EPISODE 24: Alex Treadway Helped Tucker Carlson Launch The Daily Caller Without Even a Website to Show Prospects!
Alex Treadway rejoined the Daily Caller as the chief revenue officer after spending the past two years with the Washington Post, where he served as vice president of leadership sales. Treadway helped Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, launch DailyCaller.com in 2010, convincing leading D.C. advertisers to sponsor the start-up without even a website to show them.
In just two years he helped drive the website from launch to profitability. During that time, Treadway served as senior vice president of sales. He has an extensive background working in advertising and business development in his more than 25 years of experience and was one of the first to sell advocacy advertising online to the Inside the Beltway market during his 10-year tenure with National Journal, part of the Atlantic Media Company.
Outside of the advertising world he sold online legislative intelligence services for Legislate and financial services for First Union National Bank and First National Bank of Maryland.
Find Alex on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: What do you sell today, and what excites you about that?
Alex Treadway: We’re selling advertising, wanting to get clients to put their messaging in front of the Washington, D.C. audience of the Daily Caller as well as their national audience. What excites me about today’s sale is that it was a little traditional and a little bit new. There was something old that we sold them that they wanted to do, the tried-and-true reaching people by email, and then something new using our social media footprint to help them reach our highly engaged audience on social media
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you got into sales as a career.
Alex Treadway: Banking. It was not my first choice. My father talked me into going into a bank management training program many, many years ago. The part of it that was a lot of fun was being a team for a year… At that time it was very important in banking to learn about sales training, including Xerox sales training, and in my 12 years of banking I went through Xerox sales training. I went through the consultative sales training. And then eventually we got to the needs-based sales training. What I found that I would advise any young person in sales is that they have to do a number of sales training [courses] in their life and then figure out the one that fits best for them. To me, throughout the years of the bank training, I found that consultative and needs-based sales were the ones that fit best how I relate to clients.
Fred Diamond: It’s interesting. A lot of the sales game changers we have interviewed have had classic sales training, and you mentioned the Xerox Center out in Leesburg, which is, of course, kind of the center of the universe. A lot of that training is not available as ubiquitously as it was back in the day, so a lot of the sales game changers are thinking about how do they get their young people educated, how do they motivate them to learn about the art and science of selling, to understand the process and understand how to get great so that they also can become sales game changers.
Alex Treadway: I find that a lot of people hire young people and throw them out there to learn by fire. My one piece of advice for sales managers, as well as for salespeople, is take training courses. There is applicable information at each one. You will find the pieces that resonate for you; the pieces that don’t, you discard them and you keep moving. There is a method to trial by fire, but it’s a longer, more painful process, and there are certain downsides to putting an inexperienced person out there representing your name, brand, and company.
Fred Diamond: We were talking before about some of the customers that you’ve sold to in the past, and these are big companies.
Alex Treadway: Yes, absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Which requires budget and process and multiple approvals. It’s not just a one-call sale, obviously.
Alex Treadway: Absolutely, and, in fact, what I found in my past 19 years of sales experience, I’ve been selling advocacy advertising, which is helping either large corporations that care to make sure their public image is displayed in the way they wish in front of the inside Washington audience or coalitions and associations that truly have a piece of legislation they care about. What I had found for the most part is that our sales process is what I call a three-legged barstool.
There’s the government-affairs person who cares about the product that I work for because they’re reading it. They tell me they want us to do business together, but then I’d have to go talk to their communications director, and the communications director may have different thoughts about our publication or their need to be in the marketplace. Then I have to go and talk in some cases to their advertising agency, which can be in a completely different city—three different people, three different cities—and then convince them why the portion of buy that they’ve not allocated for us should come to us… Either way, if one of the three legs of that barstool pulls out, the chair falls.
Fred Diamond: You said you started your career selling banking-related services. What are some of the key lessons you learned from some of your first few sales jobs?
Alex Treadway: One of the most important key lessons I learned was to hear what your client truly needed. Certainly this has played out recently in banking situations where people were sold things they did not need. A national scandal erupted because of that. It was always critically important to hear exactly what your client wants, what they need, and what would exceed their expectations, so I early on began thinking of myself not as a salesperson but as doctor.
I think about being in front of someone and listening to what they’re saying is a problem, is a need, is a pain, is a suffering. Then as a good doctor I reach into my bag and pull out a thing that actually addresses their need. And if I don’t have it in my bag but I know of a better doctor somewhere else who has exactly what they need, that’s where I send them, because what’s critically important always is to make sure your client’s need are met. And then, by [your] being truthful, they will think of you later when you do have what they need.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about your area of brilliance. What are you truly an expert in?
Alex Treadway: Well, having sold multiple things over my career, the art is being with the client, being where they are. Part of that, for me, has been doing the research before meeting with people, finding out how do we connect, looking at LinkedIn, looking at what they have put on their own corporate websites, what do you have in common with the person you’re about to meet, and start by forming a rapport, making the connection.
What helps me, and it’s certainly something I’ll leave as a final thought later, is making sure that the people you’re selling to are people you genuinely like, that they have characteristics you can relate to, so that when you’re in front of them you are relatable and you enjoy being with them. I think it’s really clear even on the phone whether or not you relate to the people you’re talking with and whether or not you’re smiling over the phone. I think it comes out very clearly to the person on the other side.
Fred Diamond: People still buy from people at the end of the day.
Alex Treadway: At the end of the day they always are buying from a person.
Fred Diamond: Talk about an impactful sales mentor for you, Alex Treadway, and how they impacted your career.
Alex Treadway: Well, it’s interesting because it’s sort of the opposite of who I am as a person. I’m talkative, loquacious, however we want to say it. A lot of salespeople are outgoing and talkative. It’s a trait that we tend to have in common. One of the most impactful sales mentors I had was a gentleman who taught me about silence. He had a client where there was a problem. It was about a bill that wasn’t being paid, and they weren’t going to go forward with this client unless they paid the bill first, and this salesperson let me know in the meeting.
I was there to sell something, but before I got to do my part they had to work through this negative situation with a client. He let me know that he was going to be running the meeting and that I should follow his lead and at a certain point that he would potentially go silent. He put his thoughts out there about what was important for this client to know, and then he stopped. He sat in silence.
It was probably on the order of 30 seconds, maybe a minute. But as a junior salesperson I can promise you it felt like 20 minutes. It was so painful. It was so difficult, and naturally people wish to fill the silence. What this mentor wanted me to see was that if he sat in silence and was truly strong on this, the client, knowing that he needed to pay up, would then fill up the silence.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great story. It reminds me of the old attitude that when sales professionals talk after the customer says yes…
Alex Treadway: That’s right.
Fred Diamond: … you lose the sale.
Alex Treadway: Absolutely. You didn’t see that you’ve just had a buying signal and shut up.
Fred Diamond: Shut up, move on.
Alex Treadway: I still take notes. I don’t type them. I write notes because I believe I will listen and hear them better if I’m writing them. Every time I have a sales meeting I write the word WAIT on top, and what I mean is “Why Am I Talking?” If I’m talking, I’m not listening. If I’m not listening, I truly am not able to hear what the clients’ needs are.
Fred Diamond: We’re kindred spirits. I write LHT, “Let Him Talk.”
Alex Treadway: It’s great.
Fred Diamond: Or “Let Her Talk.” I’ve been doing that for years now. What are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Alex Treadway: Well, the biggest challenge I’m facing currently as a sales leader is that my market’s changing very quickly, very rapidly. There’re two parts of it that are difficult. One is that a lot of the sales role is being taken over by artificial intelligence. The buy is being done programmatically, so the agency person I would have normally talked to, that decision is being done by a computer. And then the buy on our side is being done by a computer. So the way we beat that at our publication is we take our most premium territory and we make sure it can only be purchased by a person. And the other is that we create pieces and items that are not part of a programmatic buy that are essential to be spoken about, talked about, and worked through with the client so that it requires human interaction at both sides. That’s the first way.
The second is that my last 20 years have been about advocacy advertising, helping people put their message in front of Congress when Congress is debating their issues. The way legislation has been happening in the past year is very different. It’s coming up differently. It’s coming up in a shorter way; it’s hard to predict when. The people in the advocacy market are so confused in this new administration and the new way Congress is handling legislation that they are sitting on their hands. They are not spending the money, so we’re going to try to figure out other ways to make sure their messages get out and other ways that we can help them with their budgets.
Fred Diamond: How do you do that, knowing that those are two big challenges and hearing that your customers aren’t doing anything because their world is rapidly changing? Tell us a little bit about how you’ve had to respond to that.
Alex Treadway: First is we continue to talk to them about what it is their goals are and how they’re accomplishing them. The idea there is to come back in more and more clever ways. If it was advertising, is it now an event? Is it now helping them to create content? You’ve noticed some advertising shops in town are becoming agencies where they’re helping them create native advertising. Publishers are becoming native advertising agencies. So it’s finding ways to meet the clients’ needs that are not necessarily just a banner ad. What is the outside way they can create a moment between themselves and their target audience?
Fred Diamond: One thing a lot of sales professionals ask us is what they should be doing to get better at the art and science of selling. Almost invariably one of the first answers is “More than ever, you need to understand your customers’ businesses and challenges.”
Alex Treadway: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: So you could do what you’re doing, which is come to them with solutions, not just on how you could help but how they can achieve their goals.
Alex Treadway: That’s right. To me, most salespeople walk into a meeting knowing what’s in it for themselves, what they want to sell, and how they’ll make their commissions. The most successful people in my sales career have always been the ones who always go in looking for what’s in it for the client.
Fred Diamond: That’s great. Take us back to your number-one sales success or a win from your career that you’re most proud of.
Alex Treadway: Well, it would have to be here at the Daily Caller. I had been working 10 years before at a mostly nonpartisan publication, and I was asked by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, two people I had not known before coming here, to help them launch something new, the Daily Caller. It was new in the fact that at that time, nine years ago, there really wasn’t a lot of news content generated specifically for people who are on the right side of the aisle. They were very clever in that they didn’t create a news company and aim it in a crowded field center leftward. They realized there was an underserved audience, and they created content for that audience to help people who don’t traditionally have news anchored and developed it to appeal to what they were interested in reading. The smart thing they did was go after an underserved audience.
The part that was hard for me is that nine years ago and even now, news that is considered on the political spectrum is harder to sell. Interestingly enough in our industry, people who consider anything center or leftward to not be in the spectrum; anything center or rightward is on the spectrum. It’s just sort of the way we think about media. And so, it’s a hard thing to sell. The Daily Caller pulls out my sales chops every day because it’s not the first thing on everyone’s tip of the tongue: “Oh, I got to get me some of that.”
And so my job is to first make sure who they need to reach and if their issue is critically important to this audience. If it is, then I explain why our audience is filled with who they need to reach and what has been successful that other clients have tried in messaging. The nice part is it works. And so, my biggest success was taking a company that was a web start-up—and I assumed, just like most web start-ups, we would blow through our seed funding within a year, that we would learn enormous amounts of great information, it would explode, and we’d all go in our merry way—and instead, within two years we were profitable. And it was by doing what I’ve always done: meeting clients where they are, finding out what their needs are, and exceeding their expectations.
Fred Diamond: Was there ever a moment when you said to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Alex Treadway: Well, probably daily. Sales are hard, and I’ve chosen organizations where the fish don’t just jump in the boat. A lot of publishers and even journalists think, “Oh, what I’m creating is such great content that I’m sure the sales will just jump right in that boat.” I’ve never found that to be the case anywhere I’ve ever worked. Sales is a process. It’s hard. It can be really hard in publications, like the one I’m working in now.
And so, you question “Am I going to make my sales quota? Am I going to make it today? How am I helping my clients?” I’ve often thought, “Sure, what I’d love to go do is teach or coach or mentor” or all the other many different things that I’d like to do. But what I come back to, fortunately, is that I really like my client base, and my passion is in serving my client base that I’ve become to know and love over the past 19 years.
Fred Diamond: What is the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them take their careers to the next level?
Alex Treadway: The most important thing I would say is to keep learning. I didn’t just stop at the sales training I received in banking. Any time someone gave me sales training, any kind of training in a professional capacity, I took it. In fact, there were times where I went and paid for it outside of my company as well. You have to keep learning. The best way to stay young is to keep learning. The best way to stay fresh in your career is to keep learning. Whatever program you find that interests you, keep doing it. I have friends who spend a lot of time reading books by the great sales professionals. That’s one way to do it. I’ve not enjoyed that as much. They don’t seem to be as fun and as interactive as an actual sales training session.
To me, I’ve loved seeing sales professionals do their jobs, sales professionals teaching from their expertise… On a side note, I took a course at Georgetown recently on leadership coaching. I thought it was going to be something completely different in my career. But one of the things I got from the coaching class was to do a daily pause practice. Yes, that’s the groovy way of saying “meditate.” The reason that actually helps me in my sales career is that when you’re being silent for two minutes, five minutes, twenty minutes, whatever you’re able to do, you find that your brain continually starts talking, and you have to catch and release your thoughts. You have to stay blank, which is very hard, especially for talkative salespeople.
What I found useful is that when you’re sitting in front of a client, the client is talking to you, your brain interrupts your train of thought by saying, “Oh, sell him this. Oh, what about this idea? Oh, what about that idea?” What I’ve learned to do through the meditation is to catch and release my own thoughts and to stay on the client. Why is the client telling me this story about himself? How does it relate to their goals? What does that say about the overall things you know about this client? Instead of going to my thought of “Oh, sell him this,” it’s “Stay on the client.” I’ve developed that muscle through my daily meditation practices of catching and releasing my thoughts and staying blank.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful. We talk to a lot of sales leaders and business leaders and CEOs, and meditation in the morning between five and six or six and seven almost invariably comes up. I like the way you just talked about how the meditation has helped you practice listening with your customer.
Alex Treadway: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: And we talked about this before: So many young professionals out there in sales think they need to fill the time and talk—“What did someone tell me about this benefit? Oh yeah, I’ve got to tell them about another benefit”—and fill in that space. There are so much powerful sales game changers out there listening and understanding how to listen and using meditation as a technique to be successful. You talked about meditation, but what are some of the other things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Alex Treadway: I love to have a junior salesperson in a sales meeting. I love to go on calls with a junior salesperson. What I normally ask in advance is “What do you want from me in this meeting?” It’s almost a scripted act. “What are you hoping that I will do? What marks do you want me to hit?” And then, immediately once you’re out of that call, and this I really recommend to people, usually the first thing that happens when you leave the client and you start going to the elevators, everyone turns to their devices and starts checking in and doing emails and doing other things. What I find while it’s fresh is to turn to the salesperson and say, “What could I have done better?” I ask them this because after they have given me a critique, and I highly encourage them to give me a critique, I’m going to turn around and give them a critique every time. It’s a true free-for-all. I’m really excited to hear my junior salesperson say, “I heard you say this. Why did you say that?”
Generally, the thing my junior salespeople get to know is that there’s a reason I picked certain words. There’s a reason I said certain things. It allows them to see why my brain does certain things in a meeting. And then there is the reality that I may have made a mistake, and I like to say, “I goofed here and here’s why, and here’s what I could do better” or to ask the salesperson, “What do you think I could have done better in that moment?” I’m learning. The junior salesperson is learning. It is an arrogant salesman who believes he always knows all the answers, because we don’t. Just admit it: We don’t.
Fred Diamond: Think about what you just said too. I mean, your customer’s changing every day.
Alex Treadway: You bet.
Fred Diamond: You just said before the break that one of your biggest challenges was that your customer isn’t quite sure what to do anymore.
Alex Treadway: That’s right.
Fred Diamond: Because of the nature of Congress and the nature of the marketplace today.
Alex Treadway: That’s right.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Alex Treadway: Today we’re trying to find out what the next phase is for this market. For us to continue on, it is “What does the client need?” In some ways we’re creating this together—that is, by going and talking to the clients who have budgets, who want to spend money, who want to find the ways to do the right thing to get their messaging out. So the most important thing we’re doing in this moment is spending time with our clients and trying to figure out with them what the best way forward is. If we’re going to continue to be an industry advocacy, we’re going to have to truly change and meet our clients where they are and provide things that are slightly different and more unique than what we’re doing at the moment.
Fred Diamond: Alex Treadway, you’ve given us some great information here. I love the concept of listening, how meditation can help you improve, knowing when it’s time to rethink your process and change, learn from everything you do. You’re a continuous learner. Sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that keeps you going?
Alex Treadway: This is information that I would just recommend to every salesperson who can, and that is try to make sure that the clients, the people you are calling on and your prospects, are people you would actually genuinely like. In the first part of my career, the people I was calling on in banking were mostly comptrollers, mostly people in finance. And while I could just be awesome at talking about the things I loved about the banking products I had, we didn’t have a lot of things in common. I personally am not a person who understands accounting. I’m not a person who understands finance as well as I should, oddly enough as a salesperson.
But when I moved into the space where I was talking to communicators, to directors of communications, to vice presidents of communications, communicators are people I can relate to. I find that throughout my years, not only do I end up liking my clients, some of them I end up knowing personally and doing things with outside of the office. If your client is not someone you really want to go and have a drink with, you’re potentially selling the wrong thing or selling something that isn’t a match to you.
To me, it is [important to] find something that you actually believe in. That’s really core wherever I go. People would look at my career and say, “How can you go to the Daily Caller and to the Washington Post?” You would think those are two different things. The answer is “No, it’s media. I love publishing. I love content organizations.” The question isn’t about the product itself. It is ‘Is there something in both organizations that I absolutely believe in?’ If there isn’t something I believe in, I cannot in front of a client recommend it. I don’t have a poker face. I have to have an absolute belief that what I’m offering someone is a real solution that’s meaningful. If I can’t do that, I have to go somewhere else.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought. Leave us with something for the sales game changers on the line to help them take their careers to the next level.
Alex Treadway: The first I would always say is always tell the truth, 100%. A lot of young people get out there and they’re with a client, and sometimes they don’t know the answer so they wing it. I joke that every basis of comedy is typically about that little white lie. Every Honeymooners episode with Jackie Gleason was about how much trouble he got in from that little white lie that he started with. It’s so true. It’s probably the basis of Greek tragedy as well. The answer is “Don’t.” If you can answer 90% of your client’s questions you’re scoring. That’s an A. If you can’t answer that last one, don’t wing it.
Say, “I really don’t know. I’ll get you that answer as fast as I can.” Telling the truth is critically important. My dad always used to say, “Always the truth. It’s just so much easier to remember.” That would be my advice. Tell the truth so that your clients know that you are a) someone they can trust and b) a resource.