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Sell Like the Celebrity Salesman

By Paul Johnson

1,085 words. Abstract: Billy Mays is dead, but his simple selling system lives on. Employ the single difference that made this pitchman a millionaire.

The late Billy Mays could teach us all a few things about selling. We saw him on TV infomercials selling OxiClean, Mighty Putty, the Awesome Auger, and more. Billy Mays made millions of dollars because he understood how to Bally the Tip, Nod Them In, the importance of The Turn, and the Chill-Down. Do you?

Billy Mays was proud to call himself a pitchman. He understood who bought his products, and why. Vince Offer is another well-known pitchman, and he’s cleaning up selling his ShamWow chamois cloths. These pitchmen are truly celebrity salesmen, known on sight and, often, by just the sounds of their voices. While we may consider them corny, pushy hucksters whose style we would never want to duplicate, most of us would be happy to duplicate their results, at least where dollar signs are involved.

Uncommonly Simple
Their simple selling system can help us all sell more products, more services, and even more of our ideas. Most salespeople are much less effective than these celebrity salesmen. These pitchmen sell more, and they sell faster. You’ll never reach celebrity salesman (or saleswoman) status unless you’re prepared to do one thing.

Sales people think preparation means learning all about the product. They think preparation means learning the sales process inside and out. They think it means doing research on their prospect, and choosing in advance what questions they want to ask. While celebrity salesmen do all these things, too, they do one more thing; they prepare to lead.

Billy Mays learned on the Atlantic City Boardwalk that buyers want to be lead. From the moment pitchmen like Billy Mays open their mouths, they make sure you understand he’s talking to YOU, that he understands the problems you have and, most importantly, he has the perfect solution. When you feel like you are understood, you place more confidence in the salesperson, and you are more willing to trust them to lead you to a successful conclusion, which we call the sale.

Whether it’s firing a flaming fastball or performing the perfect pirouette, professionals execute the seemingly simple with ease. Celebrity salesmen like Vince Offer use a simple system to sell, and they make it look easy. I encourage you to try their simple system, but don’t be surprised if you find it hard to do it well.

1. Bally the Tip
Bally means gather, and Tip refers to a crowd or audience, so Bally the Tip means gather the crowd. Why did Billy Mays seem like he was shouting at you? To get your attention and create a sense of urgency so that you would turn away from whatever it was you were doing. But volume is not enough. That first sentence has got to draw you in, much like the headline on the front page of a newspaper. It’s got to relate to you on a personal level so you want to hear what comes next.

To maintain the Tip, a pitchman has to create interest. He does this with ease because he understands who the customers for his product are so very well that he makes you feel like he’s speaking directly to you. “Have you ever tried to remove ugly mildew stains from your shower walls, only to give up in frustration many wasted hours later?” He understands your pain, and you pray that he brings relief.

2. Nod Them In
When the pitchman asks a question like the one above, he expects to see people nodding their heads. He asks still more questions that hit the crowd right where they live. The frequency and intensity of the nodding rises, and the crowd draws closer to him. Each question not only improves the pitchman’s credibility, but also intensifies desire for the solution.

Often two other techniques are used to heighten desire. Creating a sense of scarcity creates a sense of urgency. Wouldn’t it be terrible if your hesitancy to buy forced you to leave with your problem unsolved and your needs unfulfilled? You better buy NOW before they run out! There’s no time to “think it over.”

The second technique is to use testimonials. If other people are obviously having success with the product, it stands to reason you will, too. Then the herd mentality will take over and a feeding frenzy can begin.

3. The Turn
Now it’s time to ask the Tip for their money. Celebrity salesmen make it clear what they’re selling, but the Tip does not want the product. What they want is to be lead by the pitchman to the answer, and the pitchman reveals the minor investment for the perfect solution. But wait. . .  there’s more! Bonuses push the perceived value even higher, and people are now waiving $20 bills in the air and yelling, “Do ME, do ME!”

4. The Chill-Down
It’s time for action. The celebrity salesman has asked for the order, and it’s time to clean up. The Chill-Down is about completing transactions and fulfilling orders as fast and cleanly as possible so nobody leaves empty handed. Everybody goes away excited and happy, and the celebrity salesman is ready to do it again.

But wait… there’s more! If you’d like to take a deeper dive and learn more about the world of pitchmen like Billy Mays, you’ll enjoy listening to this podcast and related transcript titled, “Pitch Perfect”.

Get the Lead Out
Professional pitchmen make it look easy, but they’ve already worked hard to do the research on the market and craft their presentation into a light, tight, efficient package. Then they test it, tweak it, and deliver it over and over, reworking it to get the dead weight out until the results more than justify their investment in preparation. Celebrity salesmen can make more sales in 10 minutes than most salespeople make all week.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your customer wants to lead during the buy/sell interchange. In reality, most buyers want to be led to a solution with speed, ease and confidence. To join the ranks of celebrity salesmen, you’ll need to assume the customer wants to be led unless they clearly indicate otherwise.

While you may never be hawking products on TV or the Atlantic City Boardwalk, there’s no reason you can’t learn from professional pitchmen and become a celebrity salesman (or saleswoman) within your industry. When that happens, I’m sure you’ll be happy to clean up.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When have you witnessed an amazing performance by a professional pitchman or pitchwoman, and what made it amazing?

Posted: under Gaining Commitment (Sales).
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Comments (0) Jul 01 2009

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The Cure for Choking Under Pressure

I was reading a post by Roger Dooley about a study being done by 2 doctors in Florida on why some golfers choke under pressure while others don’t. In golfer terminology, the “yips” describes a method of choking where the golfer twitches or jerks while putting, resulting in missed putts, high scores, and lost tournaments.

By using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) the doctors hope to discover why some golfers have the yips and others don’t.

Having been in sales and management for decades, I suspect I know the answer already; lack of confidence. And often lack of confidence stems from lack of preparation and lack of practice.

Fluid performance in most sports comes from developing muscle memory. That comes from swinging the tennis racket or golf club so many times you don’t have to think when you play; your muscles remember what do to. If fact, the more you think, the worse you play.

When we invest in employee training, we may show them what to do and even make sure they know how to do it. However, if we don’t give them a chance to anchor that behavior so that it’s second nature, they will choke under pressure. Give your employees a chance to develop muscle memory so that desired behavior change becomes permanent.

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).

Comments (0) Jun 22 2009

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Crowdsourcing Challenged as a Performance Improvement Tool

This report on Crowdsourcing in BusinessWeek points out the difficulty in obtaining acceptance for this practice.

My definition of crowdsourcing is opening up the design of anything new to public input. Often the result is a better, faster and less expensive than when the traditional approach — a small, hand-picked team of domain “experts” — is used to accomplish the task.

As is often the case, those defending the traditional design and development approach complain that opening up the process to the masses will cause loss of wages and market chaos. Such is often the talk when a more efficient and creative way of getting things done (a business shortcut) comes into play.

If you have your doubts, read the book Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. It will convince you that being open to collaboration is key to maintaining competitive advantage in our evolving economy.

Posted: under Achieving Results (Production).
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Comments (0) Jun 19 2009

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Let Your Brand Get Old with Your Market

Marketers work so hard to keep their brands fresh and invigorated… even “hip.” Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe they should make their brands age.

I was reading John Caddell‘s post, “Why Didn’t GM Use Harry Potter Marketing?” In it, he points out that the books (and the movies) allow Harry Potter to grow up, so that the audience that was engaged with the first book/movie continue relate to the character as THEY aged. Brilliant!

John argues that maybe Saturn would be thriving today if the design had matured the way its demographic, who was much younger in 1990 when Saturn began, has certainly done.

What about your brands? Are they truly timeless, or has your demographic shifted over the years? Maybe being long in the tooth isn’t so bad when your market is going to be needing dentures soon.

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) Jun 10 2009

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NCR Move by Nuti Shows Courage to Manage Change

DAYTON, OHIO – Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR Corporation, is taking heat from the State of Ohio for leaving Dayton after 125 years. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher said, “Mr. Nuti absolutely behaved shamefully and irresponsibly.”  Fisher went on to contend that Atlanta, NCR’s new home, “needs to be concerned about the lack of loyalty and communication that NCR executives showed Ohio because they may do the same to you in future years.”

I don’t know if Mr. Fisher’s office and the State of Ohio were treated fairly or not. I wasn’t invited to participate in the negotiation process. However, I do know it would have been easier for Nuti to decide to stay in Ohio from the standpoint of PR flack (as is happening), the costs of moving operations and all those people, and the inertia of 125 years of status quo.

Instead Bill Nuti saw a chance to break past the obstacles holding NCR back, and demonstrated Trouble Breaker® courage by accepting the responsibility for acting in spite of those perceived risks so that NCR — and its shareholders — may one day be rewarded.

I don’t know if his bold move will pay off (if I could predict the future, I’d be at the racetrack right now), but it does give NCR a chance for opportunities it didn’t have before. As Yogi Berra said, “Eighty percent of short putts don’t go in.” Bill Nuti has taken a good, hard shot; let’s hope his aim is good, too.

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).
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Comments (2) Jun 08 2009