Sales vs Customer Service

By Kathy Carr
Howie Carr Radio Network


BOSTON — Here’s a line from the 1973 movie, The Way We Were:

“In a way, he was like the country he lived in, everything came too easily to him, but at least he knew it.”

That same description could apply to most radio salespeople back in the 1990s. Agency avails were plentiful. You could make a very nice living just waiting in the office for that next call.

Those were the days of sitting in front of that huge desktop computer and typing out a schedule in Tapscan to make the cost per point. But was that really sales or was it mere customer service?

I believe it was customer service and here is the reason.  Sales is a seven-step process, as outlined in countless charts and presentations.

In order, these steps are clear: First, you prospect for leads. Second, you qualify the client – do his needs match what you can deliver for him, or not? Third, assess his current needs. Fourth, the pitch. Fifth, handle any objections he might have. Sixth, close the deal. And finally, number seven: follow-up and possible referral to your next prospect (and hopefully, future client).

That’s true sales. Now, with agency avails drying up, the true salesperson will shine. Gone are the good old days of sitting by your computer, waiting for that avail to come down. Expense accounts and chi-chi dinners are likewise in the rearview mirror.

Real salespeople will always be able to find a job. But if you have been coasting, then you are toast.

If I were hiring a new salesperson today, my top five questions would be:

  1. What client did you personally prospect over the last 12 months?
  1. What client did you close and then grow through a client referral in the last 12 months?
  1. Tell me about a client whose business you helped grow over the past 12 months and how?
  1. What acts of kindness or solicitude have you shown toward a client over the last three months?
  1. What is the furthest distance you have traveled in the last 12 months to meet with a client?

The answers to these questions should give you a good idea of what you are in for – whether you’re dealing with a motivated self-starter who will be an asset to your organization, or with a clock-puncher who’s likely going to gripe about having to come into the office (also known as “work”) more than twice a week, and who may even inquire if you’ll reimburse him for… driving to work.

When I first started, the statistic from the NAB was that only one of every seven new hires in sales would make it. I was fortunate to be that one in seven.

You can’t always know at first glance who’s going to succeed, but you can almost always figure out quickly who’s not going to cut it. Sometimes people confuse the gift of gab as a useful trait that will make a good salesperson. I call that cocktail conversation. That person might make a pleasant enough addition to a party guest list, but it won’t necessarily make him salesperson of the month.

If you are a business owner, you don’t need to hire Miss Congeniality. It might help, but the most important thing is to have somebody who can pitch, prospect and close new business, and then deliver results to those new clients. If your client is doing well, then you are the most interesting guest at the party.

Chances are, your best salesperson is going to be someone who’s going to be more into business than socializing at the local country club. Often the top sellers come to the same conclusion Don McLean did in his famous song “Castles in the Air”: “For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation.”

It’s September now and I’m in the middle of planning trips to visit clients outside New England. I’m not a fan of business travel. I don’t sleep well in hotels and it is exhausting, but I want to continue to be that one in seven who succeeds by not taking my clients’ businesses for granted.

Kathy Carr is President of HCRN which distributes the Howie Carr Show and Grace Curley Show. She can be reached at