Archive Monthly Archives: February 2006

Shut The Hell Up Already

I honestly tried to stay away from the latest round of The Apprentice. The Donald continues to remind me how easily money can turn you into a fuzzy-headed, sleazy jerk… and his ideas on business are almost absurdly infantile.

Hark unto this: He did NOT earn his wealth with savvy business decisions. He cheats.

Anyway, that’s what the latest best-selling expose of the man says. And Trump is suing the author for saying it… which not only boosts sales of the book and gets the author on all the talk shows (smart move, Donny), but also leads one to believe there must be at least some truth to the allegations to cause such an over-reaction.

And yet… I have been sucked into the pathos of the show once again.

It’s like junk. One glance, and you just gotta see who gets fired.

Tonight was yet another great unintended business lesson, as it turns out. If you didn’t catch the show (and really, I only perk up during the last half hour, when the blood-letting begins in earnest), the zaftig princess talked her way into getting the boot. Donald was working up a lather over the incompetence of the self-annointed “Mensa genius” boy wonder sitting next to her, so close to firing the twerp that the “f” was burbling in his throat… when the princess piped up, trying to wedge some not-very-clever back-handed compliment into the ring.

Donald told her to shut up. She persisted. He tried to quiet her again. She simply could not close her yap.

And so he fired her. Just to shut her up. Was pissed off she made him do it, in fact… and he snarled at the boy wonder on his way out, threatening him with future abuse. Trump really, really, really wanted to fire the boy… but the princess forced his hand.

The lesson is just a bit deeper than the old “Art of War” saw about not interupting the destruction of an enemy.

When I was coming up the ranks, I sought out older salesmen who had honed their chops in the street, doing door-to-door sales. These guys — a vanishing breed — understand human behavior better than most psychotherapists.

And here is what they taught me: The biggest problem rookies have is not saying enough to make the sale. My friend Jeff Paul is a natural salesman, and he tells a story about his own training — when he was sticking to a script during his first face-to-face sales session with a prospect… and his gut just insisted that he add a final piece of salesmanship to the pitch.

He said — after delivering the memorized script of the “standard” pitch for the product — this: “Now, got get your check book and a pen.” This almost caused his trainer to have a coronary. It was too ballsy for most salesmen.

Not for Jeff. He sensed, correctly, that the pitch needed just a bit more oomph. And he provided it. He got the sale, and used that line forever after.

Most rookie marketers are way too timid about asking for the sale. They clam up too soon, and hope the prospect will fill in the blanks of the pitch — or just take certain things for granted. But that’s a piss-poor way to make a sale.

This is why long copy works. It’s a sales pitch. You have to establish a lot of things, like credibility, proof, features and benefits, plus lots and lots of urgent reasons why you should buy this stuff right now.

Skip the critical stuff, and your prospect simply doesn’t have enough ammo in his brain to make a buying decision.

But there’s another part to this equation: Once you have covered all your main points… and countered all the large objections to the sale… shut up.

Even if the silence seems deafening.

Even if every nerve in your body squirms, and you have to choke back words.

Even if you think you’re “losing” the sale by remaining quiet.

Just shut the hell up.

Here’s why: No one buys because a salesman talks them into the sale. You can’t sell by arguing, or by badgering, or by overwhelming the prospect with information.

Ultimately, the decision to buy happens inside the prospect’s head. Beyond your control.

All you can do is make the best pitch you can, and present your case as powerfully and urgently as possible.

Then, you have to let your pitch percolate in his internal juices.

If he buys, it will be because your pitch answered the main questions in his mind. You cannot predict what those questions will be (which is another reason you need long copy, or a long sales pitch). Often, I’ve discovered that out of several dozen bullets I’ve put into a piece… just ONE made the sale with most folks.

It might be the price, which you’ve justified in a way that he knows his wife will understand. It might be the opportunity for him to show up an arrogant brother-in-law you don’t know about. It might be the vague sex appeal, or the dream of telling his boss to go stuff it, or any of a thousand other reasons.

And guess what? Even if you were clairvoyant and KNEW what that “clinch it” reason was… you still couldn’t use that knowledge to force your prospect to buy.

Because he’d still have to go through that inner conversation deep inside his noggin.

Tonight, the princess believed she had something to say that would force The Donald to do what she wanted.

It was a rookie mistake. All she needed to do was note the laser focus Trump had on his target, which wasn’t her. And shut the hell up.

She couldn’t pull it off.

Hey — it wouldn’t be a good lesson if most people intuitively understood it, and did the right thing.

In the real world, this is advanced salesmanship.

Live and learn.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

The Rest Of Your Friggin’ Life

I caught some of the Olympic games, here and there, over the past two weeks. Kinda hard to get excited about curling, and it seems they’ve sucked most of the fun out of skiing, even… but the snowboarding chaos has some real promise.

I watch more for the unfolding human drama.

Not the drama of the games. Rather, the drama of the network coverage… which gets more hysterical and over-the-top each broadcast.

It’s a great lesson in human behavior.

I grew up wanting to be a journalist. I created “pretend” newspapers as a kid, and was on the newspaper staff in both high school and college. (Although, once it was known that I could draw cartoons, that became my “job” at both publications… which isolated me from the reporters.) Some of my favorite writers have been newspapermen — Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, “Red” Smith, Herb Caen.

But, geez Louise, I can’t imagine a kid wanting to be a reporter today. Writing well and getting to the bottom of things is, like, last on the list of what newspapers do now. It’s just ridiculous how little actual insight is provided into anything the media touches (“60 Minutes” excluded).

If I were growing up now, I’m have dreams of being a blogger — the only writers left on the planet who can escape censorship and actually think for themselves.

Anyway, the “story lines” invented by the media about the Olympics are getting very, very, very boring and predictable. That’s the fault of the reporters and the media overlords, who struggle to find something to please the “mass viewing audience”. In almost every human endeavor, pleasing “most people” means downgrading the quality to abysmal levels.

What’s worse, to my mind, is that the people doing the reporting (Bob Costas included) seem to regard athletes as alien species, so impossible to understand that all we can do is… well, make up stuff about them.

It’s just horseshit. I have the same problem with music critics who have never attempted to master an instrument. Or film reviewers who have zero acting experience. Or, on a more serious level, politicians who have no life experience dealing with people or bureaucracies or law.

I once read a smug, arrogant review of a Dire Straits concert by a woman who wrote — as if this were a fact everyone on the planet just of course agreed with her on — that Mark Knopfler was “never very good at playing the guitar”. Uh, okay. This would be same Mark Knopfler who was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame as a guitar player, and whose jaw-dropping masterpiece “Sultans of Swing” has been cited by other guitar greats as probably the best solo ever performed using a Fender Strat?

I read that review years ago, and it just stuck in my craw. Who hired that idiot writer? What small, ego-centric world did she live in that allowed her to hold such insane thoughts in her head without being challenged… and where the hell did she get off putting that nonsense into an article?

You can fill in your own examples for film review and politics, I’m sure. And I’m too tired tonight to get into the specifics of all the equally bone-headed stuff touted by false “experts” in marketing and advertising.

It’s one of the inherent problems of the Information Age — as more and more conduits for spreading info arrive, more writers are needed, and the ranks of good ones are alarmingly thin. The New York Times has to fill a thousand pages with words, even if their best thinkers and journalists are home sick with the flu.

The real trouble, as I see it, is that no one seems to give a shit anymore. Most people still get their news from television, which is pretty much like relying on your grandmother. There’s no punishment for writers who get the story wrong, no matter how much it riles people up. There’s no follow-through, no fact-checking, no editing at all. (In the publishing world, manuscripts now often go out the door as “finished” novels and books without so much as a grammar check.)

There are no adults in charge anymore.

Which, interestingly enough, actually makes for some very interesting situations.

Apparently — and I hope I don’t shock you here — most of the athletes at the Olympics are driven competitors who will accept nothing less than the gold medal. The silver or bronze is a humiliating insult… and not getting any medal at all is just inconceivable.

This, according to the reporters covering the events. One of the commentators said, in reference to the aging Russian ice skating star who choked during her event and had to “settle” for the bronze: “I cannot imagine what she will do with the rest of her life, now that her dream of Olympic gold has been shattered.”

Oh, please.

Now, I’m not a high-performing athlete… but I do know something about being driven. Y0u need basic drive to become an accomplished musician, to become a world-class writer, to get good at anything, really.

And I understand what high achievers mean when they say they will “settle for nothing less than total victory”… whether that victory is dominance in a market, marrying the prettiest girl in class, or winning the top prize.

That kind of hard-core self-motivation is necessary to squeeze out the best performance. Much to the chagrin of non-musicians, non-writers, and non-politicians, it takes a very disciplined dedication, for a very long time, to acheive great results. You don’t hit a home run the first time you pick up a bat, no matter how much you wish that was the way reality worked.

But most reporters, and most reviewers, and most critics in all fields never experience that kind of dedication. They believe they can “get the general idea” by dabbling around the edges of true expertise, and that’s plenty enough to give them the right to judge everyone else.

This, my friend, is misinformation. It just ain’t true.

You know what really happens when high achievers fail to reach their “dream” goal, whatever it might be?

I’ll tell you, because I happen to know.

They dust themselves off. They look for the next logical or possible step — whether it’s retirement from the ring, or diving back into practice.

And then… they keep on keeping on.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard came from Richard Nixon (of whom I am no fan). He said, early in his disaster-filled political career, that if you were going to fail… make sure you fail spectacularly. Don’t hold back.

In other words, go for the gusto… even if you come up short in the end.

Now, some athletes, ten years from now, will be bloated alchoholics boring the shit out of everyone about the good old days. I’ve been to several of my high school reunions — I’m a glutton for examining and rehashing the past — and while there are a dozen or so people I really enjoy seeing… I get the most kick out of checking up with the jocks and social elites for whom high school was the highlight of their life.

Those aren’t the high acheivers. Most of the truly successful types had it pretty miserable during high school (and most have no intention of ever going to even a single reunion). They nursed their wounds, learned their lessons, and moved on.

For people who feast on life, the goal isn’t to “win”, whatever the hell that means. No. The real goal is to live large, and attempt to pull off the grandest and most exciting adventures you can conceive of.

And, if you fail, you fail spectacularly.

My hat is off to the Russian chick. She went for it. I believe she’s going to be just fine through the years, despite not going home with the gold.

No matter what else happens in her life, they can never take the fact that she went for it away from her.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. I have — count ’em — two spots left at my upcoming Hot Seat Workshop here in Reno on March 11-12. To get the details, rush over to and read the letter I’ve posted. I will never hold another event like this again — it’s a LOT of work for me. But the payoff for the handful of attendees savvy enough to come is going to be earth-shaking.

If you’re at all interested, hurry.

The Unforgiving Human Funk

Insight Alert!

While scouring the press on this slow news day, I came across one of those “hmmm” items that get a little initial attention in the talk shows, and then fade away.

As a marketer, however, this is the juicy stuff that can help wake up your slumbering Inner Salesman.

The news came from a study by the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards… and if you can’t trust them, who can you trust in America today?

Okay, I have no idea who they are, but I know a number of financial planners, and they’re all pretty hooked into the varieties of greed that exist in the human heart. Their job, mostly, is to take chaos and create order… in the lives of people they otherwise would have nothing to do with.

You have to be worth some serious bucks before a planner will return your call. If you’re a rookie in business right now, one of your long-term goals should be to become the sort of financial mess a planner will deign to help straighten out.

Anyway, what this Board of Standards just released is a report verifying what most people who study human behavior have long suspected: Over 70% of lottery winners sqaunder it all away, eventually. A third have to declare bankrupcy.

We’re talking about people who score lottery wins of hundreds of millions here.

And they just do not have the skills to handle the windfall.

Psychologists will tell you that most people have a comfort zone they like to maintain. They crave routine, they crave the same things over and over (like eating in the same restaurant every week), they crave a daily life they can predict.

But they aren’t aware of these cravings. In fact, they will complain about the routines.

If you’re young and full of piss and vinegar, you may have experienced the opposite need — a drive to break free of the predictable and familiar, an urge to throw yourself into the strangeness of the wide world and test your ability to survive. This is why small towns in middle America continue to get smaller — the young-uns are leaving in droves for the bright lights.

But for most people, that urge drains away… replaced by a longing for the familiar and the predictable. If you’re lucky, you retain a taste for danger and newness… at least a little bit. In my experience, people who get to travel a lot in their youth continue to yearn for travel as they age. However, they want that travel to be a little less chaotic.

The world turns on routine. People get up to alarm clocks that never get changed, drive streets so familiar they blur in passing, perform duties at redundant jobs that require a calendar to remind you what day it is. And, for the bulk of the population, they like it that way.

Most of my readers are entrepreneurs. The successful entrepreneurs need to be reminded of how the rest of the world operates… because successful entrepreneurs are fidgety folks, always screwing around with their lives so that routine barely has a chance to settle in. The wannabe entrepreneurs hover at the doorway to this world, astounded at the amount of unpredictability required to move to each new level of success.

Easy test: If the idea of working without a safety net thrills you, you have entrepreneur blood in your veins. Welcome to our world. If the idea causes an anxiety attack, you may be better off with a desk job somewhere, getting a paycheck.

For entrepreneurs, it is imperative that you understand human beings better than they understand themselves. This can cause some painful self-evaluation, but in the end you become a better person for your insight.

And what you learn also helps you become a killer salesman. You cannot sell well if you are blind to the motivations, desires, and weak spots like greed in your prospect.

Thus, the importance of this lottery infomation.

People buy lottery tickets because their greed gland kicks in. They think they want a life filled with cash. It’s a hazy, vague kind of thinking, but it opens their wallet.

Yet, winning often stuns them. I live in a town filled with casinos, and when friends visit, we almost always trek down to the gambling floors. People will pour cash into machines and throw it across felt for hours… and yet, if they win big, they almost exhibit a sense of altered consciousness that makes them act silly. “I never win anything,” they often say.

So why do they continue to gamble?

I will tell you this — many people who regularly buy lottery tickets will hear about this study, and believe it totally. Regular guy wins the lotto, wife leaves, friends hate him, he ends up in the gutter, broke. It’s the kind of story that would circulate even if it was bullshit… the fact it’s often true will just amp up the rumor factor.

But no one will stop buying lottery tickets. Think about that. What does that tell you about human behavior?

If you sell information — or if the main benefit of your product or service is a better life — then you, too, are selling dreams. Most people believe they want a “better life”… and believe that more money can help deliver it. People who have been there know this to be untrue, mostly… but other folks still want the opportunity to find out for themselves.

You cannot get hung up on the idea that many of your customers will not follow through with what you offer. They won’t read what you write, won’t watch your DVDs, won’t act on any of your advice. This doesn’t mean you aren’t filling a need in their life — it just means that, no matter how much you push and cajole, you cannot force them to become motivated to move forward.

With most information, the reality of moving forward is very much like the reality of suddenly becoming wealthy. Your life becomes so different from what you were comfortable with before, that you get discombobolated. Lose your sense of balance, of who you are and where you fit in your circle of friends and family.

Climbing out of your comfort zone requries a little skill at redisovering who you are and what you want. It also challenges everyone around you, and that can cause emotional havoc. What do you say to friends when the conversation turns to complaining about rich people, or about trouble paying the bills? How do you handle that first pitch from an in-law to borrow a bunch of money… only to discover they have no intention of ever paying you back? What happens to your self image when you catch people talking about you behind your back… because you’re no longer “one of them”?

It’s not the money that ruins lottery winners. It’s the sudden collapse of their comfort zones. When you no longer need to go to a job, you have 40 hours a week to fill up. If all your friends are from the job, you’re now a stranger in a strange land.

Consider all these implications. If what you sell requires any kind of change — even if it’s just a small change — then no matter how excited you get your prospect, he will resist buying if you take him too far out of his comfort zone. He probably won’t even understand his own resistance.

This is one of the biggest obstacles you will encounter. I consult with people all the time who have a great product, but can’t make the sale because they are simply flabbergasted when rational prospects hesitate to buy.

No matter how good your product is at helping people create better lives… often, unconsciously, they are just happier in their familiar funk.

Know your obstacles. Don’t try to sell in the dark.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

Whose Experience Is It, Anyway?

One the reasons I’m a good teacher… is because I suck at being a good student.

I have to re-learn my lessons over and over… and over again. Painfully, sometimes. That’s good for anyone wanting to learn from me, because my repeated “take overs” mean I know the territory better than most… and I have “experimented” with the learning curve so much I understand every obstacle you will encounter trying to weld the most important principles and lessons to your brain.

I’m not stupid (in spite of what anyone else may have told you). And I love the learning process. My problem is being too generous — I’ve always had a “can do” attitude, and I really enjoy helping people. So, sometimes I let my enthusiasm for sharing and teaching overwhelm the “rules” I’ve developed over the decades that have been the foundation of my successful career.

Here’s a good example… one that I think holds a great overall lesson for all of us.

Here’s the story: The “marketing model” I use involves lots of straight-ahead “content”… meaning, I give out oodles of good, useable info and only occasionally (and gently) pitch anything. For years, my newsletter mailed out with just the newsletter — it was pure information, with no selling whatsoever.

This blog, too, is mostly info-dense. (I’ve been reminding people of the upcoming workshop because it’s such a rare event, and almost upon us.) People rely on me for delivering the goods, and I do my best to comply.

Part of the reason for this “lots of info, very little selling” model is because what I offer people is — there’s no other way to describe it — deep. It’s not paper-thin theory, and not surface-level crap ripped from other people’s experiences. What I share are the proven tactics, concepts and insider savvy from my many years in the front line trenches of the advertising world. This is what I do. This is how I earned my rep, project by project, over decades of success and trial and error.

A larger part of the reason for this model, however, is that I’m clearly not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not going to change my attitude, my teaching style or my quirks (especially not my quirks) in order to be “more accessible” to a bigger audience. Screw the “bigger audience” out there. I’m after hard-core marketers who are aggressively seeking major success, and come looking for just the kind of insider advice I offer.

I don’t want the many problems inherent in trying to appeal to “uninitiated” crowds. My refund rate for the “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets” course is so miniscule, it doesn’t even show up as a whole percentage point. If I were my own client, I’d advise myself that I’m not pushing hard enough — a good marketer should be getting around 7%-to-15% refunds. That’s normal, and from my experience, the average. Even with a super-killer product, some refunds are unavoidable.

But I’m not approaching my teaching gig as a normal marketer. This is a side project with me — my main gig is still as a freelance writer, and I still service a core group of clients who rely on me for that. The teaching is something I’m doing to, yes, earn extra money from… but more important, it’s my way of giving something back to the industry that has given me so much. Like the guy on “My Name Is Earl”, I learned long ago that karma is a very real component of the universe. Also, I enjoy the way I feel when I share my expertise with others.

Now, by avoiding the “hard sell” with my teaching gig, I seldom encounter anyone seeking private consultation who isn’t hip to what I’m about. Everyone I do critiques for is an Insider with me, well-schooled in the basics I teach, aware of my reasons for insisting on certain tactics and concepts, and willing to put their precious ego aside and learn.

Long ago, in fact, I made a rule with myself that I would avoid, at all costs, directly dealing with anyone who was not completely and thoroughly initiated to the ways I operate. (That’s why it’s so much more expensive to attend any event I have if you aren’t already at least a subscriber to the Rant newsletter.)

Because, as I said, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

Every once in a while, I’ll speak at a someone’s seminar, and discover the crowd is packed with neophytes who refuse to believe that long copy works better than short copy… or that having a specific call to action is necessary for a sales pitch to succeed… or that Madison Avenue’s idea of ads (lots of irrelevant graphics, gratuitous ironic comedy, an embarrassed refusal to even attempt to sell) is just plain wrong, wrong, wrong.

And that almost always signals a major bummer for me. I don’t mind teaching the raw basics… but I know from brutal experience that just the building-block concept of long copy versus short copy is something that most businessmen have a very hard time believing. Even with proof. Even when the proof shows up in their bank account.

And when you can’t get past that basic concept, you’re really not gonna understand the advanced stuff.

Most of the marketing world will never “get” the basics of classic direct response salesmanship.

Which is fine. It’s also the reason I don’t push too hard to get people into my world. If you get hung up on the basics (which veterans know from long experience is as close to gospel as you get in business), then none of the advanced stuff I teach is going to make a difference to you.

Still, as I said, I have a glitch in my internal operating software that makes me violate my own rules over and over.

Yesterday, I did a phone consultation with someone who was not initiated into my teaching substance or style. I agreed to it, because one of my older clients insisted on it, and I’m a sucker for a heartfelt pitch.

And — no big surprise — the call went sideways from around minute number two.

Now, if you’ve done a phone consultation with me before, you know that I let you control the call however you want. You can interupt me, go off on any tangent you like, pepper me with questions or sit back and join me in a long, story-filled rant on whatever subject hits the table.

This works fine with almost everyone.

And the reason it works fine with almost everyone is that I normally refuse to do phone consultations with anyone not inititated.

The client who set this consultation up is a big fan of mine, and a terrific marketer. He unabashedly credits the single hour consultation he did with me a few years ago as launching his business — he received a massive payload of specific tactics, concepts and techniques during his call that immediately propelled him to the head of the class in his market.

And so, when his friend encountered a marketing dilemna, he urged this friend to do a consultation with me.

There’s a very important lesson here: When I teach salesmanship, I talk about “waking up your inner salesman” by doing something as simple as trying to convince a friend to go see a movie you know he’d enjoy (but wasn’t planning to go see).

I do this because of the incredible lesson in human behavioral psychology that occurs.

Try it. What you will encounter is the phenomenon of “resistance”. The more enthusiasm you show, and the more you insist your friend go to this movie… the more he will resist. This illuminates the basic mistake rookies make when trying to close a sale — believing that your enthusiasm will influence your prospect’s decision. It won’t. In fact, it can interfere.

This is why a world-class sales pitch is not a straight-on assault of bullying, but a nuanced progression of overcoming obstacles to the exchange of money. You must allow the prospect to make his own decision — and you do that by giving him reasons to do it. Not by insisting he do it, and not by trying to bowl him over with enthusiasm.

In fact, in the movie example… if you DO get him to go see the movie, guess what? He will very likely hate it. It’s very rare that he will have the same amazing experience you did. People do like to be led, but they don’t like to be forced to do anything.

That’s what happened with this botched consultation. The caller was pretty much just doing it to get my former client to shut up already about how much I’d helped him. He came to the call with a “I already know all this” attitude, had a totally unrealistic preconception of what to expect… and, as he anitcipated, had a bad time.

It wasn’t his fault. He had some notion built up in his head of how the call was going to go, and this notion was not based on knowing me, or knowing anything about what to expect from me. It was very much like going to a French restaurant wanting Mexican food, and being disappointed when you can’t get it. No matter how clear you are with the waiter about what you “want”, you’re not gonna get it if it ain’t on the menu.

I gave the guy a million dollars worth of advice, but it didn’t penetrate. Again, not his fault. The call should have never happened… at least until after he was initiated.

For you, and anyone else involved in marketing to humans, the lesson is the same. You cannot close the sale if you must rely on educating your prospect — to bring him up to a certain level of understanding, or to initiate him to a way of thinking. If what you offer involves education, you need to follow the marketing model of building a list with free or low-cost content, and nurturing it carefully so that when the major buying decision is made, it’s gonna stick.

I imagine I’ll have to keep relearning this lesson, too… because I’m kind of a soft touch when it comes to agreeing to help people. I set up rules both to protect my time, conserve my energy, and keep myself somewhat sane.

But I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t violate these rules once in a while.

And I wouldn’t be the teacher I am if I didn’t appreciate the opportunity to re-learn the lesson again, and incorporate the new input to refine it.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton


Interesting story going around about motivation. Researchers discovered that “planning” to quit smoking or lose weight — as in New Year’s resolutions — was almost a guaranteed way to fail.

The only sure-fire way to quit, or lose, is to have a health crisis.

That was my experience. I smoked for ten years — my idol was Humphrey Bogart, and I was under the delusion that having a cig hanging from my lips made me look debonair or something. And I only quit after suffering severe bronchitis (headed for pneumonia).

Two years in a row. Got sick, quit… started again… got sick again… and finally quit for good the second time. That was over thirty years ago. I still have the occasional craving for a smoke — there’s nothing that replaces the joy of flooding your system with nicotine during a break from writing. Nothing.

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And yet, I never indulge.

Apparently, people who plan their escape from bad habits and/or unwanted weight the most obsessively…

… are the ones to bet on to fail most spectacularly.

I remember many friends trying hypnosis, counselling, and lots of tricks (like wrapping their packs of cigarettes in rubber bands, so it was a hassle to get one out). Nothing that involved forced discipline or avoiding cold turkey worked very well. My friends who tried the craze diets — like the Atkins — became insufferable bores on the subject… and the evangelism lasted until the day they fell off the wagon with a thud.

I’ve been studying life-change for decades.

I am living proof that you can change your life radically, almsot overnight… using nothing but a few tools like a pile of self-help books (such as “Think and Grow Rich“), a glimpse at the path you want to take, and a “gun to the head” attitude that refuses to recognize failure as an option.

And yet, even friends who have watched the transformation refuse to see it as something they could repeat themselves. They stop talking to me about their problems the second I interupt their whine and offer concrete steps to take.

They really aren’t ready to change yet, you see. They just want to wallow in misery, and they resent any attempt to remind them they have choices..

I was thinking about this while talking with an old friend who suddenly has to change his ways… because he had a heart attack. Two stark choices: Lose the Type A behavior patterns and live… or get back on the workaholic treadmill and die soon.

And I have another friend, who had one of those birthdays that hit him like a brick. He’s suddenly no longer young and full of potential — he’s middle-aged, with dwindling opportunity to “grow up” (as he calls it) and either do what he wants to do with his life, or continine the drudgery of his “life on hold” habits.

He’s depressed. It’s bad. Something’s gotta give… and it could very well be that he merely comes to terms with never going after what he truly wants in life. That will be a shame… but it won’t be an uncommon choice.

They’re not asking me for advice, mind you. They know what I would tell them:

  • Quick dicking around, and jump into life with renewed purpose and motivation.
  • Go after what you want.
  • Stop pretending life comes with a “do over” switch, or extra chances after time has elapsed.

I mean, if you’re a Type A workaholic, and you haven’t yet had your little face-to-face with eternity moment… why not change now, while you’ve got extra energy, and won’t have to spend a couple of years recuperating?

Just skip the heart attack part, and change now.

And if you’re avoiding changing your life, and it’s bothering you because you just know you won’t be happy if you find yourself on your deathbed without having written that novel, or travelled to India, or gotten a tatoo, or whatever… why not skip the coming depression and just change now?

I’m serious. Why not?

Your biology is set against you. All your plans will likely go for naught, because we aren’t wired to change without drastic motivation.

Then again, it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Many people DO change without a health crisis or nervous breakdown.

And they’re not lucky, either — they’re just done with walking around like a zombie, waiting for Fate to intervene.

No one gets out of here alive. What you do during the time you’re given is completely up to you. What you’re doing now is the result of choices you’ve made in the past. You can’t undo many of them, but so what?

  • People travel with kids in tow.
  • Novelists finish great works while holding down a day job.
  • Entire families have changed entire lifestyles, leaving the suburbs behind.
  • Broke and clueless people have tapped into the Information Age and become rich and clued-in.

Pursuing another path may not immediately bring you oodles of happy moments and the dream life you want. However, it’s for sure you won’t find what you seek if you don’t take that first step.

It really is all about motivation.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

PS: If you’re looking for some motivation to up your marketing game, you’ll find a massive  treasure trove right here.

Take This Humor Test

Quick story about the last email you may have received from me: If you’ve been reading my blogs and/or newsletters and other material, you know I’m not everybody’s cup of tea.

I don’t pretend to be. I don’t want to be. In fact, the only way I could convince myself to enter this teaching gig was to promise myself I would never put a muzzle on.

I’m not a gutter-mouthed maniac, but I do tend to piss off a number of people now and again. Most of the time it’s innocent.

Occasionally, though, I do it on purpose. To cull the herd.

Let me explain with a quick example. Below is the brief email I sent out a few days ago. Read it again, even if you’ve already seen it, because what follows is pretty interesting. Here’s the text in the email:


I recently received a funny email from a semi-desperate friend with this message: “John, I think my emails aren’t getting through to you. Please email back if you don’t get this one, either.”

Uh… okay.

I feel like I’m in the same boat, though. I’ve sent out tens of thousands of emails explaining the details of my rare, and very unique (and probably never to be offered again) Hot Seat Workshop… and yet today I have received several emails from colleagues telling me they’ve not seen a single email on the subject.

The workshop is barely over a month away, and about to be closed (because I can only take a small number of people, due to the intense personal attention I’m giving each attendee). The stunning ability of spam filters to gobble up my emails is now officially driving me nuts. So, I am trying one more time to reach you.

Please go to and see if this amazing event is something you should be checking out. I’m sorry for the rush, but I’ve been knocked around by technology a bit these past months. I’m sure you know the drill.

On a small technical note, the other emails were sent as “plain text”… so I’m sending this one as HTML, just to see what happens. Easier to track.

Email back if you don’t get this, okay?



All right. That was the email.

I got a ton of responses back full of smiley faces and typographical grins, saying “Sorry, John, I didn’t get this one either.” They enjoyed the little joke.

And, I got a lot of good advice regarding email blasts — tips on increasing deliverability, referrals to other list managing companies, a whole mini-education. I’m already pretty hip to most of it (I’ve blown through every major list joint out there, and they all mostly suck) but I appreciate anyone who takes the time to offer their take on the situation. Things are changing daily, and it’s good to stay in the cutting-edge loop.

But I also got some real eye-opener responses. Doozies.


Big sigh from me. I may not always be the funniest guy in the room, but I’m usually in the neighborhood. I enjoy all kinds of humor, from rude to crude to sophisticated and subtle. I love to laugh. I glow when I’ve made someone else laugh. I’ve been at it all my life.

All of my close friends and colleagues are big laughers. Even in the face of certain doom, we’re cracking wise.

And sometimes I forget a major lesson of classic salesmanship: Most people do NOT possess even an ounce of a sense of humor. About anything.

This is often hard for go-getters and popular people to grasp. If you love to laugh, you’ve probably surrounded yourself with people who share your enthusiasm for the heartfelt guffaw.

But killer salesmen know that assuming your prospect has a sense of humor can kill your pitch.

There are a number of recent university studies on humor… and they’re chilling. Many of the people around you who laugh at jokes, or are always ready with a joke to tell… actually are faking it.

They have learned to look for cues from other people, and to laugh when others laugh. They have no clue why the joke they’ve just told is causing people to gasp with laughter. They’re smiling and going along, because they’ve learned to.

It’s not quite sociopathology… but it’s close. I’ve hung out with a number of people (mostly male) who had learned to dominate any room they were in. They shook hands with gusto, smiling from ear to ear, and did what I call the Alpha Male Dance — which included monopolizing all conversation by telling one joke after another.

But it was an act. Sometimes literally — I soon realized they had actually memorized stand-up routines and comedy albums, and were reciting them word for word.

Underneath, they possessed not a shred of a sense of real humor. Their inner lives were mirthless. They were faking it.

This appalled me. Laughter has gotten me through every tough time in life — and heightened the pleasure of the good times — and I would shrivel without it. My family and friends all live to laugh, and we all love to go back and forth cracking each other up.

It’s not competition, either. It’s called “wit”. Few of my close friends bother to memorize jokes. Jokes are not conversation — they’re just memorized ways to command the spotlight. I like the occasional good one… but it’s excruciating to sit through bad ones. If I repeat a joke, it’s because it’s viciously short, and wicked funny.

Wit is the back-and-forth of intelligent minds riffing on a subject. It works best when you know, or feel you know, the other people. And when everybody gets in on the fun, and no one dominates. There is competition for the funniest riposte, but you congratulate — when you can catch your breath — the person who did it.

You win when everybody wins.

Now… back to marketing.

When I first started publishing my newsletter, the Rant, I got a lot of mail warning me to “tone it down”. Several people who identified themselves as “top businessmen” (the first clue: no actual top businessman has to identify himself) told me I was an idiot for “alienating” any part of my target market.

And, as I said, most classic salesmen would agree.

Ah, but separating the clueless from the clued-in is the key to the most advanced lesson of world-class copywriting you’ll ever discover. This is bigger than the basics.

See, trying to please everyone will just make your copy limp and lame and boooooring. You won’t offend anyone… but you won’t sell a lot of stuff, either.

Reading is a passive behavior. Your job as a copywriter is to wake your reader up, light a fire under his ass… and get him so riled and hell-bent on possessing what you offer that he will open his wallet and give you money. That’s the hardest thing to accomplish in human interaction, getting a stranger to part with cash.

That’s why learning the cool advanced salesmanship stuff is so important.

Great copy is dangerous, not dull. You’re trying to wake people up, and challenge their zombie state… not send them deeper into slumber-land.

The people I may offend are all from the mushy part of the market. They don’t belong on my list, and they won’t get anything out of my teaching. I don’t want to sell them. They’re not on my marketing radar.

They’re not bad people. I do not wish them ill.

But I do wish they would leave quietly and let the rest of us enjoy our fun.

This guy “Dale” is not unique. He simply did not get the deprecating humor I was applying in the email. It wasn’t a big deal — just an mildly amusing idea I had bouncing around my head all day, and I decided to share the fun with my list. (I really did get that first desperate email from a friend, who was embarrassed when I pointed out — laughing — that I couldn’t… oh, never mind.)

Sorry I offended you, Dale.

Sorry you didn’t get the joke.

And, yes, you’re off the list. Sleep peacefully, knowing you will never again be bothered by my efforts to put a smile on your grim mug. I will never compromise my writing to please the frowning creeps out there. I’m doing just fine with a slightly smaller list that gets the humor. Even the ironic stuff.

For the rest of you — the ones who contact me in droves, happy to share your joy with me and appreciative of my efforts to give you a little inside peek at the wacky world of veteran copywriters I inhabit… well, allow me to thank you for being there. You make this teaching gig worthwhile.

Business and life does not have to be, and shouldn’t be, dry and humorless. There are people — lots of them — who will continually try to suck the fun out of everything.

Don’t let ’em get away with it.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. Final note… if you’re not on my email list, and want to be, just drop my assistant a quick email: Be sure to write “Put me on John’s list” in the subject line, so you don’t get deleted as spam.

And… if you ARE on my email lists, but haven’t been receiving my email, you’ve probably filtered me out. Silly. I don’t have time to go through a zillion Spam Arrest hoops… so please, clear the way for my emails. They will only come from three emails:,, or I promise not to bore you.

Okay, I’m done. I have this sudden urge to go drink a beer and watch the Monty Python “Spam” routine, which I have on DVD. Brilliant!

Enjoy your evening.