Cromwell Media’s Shawn Fort


Cromwell Market Manager Dennis Gwiazdon says Shawn Fort has natural talent, expertise, a focus on customer needs, and a keen understanding of the relationship between sales and programming. But, Gwiazdon says, it’s Shawn’s servant leadership style that makes him a standout sales manager.

Here’s our interview with this week’s Sales Manager of The Week, Cromwell Media’s Shawn Fort.

Radio Ink: Give us the story about how you got into radio, then how you got into radio sales.
Shawn Fort: Back in the year 2000 I was working at Stonebridge Golf Club in Memphis, TN while attending University of Memphis and playing in a local rock band with dreams of making it in the music business. The GM, Kandye Smith, of Infiniti Radio (Since turned CBS, turned Entercom, turned Audacy) was a regular at the course. One day she said to me “Hey, I know you like music. If you ever want to try a part-time job that would be a lot more fun than washing golf carts, why don’t you come help us out on our Street Team?” A few weeks later I worked a daylong event for the 4th of July called
“The Star-Spangled Celebration” at Shelby Farms. That year it featured a full firework show and live music from Jimi Jamison. I was hooked. But little did I know I just had my first day at my future career.

As for Sales, that came a good 10 years later. I never thought I’d be in sales and never saw myself as a sales person. That is until Dan Barron (GM of Audacy Memphis) convinced me I was a sales person and didn’t even know it. After working and dabbling in many roles in the Entercom organization from Promotions to Engineering to On-Air to Production, I finally landed as Research Director and National Sales Coordinator. I found a niche there helping our sales team locally and working hand in hand with the Katz National Office. That is until Entercom had to make a strategic move nationally to consolidate some roles which meant soon that there would be no full-time Research Director or National Sales Coordinator position in the company. It was simple. Dan said something like this to me- “You have a great future here. I don’t want to lose you. The only choice you have though is to move into sales. You know this business. You’ve worked in literally every department here. You are a people person. You like to help people. And that’s all that sales is Shawn! Just a give it a try! And to make it more appealing, I will set you up with a few accounts that have been house accounts that I know will make you tick.” He set me up with several concert promoters and the Memphis Grizzlies by the way (Thank you Dan!) The following week a new Sales Manager, Amy Hughes, took over our team. She became my mentor and a great friend to this day. I owe so much to what I’ve been able to accomplish in this business to her and her counterpart Rachel DeWitt (who I met on my first day in 2000 at Shelby Farms). I am so glad I took a chance to step outside my comfort zone and try this whole sales thing out! To Dan, Amy, Rachel and of course Kandye, thank you for giving me this opportunity!

Radio Ink: How did you know you’d be good at selling radio? When did it click?
Shawn Fort: I quickly found that all the reasons I didn’t want to become a sales person in the first place is (ironically) what led me to becoming a great sales person. I never wanted to be seen as a slick, fast-talking guy. I never wanted to be pushy or seem like someone who didn’t care. From Day 1 I tried to build a brand for myself. That brand was the guy that’s here to help. The guy that will work with a small budget from a Mom & Pop and help them grow from the ground up. I had success early working with many local direct customers and started getting referral after referral. People felt comfortable sending me to take care of their friend’s businesses. And I loved that. Although it was business, it was still personal to me. When you work with large companies with large marketing budgets, that money is going to be spent year after year somewhere. If it works, that is fantastic, we love that. But if it doesn’t, many times they just dust off and try something different the next time. When it comes to small to medium sized businesses, that marketing budget is their livelihood. It has to work. It’s money they’ve saved. It’s an investment. It’s an investment not just in the marketing solutions you offer, but in YOU.
Radio Ink: Why are you a successful leader of salespeople?
Shawn Fort: I believe it is because I am in it with them every step of the way. I’ve been where they are. There’s nothing I would ask of my team that I wouldn’t ask of myself, or that I wouldn’t be willing to do with them or for them. I dedicate as much time as I can in the trenches with them. I preach about being a Servant Leader, and I try to do that every single day. Our weekly trainings are motivational. We work as a team and learn from each other’s experiences. Although I have had the fortune of working for incredible leaders, I have also seen leadership styles that I strive to never incorporate into how I run my business. I never want someone on my team to dread coming to work. That’s no way to live. I’m here for them. Here to grow with them. And here to learn and be successful right along their side.

Radio Ink: Tell us how you spot a great salesperson
Shawn Fort: I’m looking for a good motor. I can’t teach energy, passion and enthusiasm. The “what” and “how” we sell will come with time, but the enthusiasm to do so is what is most important. I also look for someone that has a “Why” that’s more than just making money. Whether it’s helping people or simply a love for the industry. There has to be a “Why”. In sales (like life) your #1 competition is YOU. There will be moments when you see no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to know why you do what you do. I never hesitate to share what gets me out of bed in the morning through good times and bad and ask my team and candidates “Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What is your WHY? Why do you do what you do?”

Radio Ink: How do you keep your team motivated?
Shawn Fort: We continuously set achievable team and personal goals with a path to accomplish them. Once achieved, we celebrate. We celebrate all of our victories worth sharing with a team email. We celebrate our big wins with a team outing (See picture). Not all reps need the same type of motivation or crave the same type of recognition. The key is to know what makes each of your reps tick. What motivates them? Money? A party? Recognition? Or maybe just a personal “Thank you for what you do”. Finding ways to motivate my team is part of I work on every single day. I sometimes joke that I’m not only a Director of Sales, but I’m a part-time motivational speaker, therapist and terrible Dad joke maker.

Radio Ink: What are you doing to always be on the lookout for new sellers?
Shawn Fort: We have had recent success with an on-going radio recruitment campaign speaking specifically to fans of our stations. I’m also engaged on LinkedIn keeping an eye out for passive job-seekers. Beyond that, I truly believe one of the best ways to grow is through referrals. That’s how I ended up here at Cromwell Media. One of my best friends, Chris Atticus, is the Program Director of 102.9 The Buzz. He set me up with an introductory conversation with our VP Dennis Gwiazdon and Owner Bud Walters, and the rest is history.

Radio Ink: How do you keep yourself sharp, up on all the trends, ahead of the competition?
Shawn Fort: I love Sales training books and podcasts. I am a big fan of Jeb Blount! I’ve probably read/listened to his book Fanatical Prospecting 3-5 times. I recommend it for everyone in Sales, especially new reps. He also has a podcast with great nuggets I often share with my team. Beyond Sales specific books and podcasts, I regularly join in on Webinars from RAB and IBA, and attend seminars and trainings anytime I am able!

Radio Ink: Over the past 18 months, what are you most proud of?
Shawn Fort: Making the leap of faith to come back to the business I love! So far, it’s worth it. I stepped away from this industry in 2017 and joined Cintas for a role in Uniform Sales. It was a tremendous growth opportunity for me. But ultimately, this is where I belong. I found a way to get passionate about shirts and pants and mats and mops, but at the end of the day nothing beats watching a customer’s business grow and have success because of the marketing plan you created for them. That’s priceless.

Radio Ink: What are your expectations for 2022?
Shawn Fort: I believe 2022 is going to be a record-breaking year for Cromwell Media. With our growing team and all the offerings, we are able to provide for our customers we are set for significant growth. Adding digital and recruitment to every single conversation we are having is opening doors that were never being opened before. We have a renewed focus on engaging directly with our listeners and making our stations more connected and local than ever as well! Our Sports partnerships continue to grow and the teams we work with like the Nashville Predators, Nashville SC and Nashville Sounds give us the ability to work hand in hand with some of the best in the business every day!

Radio Ink: What advice, in this competitive environment, do you have for other sales managers across the country?
Shawn Fort: People can get music or sports anywhere. How are we different? It’s the local connection, which is only going to increase now that the pandemic is allowing us to be out again. Your on-air talent. Your features. Your LOCAL SALES REPS! The average small to medium sized business is cold called by at least 25-30 sales people a week! And most of them are by phone and from sales people out of market. How do we stand out? How do we make a difference? These are keys that we focus on in our sales trainings. Just like our radio stations, our Sales Reps are each building a brand for themselves and compiling success story after success story with local advertisers that LOVE us because of what we deliver for them whether it’s on-air, on-site or online. Businesses need us, and want us to go see them. So strap on your cold calling shoes and get out with your team and go see them!

Reach out to Shawn to congratulate him on being named Radio Ink Sales Manager of The Week at [email protected].

Make YOUR nomination HERE.


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