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EPISODE 169: Washington Business Journal Sales Veep David Walker Says These Two Habits Are Absolutely Critical to a Successful Sales Career
DAVID’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you want to earn, that has to be really one of your chief motivators in going into sales. If someone is not motivated by money, then again I don’t know if this particular career, regardless of what product or service you’re selling, is for you.”
David Walker is the VP of Sales for the Washington Business Journal.
Prior to coming to the Business Journal, David led sales at SouthComm Digital and the Washington City Paper.
Find David on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
David Walker: I’ve been at the Washington Business Journal since September of 2015, I’m not sure if all of your listeners know that the Washington City Journal is part of the American City of Business Journal. We’re in 43 markets across the country, we’re a legacy print brand but I think when you look at the type of content that our newsroom is producing, it still is and continues to be a growing proposition. In fact, last year when we looked at our audits we increased circulation by 3%.
When I look at our business model, what excites me, what interests me and what the challenges are is positioning legacy brands such as the Washington Business Journal against new media and how we can not only be successful and continue to grow but continue to obviously grow our lines of business.
Fred Diamond: We have listeners all around the globe so we do have listeners outside of the DC area. We’ve also interviewed a couple guests in the past who were in media, typically on the radio or TV side. WTOP of course is the big station in DC, Jeffrey Wolinsky and we’ve interviewed some people in radio, most recently Ivy Savoy-Smith. The Business Journal is such a critical part of the DC business fabric and the DC business community, so I’m interested as we talk through today’s podcast learning a little more about some of the opportunities you have to provide value to the businesses in the DC region. Tell us a little more about your career, how did you first get into sales as a career?
David Walker: As I was graduating from Ohio State I was actually a bartender at the Columbus Country Club which is home of the 1964 PGA without a water feature. I’m not sure if that’s the only course that had a PGA event without a water feature, but I was told so. I graduated from Ohio State in labor relations and human resources at the very same time that then president, Ronald Reagan was trashing the air traffic controllers, so my timing wasn’t great to get into that particular line. There was a gentleman who I served at the bar who I’ll actually reference at some point during this call who offered me a job selling bulk paper and office supplies – not exactly what one thinks about wanting to be when one grows up, but it did kick off my sales career.
Fred Diamond: What were some of the things you learned from some of your first few sales jobs?
David Walker: Be prepared. Certainly again that’s going to be something that I think that all sales professionals and sales leaders will reference. You’ve got to know your products, you’ve got to be genuine, I think a lot of those things. In this particular job, any of those of us that are out of the age, you’ve got your 9 1/2 x 11 stack of papers with a print out and these were your accounts and these were your zip codes, and go for it.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, how did you sell bulk paper? Did you go door to door back then or were some of the sales tactics that you used to have to deploy?
David Walker: Again, there was certainly an amount of cold calling. Dating myself, this was back before there was a whole bunch of voicemail and you actually were able to get in touch with a live human being at job 1. Being able to make a quick connection whether that be in person or whether that be over the phone was really critical.
Fred Diamond: I have to ask you one quick question before we continue. You said you were a bartender, I also did a little bit of bartending as well. Any lessons you could tie back from the bartending days to what you do today as a sales professional?
David Walker: That’s a good question. I think so, when you look at both of them, oddly enough it is about relationship building. Knowing how a certain person likes his old-fashion made versus knowing what the proclivities of a particular client is. I think in general in life there’s a lot of stories that can be drawn back to being a bartender.
Fred Diamond: Did you have any go-to drinks back then? Bartending is different now than it was back then, but again you did say you worked during the Reagan administration.
David Walker: Exactly, it was a country club where I was bartending so there was a lot of alcohol on rocks. Not many umbrellas, I’m afraid.
Fred Diamond: A lot of gin and tonics and a lot of vodka tonics was the drink back then as well.
David Walker: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about you. What are you an expert in? Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance.
David Walker: I somewhat morphed myself a number of years back, not unlike a lot of sales professionals in media and particularly again legacy media. I saw and continue to see the importance of diversifying what you’re able to sell. I threw myself into digital sales, positioning content, understanding how to position content, understanding how you can add on digital not as a value add – which unfortunately was the direction a great deal of my contemporaries did going back a decade or so – but as an add on to make sure that you were always putting a dollar value against a product.
Fred Diamond: You must have had some great mentors along the way, you alluded to one before. Why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor or two and how they impacted your career?
David Walker: I’ll go back to my very first boss, Steve Brown. He worked at Columbus Paper and Copy Supply, he was the owner/CEO of the company, family-owned business, been around for a number of years. We talked about this a little bit earlier, the one thing that Steve Brown was really good at was building relationships. When you were out with him within a certain audience, everyone knew Steve and Steve knew everybody and he was genuine about it. It was a relationship that was not to get to an ends, it was an actual relationship for that reason and that’s why I think he was successful and I think hopefully I was able to gleam some of that from him.
Later on in my career there was a woman, Allison Draper who since retired from Dallas Morning News. She was then the VP of Sales and was working out of Chicago. I think Allison really taught me the importance of being strategic, working a strategic plan and again, being uber prepared when you’re actually going to market with a product.
Fred Diamond: You also mentioned a couple times about the shift in a lot of ways towards digital. Can you talk for a little bit about what that means? Again, selling traditionally a print product, now you still sell a print product which I see all over the place. Just to disclose, I’m also a subscriber and I read the Business Journal every week and I know a lot of people who go through it, I also hear you on radio and I also subscribe to your newsletter. How has that impacted the sales process?
David Walker: It’s made it a lot more complex, but at the end of the day it really is about eyeballs and audiences and it’s about positioning content. You talked a little bit about this earlier, Fred. I think when you look at the Washington Business Journal in 2019 we have stuck to our guns, we are the local business resource for local news whether that’s in Washington or Austin or Albuquerque, not all of our companies are in A-lettered cities. It really is about positioning the print product, the digital product, being able to show results for advertisers and then coupling that with our events sponsorship opportunities and going full circle. I think it’s a much more complex sell than it was 15 years ago, and a competitive one certainly talking about new media and other competitors. It’s challenging and I think that again, you want a challenge if you want to be successful.
Fred Diamond: Who do you sell to, just curiously? Who are your types of customers? Are they marketing directors, are they business owners, media buyers? Who typically does your sales team sell to?
David Walker: I think it’s all of the above and again, decision makers also. The C level suite executives are the ones that are going to pull the trigger on the buys that we have. When I first came here I came from a business to consumer, a B to C background. This is a much more nuanced sale and I think you need to be prepared to talk to people at different levels and be able to talk to them in their language understanding their business and what makes them tick.
Fred Diamond: You said nuance, what are some of the nuances that you think about as you go out there and sell to customers?
David Walker: I can use commercial real estate as an example here. This morning I was just talking to Dan Sernovitz who’s our commercial real estate reporter. I saw there was an article on our publication about a sale that just transpired in Silver Spring, and both on the tenant side and the landlord side it was the same brokerage firm. My question was – because I’d been here 4 years and I didn’t know what the answer was – how does that work? Is that just efficiencies or is it cost savings? Again, I think you have to get and understand all of those facets of the industries that we serve and it’s commercial real estate, it’s banking and finance, it’s healthcare. We tend to follow the content, so when our writers are writing about something that’s interesting to a particular set of business leaders, that’s who we need to be able to pivot and go and have an educated conversation with.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re a sales leader. What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
David Walker: It’s the two R’s, it’s retention and recruitment. It’s competitive and I talk to sales leaders not just in my industry but across industries. I think it’s going to continue to be there, there’s a company I understand that’s coming here in a few years called Amazon which is going to make it even more so. Everyone is looking for talent and I particularly am looking for a good sales talent to build out our growing team. We’ve continued to grow every year since I’ve been here and I still see great opportunities for the Business Journal in this marketplace. It’s finding the right people and making sure that you’re keeping them satisfied in their position so they’re performing at a level that works for the company.
Fred Diamond: We have Sales Game Changers around the globe listening to today’s podcast, we’ve interviewed a lot of sales leaders in technology, software, financial services, professional services. What makes a good sales professional in the publishing space, in the print and digital media space?
David Walker: I’ve had people that have come to work for me that have been successful that have come from outside media, there are certain things as far as understanding audiences. I think you can be a successful salesperson in this space without having that, but I do think that you need to understand how to sell audience. It’s not selling a product – and this is going to sound a little bit glib – it’s selling a solution to our advertisers. Again, I don’t think that that’s necessarily terribly different from a lot of other products or services that are out there, but that’s where I see someone coming in and being successful.
Fred Diamond: Back in the day you were selling print advertising pretty much. Now is there more of an offering that your sales team goes to a customer with? “We do some events, we could sponsor events, we do print, we do digital, you could do banners”, all those types of things. Is that typically how you go in or do you still lead with print?
David Walker: I don’t think we really lead with anything. Hopefully with the way that I’ve worked with my team is we go in and we actually ask the questions to understand what product is going to fit and make a difference for the advertiser. My reps sell all the products that we have available which certainly is traditional print and custom publishing which is growing. It’s digital and it’s to your aforementioned banners but it’s custom content and sponsored content on our websites. Then it’s the events, and the events can certainly be one of our really great awards programs, it can be one of our fabulous content-driven panel discussion that our editorial team do and it also can be custom events. We work with a lot of advertisers of different size on being able to position their brand message with that of the Washington Business Journal and that’s where I think we have the value proposition.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to the most successful sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of.
David Walker: I’m not sure if there’s directed in a particular sale for me. I think that when you look back where I’ve been, whether it be here at the Washington Business Journal or SouthComm Digital or prior to that, the Washington City Paper I’ve always been able to build high performing sales teams. In each of those careers within the network of businesses that were owned by those companies, my teams were either in the top 1 or 2. Last year a young woman, Sarah Kaplan was one of the top 20 sellers across all our marketplaces and Sarah’s terrific. I’d like to think that hopefully me working with her helped her achieve the Chairman’s Club for 2018.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”? Again, you’re in a marketplace that’s continuing to be disrupted, it’s much different than it probably was even like 3 years ago, but did you ever question being in sales? Did you ever think to yourself, “It’s really just too hard, it’s not for me”?
David Walker: Yes and no. You do mention disruptors, the one thing that I will say is coming from the B to C space that was somewhat devastated by the Craigslist’s and the Yelp’s and the Google’s, the B to B space with the exception of programmatic digital advertising – and it is competitive, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying is not – I still think that because of the content that we’re able to deliver and the uniqueness of that, it does give us a fabulous opportunity to drive value for our advertisers.
Yes, certainly there are times when you think to yourself, “Good lord, we’re really off on this particular fiscal period” or this month or this quarter, but so far god willing we continue to drive revenue and make our numbers. In this particular case we’re the #1 company across all of our 43 markets which was the first time that the Washington Business Journal has been able to hoist that banner.
Fred Diamond: It’s actually interesting, you mentioned Amazon coming into town. You guys did a tremendous amount of coverage for that, so a huge story like that, does that help your sales team? Again, when Amazon was deciding where they were going to go for their second headquarters it was like a year-long process, I seem to recall and you guys covered it tremendously throughout. Does that make it easier for your sales team to go out there because that’s such an ongoing high profile story?
David Walker: I think it is, and I think everyone’s talking about it. Quite frankly, when you go back to my two R’s, the retention and recruitment, now talking to companies in Greater Washington there is this sense of urgency to make sure that they’re positioning their organizations and their companies as the place that someone wants to work, because talent is going to become more scarce. It’s a back way for us to be able to talk about the value proposition of a business journal positioning your company as being a company that for instance, embraces diversity and inclusion. It’s a place that someone wants to work because the pool of talent in this marketplace will be shrinking over the next 10 to 15 years and companies need to position themselves to be competitive.
Fred Diamond: David, what’s 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?
David Walker: I think it’s to show up. You’ve got to show up every day and that sounds trite and simple, but I think that manifests itself in lots of different ways. Showing up means that you’re prepared, showing up means that you’re willing to go and make that extra call, send that extra email. Sales is not a 9 to 5 job and if you come into it thinking it’s a 9 to 5 job, I don’t think you’re going to do well, period.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the habits that you have to keep you at the top of your game?
David Walker: It’s embracing technology, it’s remaining organized. It sounds simple, it’s consistent, concise communication and it’s knowing when not to over-communicate because god knows you don’t want to become a stalker on LinkedIn. Again, there are tools out there in 2019 which can make you a much more efficient, successful sales professional.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, what are some of those tools that you’re talking about?
David Walker: We are lucky enough that our particular company is invested heavily in Salesforce, so between that and coupled with the business intelligence software that we’ve laid on top of that, I’m a very visual person. I’m not sure if all salespeople are, I’m a very visual person so being able to have a dashboard that lets me manage my team and my business I think is critical.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
David Walker: I think it’s a few of the things that I mentioned earlier. I sound a bit redundant here, but it’s about positioning our content with audiences and making sure that we align those. This goes back to that nuanced sale, understanding the initiatives and what an advertiser is looking for before we actually start making recommendations for products and services.
Fred Diamond: David, sales is hard especially for your customers, they have a lot of options. The Business Journal may be one of the top ones for them but they still have a lot of options. Customers don’t have to return your calls or your emails, why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
David Walker: I think it is when you do get that returned phone call or returned email. It’s a numbers game, it hopefully is a smart numbers game but it still ends up being a numbers game. I think that when you are able to work with a client and understand what their needs are and offer the correct solution, they come back. This happens time again, they come back and actually they are appreciative, the return on the investment they’ve received has been strong. That keeps me coming back and I’d like to try and instill that into my team.
Fred Diamond: David, why don’t you give us a final thought to inspire our listeners today?
David Walker: In sales you can write your check. It has to continue to be regardless of your age. If you want to earn, that has to be really one of your chief motivators in going into sales. If someone is not motivated by money, then again I don’t know if this particular career, regardless of what product or service you’re selling, is for you.