or counterparts, you want to really build that trust with the player so I went up directly to him just one-on-one in the club house, we’re all still in there but I just said, “Hey, what happened?” He explained he wanted to get out of there, he was tired, it was hot, all of the same things and I said, “I understand that, but just like you’re there to be there for your teammates and have a good game, this is part of my job too. This is my team that I work for, MASN, and part of my job is to get that interview.” After that it gained a lot of stripes, he would make sure that any of his teammates that would try to do what he did, he’d go and grab them by the jersey and bring them back. It’s earning that trust and getting that professional relationship. I think the fact that that’s not an easy conversation to have but they know that you have it with them, you earn respect. That’s a big part of it too.

Fred Diamond: I want to follow up on a couple of things that you just said. Again, we’re talking to Alex Chappell, she’s a sports reporter for MASN and for ESPN College Football and ESPN and we’re talking about the relationship between sports reporting and sales. You just said a few moments ago two ears and one mouth, and listening is something that comes up very frequently from the sales leaders we interview on the Institute for Excellence in Sales webinars and the Sales Game Changers podcast. Talk about that for a second, talk about how you become a better listener. It’s interesting, as I’m thinking about this, I want to hear what the athlete has to say. I’m curious on your question but people are tuned into what happened in the fourth inning, like you just said or, “What are we going to do, coach, to prepare for the second half?” Did you ever make a transition between doing too much talking, realizing that it’s about the athlete? Talk a little bit about that particular skill set and again, the reason I’m asking is it comes up all the time from our sales leaders as advice to young sales professionals and even senior sales professionals. You have two ears and one mouth, 66%. Talk a little bit about that skill, the skill of listening and how it applied to sports reporting.

Alex Chappell: Early on in my career I think you put so much of an emphasis of wanting to show, “Look at how much I know, I’m going to put this all in one question and then get it out to you.” You’re right, at the end of the day your questions do matter because it’s going to show your preparation and what you know, but first and foremost they want to hear from the person that you’re interviewing. I think it’s realizing fact and question and going back to what we all grew up learning: who, what, when, where, how, why. It’s just being able to phrase a question knowing I have this second question prepared but if the person I’m interviewing takes me on a different onramp where they’re going to bring up something else or maybe they mention a teammate and something they did, be prepared that it’s not going to go exactly what you have in order to ask them. Also, they enjoy if you make the interview a conversation or when you’re talking with customers that you’re able to communicate with them and they’re sharing their needs with you. Then you’re following up based on what you’re saying and allow them to provide you the information too. I think definitely when I first started out I was so focused on making sure that I was clean, that I had everything memorized and ready to go as opposed to really listening what the person I was interviewing was saying too. That was something that I learned over the years too, the importance of being able to follow up based on what the person you’re interviewing is saying.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Nichole. Thanks, Nichole, good to see you again and Nichole is in the DC region. Nichole wants to know, “What is your goal when you do an interview?” That’s a great question. We talk in sales that every communication, every connection with a customer is designed to move you forward, get to the next stage. One of our favorite guests, the great Alan Stein always says, “Next play”, everything is about moving things forward. Sales isn’t about one transaction, it’s about moving onto the next thing. What is your goal with the interview? Is it to have something of quality for the viewer, is it to make the athlete look good, are you thinking about making you look good? Talk about what your goal is when you’re going to do an interview of an athlete or a coach during a game.

Alex Chappell: Great question, Nichole. I think it just always varies on the moment and what it is that you’re doing. If I’m doing a half-time interview, I believe you should never ask a coach a yes or no question because they literally might answer yes or no and run off the field. My goal in that moment is to get a quality sound bite about what’s happened in the first half whether they’re leading, trailing, that’s something that I know our announcers can talk about, that they can refer to, that the half-time show is able to work with. Whether it’s asking them about a specific play, a specific player and also coaches in that moment, their mind is moving a hundred miles per hour, they just want to get into that locker room.

The more you can tailor the question for them, specific, “Here’s this play”, “What about this player?” specific to them that they’re able to just answer and give you something concise to work with, that’s a goal in that moment just because of how fast everything is going. Other times, if you know you have an exclusive one-on-one sit down interview, more time that you’ve worked on to prepare, the player knows that this interview is coming, I think you always want to put them in the best light. They’re giving you their time, they’re sitting down with you, you’re interviewing them because maybe they’ve been a star recently for the team. To have the opportunity to highlight them and share things, they’re sharing with the viewers stories about themselves, I think that’s such a fantastic opportunity. Every situation is going to be different but I think knowing, like Nichole said, what’s your goal in those moments, knowing what you want to achieve from this is always important going into those interviews as well.

Fred Diamond: Have you ever had to make an urgent mid-course correction?” I’m going to follow up with that question a little bit. Did you ever find yourself in an interview and then the athlete or the coach says something that you didn’t expect? It’s an interesting little twist there. I’m going to guess that when you go into the interview you probably have an idea of what they’re going to say, the athlete probably knows what he is going to be saying. I’m not going to say it’s scripted per se but there’s a recipe for what you’re going to ask, what they’re going to say and then you move onto the next stage. I want to ask this in two parts, have you ever had to make a mid-course correction where the athlete or the coach drops a bombshell in the middle of the interview and you have to quickly on the spot react to it? Then I’m also curious, we talked before about coaching. Do you have whoever the coach might be, producer, director, whoever the main announcer in your ear saying something like, “Alex, quickly, ask about this”? Because sometimes our sales professionals will be on a call, especially now we’re doing almost everything via Zoom or video and people are now using chat or using text, “The customer just said what their plans are, follow up.” I’m just curious, twofold, have you ever had to make a mid-course correction and then secondly, are you getting coached when you’re doing your interviews to help you shift the conversation to maybe something that might be more interesting?

Alex Chappell: I’ll start with the second one. I would hope the producer I’m working with trusts me enough, you get to a point where I will get the interview and I think it’s a fine line. If they’re talking in your ear while the person you’re interviewing is talking or while the customer is sharing something with you, you might miss what they’ve said. I think it’s more important at that moment that you’re able to hear exactly what they’re saying as opposed to somebody jumping in your ear and saying, “Hey, you should ask this.” That’s where that communication before an interview is really important. Granted, you’re always going to have something come up and something might happen but I think as long as you’ve told your producer, “End of the game, here’s the couple questions I have.

Would you have anything that you think does not stand out about these questions that I have?” that’s where I think it’s important that they communicate. Once the person you’re talking with is engaging with you, when they’re talking in your ear you’re losing what that person is saying, you can’t hear it anymore. Maybe that’s where you work as a team. Granted, if somebody says something crazy and I’m sure they just want to jump in and say, “Follow up”, trust is so important. You should know that your sales rep or the person listening, the person picked to do that job, that they are going to be able to follow up with the right way.

The first question that you asked me, ever having to shift gears, always. Whether an injury transpires, whether a firing happens, you never know when those moments are going to happen where they come in and they tell you something. You might have your pre-plan stories, all the preparation but sometimes things go out the window because of what is being shared with you. I think the more agile you can be, the more you can adjust and think on your feet, that’s really important as well.

Fred Diamond: Alex, we have time for one more question and then I’m going to ask you for your final action. You’ve given us so many great things to think about tying in sports reporting with sales and these are all applicable. Before I ask you for your final action step, is there anything that goes on behind the scenes that we may not be aware of that help you become as effective as possible? I presume your camera guy, you probably have your boom mic guy or gal, is there anything that we don’t know about that might make it a little more interesting for us as we watch you do your work in the future or the other legions of sports reporters?

Alex Chappell: Everything you see on television and the people that are in those roles, the amount of work that they’re putting in, just because somebody didn’t play the sport or wasn’t a former athlete doesn’t mean that they’re not doing just as much work to prepare themselves. I think all the research that goes into it, the time that goes into it, the passion, those are things that are really similar to what both of our roles do, it’s all about communicating and all that work prior. Then like you said, the team we have behind the scenes to make the broadcast look seamless or what we’re doing, they make our broadcast go and the people that are working with us on audio, video, lighting and everything, it’s definitely a team effort. I think it’s really unique how everybody has individual roles but it all comes together. Everybody knows their part in the machine to keep it moving but then at the end of the day it’s supporting each other, building each other up, learning from each other and sharing what we did well and how we can improve for next time. I think the more you can communicate and work together and work as a team like the athletes do, that’s a huge part of what we do as well.

Fred Diamond: Alex, we’re getting some notes here. Neil says, “Thank you so much.” Eric says, “This has been fantastic.” Before I ask you for your final action step for the salespeople, I want to let you know that you may not know this but you’ve added so much value to all of the people who watch Nats games, who watch the ESPN College Football games. I actually grew up in Philadelphia so I’m primarily a Phillies fan but we watch the Nats because we love going down to Nat Stadium and our family is a big baseball fan family. But you’ve made it so much more enjoyable, we look forward to whenever you get on screen because you always ask the right questions you always add value to the view and I’m sure that there are thousands if not tens of thousands of viewers in the DC region and in the college football world who thank you for adding so much enjoyment to the watching of the game. Congratulations to you for making it so much more pleasurable as we watch the game.

You’ve given us so many great ideas but give us one thing that people should do today based on what you know to take their sales career to the next level.

Alex Chappell: Working as a team, will to win and just that 1-0 mindset. These are all things that I’ve learned with my time with the Nationals because there are so many games and it’s on to the next day. Maybe a game didn’t go the way they wanted but that 1-0 feeling that the next day they can turn things around or how can they build off their last win in order to keep it going, that’s something that I think is so important. Not every day is going to be a winning one, but how do you keep that momentum going? How do you stay up and not get discouraged? Going 1-0, that will to win, that passion, drive. When somebody says no, that’s when the sale starts so how do you turn it around? Then just never resting on your laurels and learning how you can improve even when you do win from something, what’s the next thing to grow the relationship and make things stronger? Sports and sales, they go hand in hand and that will to win, going 1-0 is vital.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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