Knockin’ ‘Em Off The Fence

Sunday, 5:45pm
Reno, NV
There is no problem in the world that cannot be solved with a good sales letter.” (Gary Halbert)


Increasingly, I am teaching less about the technicalities of copywriting, and more about the subtle (and much ignored) art of salesmanship.

And this makes sense, given the nature of the Web. Copywriting is mostly a technical skill, something you can learn to do without actually understanding what it is, exactly, that you’re doing.

Sort of like learning to play songs on a guitar without having a clue how each chord relates to music theory — you just put your fingers like so on the fretboard, and strum.

One of the first things I did in the “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets” course was to lay out a blueprint for a basic ad. It’s almost “paint by numbers” — write something about you here, something about the product here, list some benefits here, etc.

I also laid out a way to capture a good spoken pitch, and transcribe it into a working ad.

Your fundamental, nothin’ fancy, stripped-down pitch.

The very best copywriters are artists, and understand every nuance of writing.

But for most projects, you don’t need to be a top copywriter — you just need to get the job done of presenting what you have, showing why it’s something your reader wants, and offering an easy way to get it.

As my pal Dan Kennedy likes to say:

Good enough is good enough.

For many of the entrepreneurs and small biz owners I deal with, creating an ad that is “good enough” to get a basic sales job done is all they need to get over the hump of moving into profitable territory.

And with the Web increasingly offering so much free info, you really can get most of the way “there” without paying a cent for anything.


… and it’s a BIG “however”…

… you will never get above the level of mediocre sales until you go deeper with your understanding of both copywriting AND salesmanship. (Just like the guitarist who never bothers to learn music theory will forever be locked into playing only the most simple tunes, and will get lost easily when playing with other musicians. It’s the difference between “Kumbaya” and “Take Five”.)

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This is why I wrote extensively about salesmanship in the “Kick Ass” course…

… and why I hid so many other advanced lessons on salesmanship in there, too.

True success in both business and life comes down to learning the psychology and real-world application of advanced salesmanship, not just the technical details of slamming out pitches or memorizing a few persuasion tricks.

Top copywriters are master sales pros, first.

The “form” of writing copy follows the “function” of knowing how to sell.

That’s why my course — and my seminars, and my coaching clubs, and everything else I do — remains so fundamentally different than what other people teach.

Because what most people need is a good, stiff shot of masterful salesmanship. Not more technical skill at copywriting, not more graphics knowledge, and not more of anything else.

Every once in a while, I come across a “natural” salesman. They are rare. And they intuitively understand what I’m trying to teach about using copy to channel killer selling chops.

But for most folks, trying to convince someone to buy remains a big damn mystery. This is particularly frustrating when you get your basic copywriting chops down — so your ad reads well, and covers all the basics — and yet you don’t convert as many sales as you’d hoped for.

So here is the mystery, solved:

It is actually EASY to get a prospect to say “Hey, that looks like a pretty nice product”, and even agree with you that he should probably buy it.

However, it is much more difficult to move to the next level… and get that same prospect to actually pull out his wallet and give you money.

Ready to take your marketing skills to the next level? Then rush right now to consume all the resources right over here.

This is where world-class salesmanship comes in. It’s not rocket science… but until you allow your stubborn little brain to digest the lessons, it will remain a mystery.

Even bad copywriters can coax a prospect to climb up and sit on the fence.

But it takes a deep knowledge of persuasion to knock him OFF that fence, and into your yard as a customer.

I used to have to hide the fact I was teaching so much classic salesmanship… because to many people, the whole concept seems fraught with scary implications of “mind control” and sleazy persuasion tricks.

Just get over it.

Everyone sells.

Almost every single human interaction involves some level of salesmanship — kids try to sell unrestricted access to the cookie jar to Mom… teens try to sell themselves as good dating material… every essay you ever wrote was a sales job for a good grade… politicians sell themselves for your vote… and every friend you have had to be “sold” on liking you, first.

People who get good at selling live better lives. Most people suck at selling, because they never pay attention to the process.

You can get through life without understanding salesmanship. But that’s all you’ll do — “get through” it.

The magic doesn’t happen until you start learning the tough lessons.

If you’re in business, and you ignore salesmanship, you’re toast. You can create a fabulous product, or present a fabulous service… and you can even get lots of prospects to eagerly tell you how great your product or service is, and how you should get filthy rich because it’s so great.

But that’s just piling prospects up on the fence, where they will sit forever if you don’t learn how to knock ’em off that fence.

Success is not about getting good PR or lots of pats on the back.

It’s about closing the deal.

Almost everything I write has a lesson in salesmanship hidden in it. It’s a little like teaching a kid about economics by giving him a dollar toward something he wants that costs two dollars — he’s got options and choices to make, and will have to learn to handle frustration and manage his dreams. He may not realize he’s learning basic capitalism, but he is.

And he learns absolutely nothing by you giving him the two bucks right off the bat.

And don’t get offended by the “child psychology” reference here. I had to learn most of my own lessons the hard way, and my mentors used the most cruel and insultingly-basic teaching methods possible.

Remember the car-washing exercises in “Karate Kid”?

Learning is painful. We’re all basically lazy beasts, resistant to new stuff. And the deep arts of classic salesmanship often run against the grain of “common sense”, or seem to come from left field.

But then, everything worth having takes some effort.

Every single lesson you learn nudges you a little further ahead than the other guy.

The big lesson here: Most mainstream advertising, at best, gets people up on the fence.

Just knowing that massive success requires learning how to knock them OFF that fence, puts you in a position to obliterate your competition.

If you lust after an extraordinary life, you need to master the tools of getting what you want.

And it’s all about salesmanship.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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  • Darwin says:

    Thanks for the reminder John. It seems it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance and then make excuses for lack of results. As you say is true, a bit of intensive learning and action with what we learn will get results most only dream of. You are doing a good job of being a marketing and salesmanship conscience. Thanks for sharing your expertise and hard learned knowledge.

  • Brian Ankner says:

    So true John, salesmanship is a neccessary factor for great copy, and natural salesmen are few and far between.

    I tried to train about a dozen people to do cold calling B2B sales with a no cost service to the merchant. Hard as I tried, most just couldn’t get it. Only 2 continued to do anything after I stopped holding their hands, and they stopped after only a few months.

    I tought the feel-felt-found, know-like-trust, need-want-afford simplified system, after all it was no cost to the store owner.

    When salesmanship comes naturally, it’s sometimes hard to understand why others have a hard time letting words flow. I found out quickly that not everyone can sell.

    I guess we should have run them through one of your courses first!

  • Will Hamilton says:

    You didn’t just “knock them off the fence” with this post, you cleared the wall for your basic Home Run! This is really good information, which I may take to our Tuesday Sales Meeting.

    Everyone, in my opinion, is totally capable of selling, because salesmanship is communicating the benefits in such a way that it reduces objections to a molehill. Actually, salesmanship is helping someone agree with the idea they already have to buy! To me the key is to really care about the people with whom you are interacting and finding something you have in common. No one wants to buy a copy machine…they want the copies. When I focus on the value I bring to the customer I can’t wait to see them and communicate how I can help them. When you focus more on the value you bring to the customer, the less you are concerned about their acceptance or rejection of you! They’re not rejecting you anyway.

    John, I hope you feel a sense of fulfillment with your writing, because you inspire people in quiet ways. I believe people who may never write or say much to you are still inspired by your work. Because of your help, these people are better equipped to go help others. Like the rock in the pond, the ripple effect of your guidance sends waves of confidence through their relationships with others…all because you had enough concern to sit down and share some of the wisdom you’ve gathered through time. Isn’t that awesome? Your concern is clearly evident in the feelings behind the thoughts you write! That’s really cool!
    Will Hamilton

  • Sarah Albers says:

    Having been the victim of salesmanship, I certainly understand the result of it (looking down to the empty wallet with a confused look on my face)…I am desperately trying to learn how to do it. I know I’ve been selling all my life, but not in the way that seems to invite commercial success.

    Rising above the basic insecurity about one’s own ability or “correctness” in selling (is this product truly what everyone needs, etc.) has always been my stumbling point. I’ve always thought that you truly have to believe in the product in order to be able to sell it. Maybe that’s why it has been hard to sell the massive amounts of sub-par internet marketing information products out there. No belief on my part.

    My huge remaining question is: How do you (as a master copywriter and salesman) make me (the ultimate consumer) throw away my better judgement and purchase things I can’t afford?

    I feel like I’m “this close” to the answer but not quite seeing the forest for the trees.

    Sarah Albers

  • John Miley says:


    It’s true. Lots of people can write well enough to get by, persuade others to take a look at their products, but few can whip the masses into a purchasing-hungry hoard of loyal customers.

    I have a tendency to sell from my heels, so it is a good reminder to get in there and be ready to move a person from a prospect to a purchaser, using honest language and no backpeddling.


    John Miley

  • I like this article. It’s true, everyone is trying to sell you something. Everyone has his own secret weapon, whether it’s a smile or a sweaty voice… Everyone has his own plan.

    Some people are experts, they understand psychology.

  • AlesMedvesek says:

    Hi John,
    I always love to read your thaughts, and this one, as all the others is a great one.
    Hovever, as a self learned guitar and saxophone player, and a guy who never understud one single lesson of music theory (I was a chouir singer but never learned to read the notes, self thaught guitar player and also in the last years saxophone and percussion), i must add, that you maybee forgot one thing. Some guys (i’m confident enough to claim that) are just born into music, and we are quite able to play along even when it comes to more complicated tunes. Because he “hear” the music, and are able to repeat the tune after we heard it one or two times in detail.
    And to corelate that with salemanship: well, some guys do it naturaly. And some of us can break our teeth at it even if we know all about the theory.
    But then again, i agreee, if we want to learn and actualy implement the theory into practice, there is also a chance for us to make it in this world :). They say taht talent is 5% and the rest is practice 🙂

    “stay frosty”
    with best regards,
    Aleš Medvešek

  • David says:

    “Almost every single human interaction involves some level of salesmanship — kids try to sell unrestricted access to the cookie jar to Mom… teens try to sell themselves as good dating material… every essay you ever wrote was a sales job for a good grade… politicians sell themselves for your vote… and every friend you have had to be “sold” on liking you, first.”

    When you apply “sell” and “salesmanship” to such a variety of human transactions, the words tend to become meaningless.

    And sales isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. Imagine if the airlines operated with the same effectiveness as a typical salesletter. 90%-95% of their passengers wouldn’t make it to their destination. “Oops…we just lost another one over Cleveland.” Or how happy would you be if your bank only returned 5% of your money?

    Selling represents a very narrow slice of life. Learning to get along with others is a much more worthy and helpful skill (which I haven’t mastered yet or I’d know how to be more tactful). For instance, my guess is the divorce rate is no better for sales people and copywriters than for other professions.

    “And it’s all about salesmanship.”

    When the only tool you have is a hammer, you may want to treat every challenge like a nail, but it won’t always be the best solution.

  • […] Even bad copywriters can coax a prospect to climb up and sit on the fence. But it takes a deep knowledge of persuasion to knock him OFF that fence, and into your yard as a customer. I used to have to hide the fact I was teaching so much … …Sportzia More […]

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