Ronald Reagan Teaches Radio Sales


(By Loyd Ford) Allow me to do something unusual. I am plucking a politician out of thin air and share one unique trait with you about them. Don’t focus on his political party, that’s not why I’m sharing this with you. I want you to focus on something more important. Focus on the fact that he knows he has to persuade people about something important, quickly, in a highly pressurized situation filled with uncertainty. Oh, does that sound like a sales call to you?

Our politician’s name is Ronald Reagan. He finds himself at a presidential debate. This is 1984. Back then people thought of Reagan as old. He was old. And everybody thought about how old he was all the time. 

One of the first questions in the debate centered around how old he was. How did Reagan respond? His age was so obvious that the idea of how old he was hung over the campaign. You can bet everyone involved in Reagan’s campaign dreaded this, too. 

His handlers didn’t want the question to come up. But not Reagan. He waited for it. Then when the question about age was asked, he didn’t hesitate. He stated the answer as a disclaimer

I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I’m not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” 

If you decide to pull this delightful clip up on YouTube, you will notice a twinkle in Mr. Reagan’s eye, but you’ll also see his rival laughing and the debate host laughing and the audience laughing

What can radio sellers learn from this? 

You could think it was just a funny line. Or you could think, “Ronald Reagan really knew how to prepare for a sales call.”

By the way, while everyone was recovering from his joke about age, Reagan added a more serious quote from an ancient philosopher that went like this: “If it were not for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state.” So, he told essentially a joke and followed it rapidly by repositioning his age as a strength over his competitor. He and his team had prepared in advance to do exactly those things. Do you also think he had practiced this line? Of course he had.

We don’t live in an era where people prepare well. In fact, much of what you see in situations where sellers and others are put on the spot is fear, anxiety, and avoidance. But these ideas don’t perform well in sales.

You’ve probably seen situations where a radio seller worries about being compared to XYZ (something new or something sparkly) or they think “Man, radio is old.  It’s been around a long time. I hope the prospect doesn’t bring that up and talk about how the new thing is better.”

Bring it up?

Reagan was waiting for his negative question. He wanted someone to bring it up. He was prepared.

Don’t keep it a secret: radio works. It’s not new. 

I bet if we prepare for questions we dread to hear we can create opportunity out of something other reps would only see as fear. We are helping advertisers with a product that we know works. Where’s your confidence? It’s in your prep.

Be ready to tell radio’s story. We shouldn’t apologize for who we are. Radio works. Period.

Loyd Ford is president and chief strategic officer at Rainmaker Pathway Consulting Works (RPC). They help local radio with ratings and revenue. Reach him anytime at 864.448.4169 or [email protected]. Read Loyd’s Radio Ink archives here.


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