What An Ad Man Can Teach Us About Sales

In most sales situations, you’re pitching to an individual. Imagine it now, you can see the whites of his or her eyes and know when you drop your punch line; she’s going to laugh. Generally, sales situations are one-to-one. It’s powerful and as sales people, what we’re best at.

But in advertising, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t “see” your customer, and it’s difficult to understand their reactions to your pitch.

So why care about advertising if you’re in sales?

In Sales, you’re pitching one-to-one. In Advertising, you’re pitching one-to-many.

If you’re a fan of Mad Men, you may have heard Roger Sterling referring to the book Confessions of an Advertising Man, written by David Ogilvy. Ogilvy is considered the father of modern advertising, and his book is the prerequisite reading for anyone in the advertising field. The book is peppered with provocative and direct language like, “Pay people peanuts and you get monkeys.” You can take all sorts of lessons from Ogilvy’s book. While the book is directed to advertiser, this blog is directed to you to help you sell. Ogilvy may have written a book about advertising but he may not have realized how many of these lessons can easily be applied to sales and sales leadership.

How Ogilvy Can Teach Us About Sales & Leadership

“Your Client is Your Wife”

A lot of sales pitches today assume your customers are missing information. In order to fix this, your pitch sounds “pitchy” or “sleazy” as you try and sell our product instead of have a conversation. (Hint: if you’re pushing your “features and benefits“, you’re probably not doing a good job of selling.)

Ogilvy writes, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.”

This statement by Ogilvy shows his approach to treat customers with respect. In fact, he seeks equal respect between your customer and your wife. As you prepare your pitch, practice with a significant other or close friend. How do they react to your sales trailer? Instead of making the focus of your sale be on making your product seem interesting, make your customer feel interested.

“Monkeys versus Humans”

Which would you rather have working for you: monkeys or humans? Ogilvy understood the rigors of the advertising world, and in order to get the best out of his team he treated them like human beings—humans as opposed to monkeys. He wrote: “We treat our people like human beings. We help them when they are in trouble-with their jobs, with illness, with alcoholism, and so on.”

What is your company culture? Do you know how your other co-workers are feeling? Often when we focus purely on results and not the salespeople, we don’t get the best results. Selling is a tough job and it can be incredibly draining if you don’t have a human connection with your coworkers, teammates, boss, and clients. Sales leaders should stop treating salespeople like monkeys and more like the human beings that they are. And you know why? Happy employees sell more.

“Never Stop Testing”

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

The more you test, the better your pitch. The same way you take the time to research your competitors, take it to research and improve your own offerings and pitch. Practice one version of your sales trailer or pitch for a few weeks. Notice if customers or prospects either react, question, or don’t react to it. Think about changing it slightly and trying this new version for a few weeks. Be disciplined about practicing these different versions and assessing which ones are working for you. Then, when you find one that really seems to grab people’s attention, get your entire team using it on a daily basis.

“Good Products Can Be Sold By Honest Advertising”

If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, you’ll be less effective in sales. In fact, you shouldn’t be selling something you don’t believe in. If the salesperson doesn’t believe in the product, that should be a big red flag to management. Note: this problem may be hard to nail down, as management often misunderstands a lack of results for poor salesmen instead of a poor product. Try to distinguish between the two and make changes to the offering if necessary.

You don’t have to use a “mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives” to sell your product or service. If your product is what you believe it is, honesty may be your best approach. Ogilvy said it simply when he wrote: “Good products can be sold by honest advertising. If you don’t think the product is good, you have no business to be advertising it.”

Be Picky When Choosing Clients

In addition, Ogilvy painstakingly took the time to only choose clients he believes he could serve. “We take immense pains to select our clients. It is true that we have selected a few clients who have not yet selected us, but we preserve in their pursuit, and we turn down an average of fifty-nine less desirable accounts every year.”

I was once told the success of an agency is when you can say more “no’s” then “yes’s” to new clients. Instead of trying to close every deal, close the right deal.

There’s a lot that sales people can learn from Confessions of an Advertising Man, and this is only a start to the great amount of advice he has to offer in his straightforward and no-bs book. We highly recommend it.