Part Deux: The Continuing Saga of the Sales Challenged Geek

And the firestorm continues to rage.

There are a number of issues that have reared their ugly head since I posted the first “Sales Challenged Geek” piece here. I’ve got a lot to say, so let’s just take ’em on one at a time:

1. The skills behind world-class salesmanship are aggressively misunderstood by most people. This is exemplified by the polls taken by news organizations after the annual blitz of Super Bowl ads: They ask which ad was the “best”… and millions of people toss in their two cents.

This is marvelous theater… but a piss-poor way to judge the effectiveness of advertising.

People believe they understand the function of advertising, because they’ve seen so much of it over their lifetime.

And yet, almost universally, they are dead wrong about what makes an ad “good”.

There is just one way for a biz to judge the quality of any ad they run: Does it work?

Not, does it entertain? Not, is it inoffensive in every conceivable way, so no one gets riled up? And certainly not, does your spouse “like” it?

If you are a rookie in business, please take this one piece of advice from a grizzled veteran: Be VERY careful who you take advice from.

You can gather two dozen of your closest, most trusted friends, and ask them for advice on how to market your biz. Their hearts will be in the right place, they will be sincere, and many will honestly believe they understand the function of advertising enough to confidently tell you exactly what to do and what to avoid.

And, if none of your friends has any actual experience in marketing… you can bet all that wonderful advice will be somewhere around 100% wrong.

World-class salesmanship may not be rocket science… but it is a very non-intuitive set of learned skills on par with, say, learning to play a musical instrument. It’s not normally part of the original equipment issued when you come into this world.

And, fortunately, your business can probably get by with less than world-class salesmanship… but you do need to at least need to learn the basics. The equivalent of learning to play a simple song on the piano all the way through, to follow the analogy. (And keep in mind, most people screw up “Chopsticks”… and can’t even clap in time to a simple beat.)

These analogies are important, because the default belief out there about advertising and marketing is aggressively wrong. You can see this in some of the comments left on my last post — people are so sure that what they believe about long copy is the Truth (with a capital “T”), that they will not hesitate to argue with people who make their living at it.

This is not surprising to hardened advertising veterans, by the way. We know from experience that belief always trumps logic (and even science).

You will never change someone’s mind just because you have facts and results on your side. People will stubbornly cling to a welded-in belief even when it clearly is hurting them. (Before I learned to parse out the most oblivious clients as a freelancer, I was frequently faced with biz owners who would interfere with a winning ad… because their spouse “had a better idea”… and refuse to admit they’d made a mistake even as their profits plummeted.)

The illogical nature of the human mind is precisely why high-end salesmanship causes such outrage among the clueless — it’s often counter-intuitive, and, yes, psychologically manipulative.

2. The stunning power behind this psychological manipulation is exactly why I urge people to study salesmanship — especially how it’s used in advertising copy — even if they aren’t going to be writing their own ads.

If you are so clueless that a stark “take away” tactic in a pitch is gonna make you swoon with uncontrolled desire for something you don’t really want… then you’re not going to live a very good life.

You are, in fact, an A-1 sucker.

And I don’t want ANYONE to go around being suckered, or conned, or manipulated. If I could re-design the world, I’d make the art of persuasion part of our basic equipment.

But that’s not the way the world works.

In my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel”, I am emphatic (in the opening chapter) about hoping that anyone using these proven salesmanship tactics for unethical reasons… will go straight to Hell.

And I’m serious. Good direct marketing techniques probably deserve the black eye they have in the public’s mind. The entire advertising industry has a long history of touting rotten products, and scamsters make full use of every tactic in the book.

But that doesn’t make the tactics “bad”.

Listen carefully: Scamsters use the selling models they use… because those models work. Duh. Most cons know they only have ONE chance at a sale (cuz they probably need to either leave town fast, or take down their Website before being traced). So they don’t dick around with techniques that don’t get results.

None of us like this situation. In a perfect world, all scam artists would spontaneously burst into flames the moment they entered illegal territory.

But that’s not what happens.

The Web has opened the floodgates of scams that used to operate at the fringe of socieity. Back in the pre-wired days, most scams were conducted face-to-face, individually. Direct mail was too expensive, and newspapers wouldn’t accept print ads from identifiable con men.

Now, though, even the most pit-bull spam filter can’t begin to catch all the illicit and criminal crap hitting your inbox every hour of every day. Cheap email has made it profitable for crooks to spam.

But none of this discredits the effectiveness of good salesmanship.

3. Why not?

Because successful marketers understand the inherently hostile relationship between seller and buyer. The marketing graveyard is crammed to bursting with fabulous products that failed… because the marketing sucked.

And you’re using products right now, every hour of every day, that are overpriced, under-performing, and right on schedule to be obsolete long before you’ve gotten full value. (How’s that nifty new iPhone working out for ya?)

Sellers want to get the best price they can, while delivering what they believe is decent value.

Buyers want to get the most bang for thier buck, scoring the biggest bargain possible.

And that’s just on the surface.

Further down, in the murky depths where all psychological battles are fought, it starts to get really interesting.

Even the simplest transaction is fraught with peril for both seller and buyer. Say you need some nails, cuz your hammer’s lonely. Unless you’re a carpenter, you’re gonna find yourself in Home Depot staring slack-jawed at a bewildering array of pointy-tipped products. Row after row of them, too.

A rookie might consider this the easiest kind of sale possible. Guy wants nails, you got nails… what’s the problem?

Information is the problem. Somewhere in that armada of sharp metal is the perfect nail for the job you have at home. But you don’t know where that nail is. Or how much you should pay for it.

Or even what quality of that type of nail you should get.

Enter advertising. First, probably, in the guise of the helpful employee, who tries to steer you to the right shelf. He’ll ask you questions, narrow down your search… and present you with a choice.

In most retail situations, it’s the old “good, better, best” choice. Sears started it — if price is your main consideration, we got these cheap-shit nails in a plain plastic bag. They’re good enough. If you want something better — and don’t mind paying a bit more — we got these other nails over here… better quality material, more trustworthy, probably some form of guarantee.

Or, if you want the best… we have the snooty brand name nails, in the sturdy box, with the rebate coupon, the free hammer, the endorsement of The Tool Guy, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Sure, they cost more. But doesn’t your hammer deserve the best?

This is all very advanced salesmanship, rife with psychological manipulation. The SAME mind game stuff used by scamsters, in fact. A little bit of take-away, a lot of credentializing, a whole bunch of risk-reversal.

And a complete rout of your objections.

You go to Home Depot for nails, you’re coming home with nails, dude.

Why is so much salesmanship needed for such a basic transaction?

Because of the perversity of the human mind. The guy who thought he knew what he needed is faced with a bewildering array of choices. His first thought is to flee. He’s thinking “I don’t want to make the wrong choice. My buddies would think I’m an idiot. Maybe I should ask my uncle about this first…” and so on.

The objections pile up fast and furious. Because the desire to buy, and the need to sell, are part of an inherently hostile interaction.

Yes, even when it seems to be in everyone’s best interest to have the deal go down.

And this is just for nails.

In the Information Age… with information and knowledge the stuff being sold and sought… the objections multiply quickly. With retail products, like nails, you can do cost comparisons right there in the store. You may even have a sense of what is too much, and what truly is a great bargain.

But how do you price information? Prospects come into your world with vague, unformed desires… and a straight checklist of features won’t do the job of selling them.

So here’s the bottom line: If you honsetly have a product of quality and worth… that your prospect truly needs and can make good use of… then it’s your JOB to do what you need to do to make the sale happen.

Shame on you if you let your prospect go away unhappy and unfulfilled and empty handed.

You gotta answer all his obvious questions… and counter the unconscious objections he isn’t even aware of yet. He needs rational reasons to buy, as well as irrational reasons to soothe his un-named fears.

So you explain the benefits. You establish yourself as a go-to guy. You help him understand why the price is what it is… and help him “fit” that price into his head. So he can confidentally explain to the doubters in his life why he just bought.

You remove his fear of being suckered. You let him know he got the better end of the bargain. You take away all risk, so he feels safe in buying right away.

But even deeper: You know (because you’re an uber-salesman) that he still won’t pull out his wallet if there is an easy way “out”. You know that even though he’ll kick himself later for not buying right then and there, and even though he wants it desperately… if he feels a lack of urgency, he will act against his own self-interest, and decline to close the deal.

Thus: You use limitations, deadlines, one-time offers, bonuses and whatever else you have in your arsenal to light a fire under his butt.

Because, as an experienced salesman, you know that once he leaves without buying, the odds of him returning later are very, very, very low. He walks, and you’ve lost the sale, most of the time.

Is this starting to make sense now?

4. The geeks who rail against the perceived scam-i-ness of long copy ads are engaging in another common human foible that all veteran salesmen recognize: The need to protect yourself against Voodoo.

People who do not understand advertising — but believe they do — are so terrified of being “taken”, that they set up a psychological “electric fence” around their brain. They become convinced they are so savvy about the wiles and tricks of marketing, that they are now immune.

One of the most dangerous aspects of unchecked belief systems is the false confidence they offer the believer. You can believe — with all your heart and soul — that you’re the baddest ass in the bar… the prettiest girl getting off the bus in Miami Beach… or the savviest hustler on the street.

And it’s always ugly when belief runs up against reality. Always.

You know what a world-class salesman wants to see in a prospect?

A tight wall of reasons why he’s NOT gonna buy.

You know why? Because even the most rock-solid psychological “electric fence” of resistance… is just a rickety pile of simple objections. You give a good salesman an objection, and he will reduce it to ashes.

All day long.

And when he’s done, you’ll be standing there thinking “He’s right. I do want that thing.”

Believe otherwise if you like. It’s your privilege to believe anything you want.

But old time door-to-door salesmen knew that the easiest marks on any block were the ones with the “No Solicitation” signs on the porch post.

5. This is why I want to teach salesmanship to everyone.

People who understand salesmanship lead better lives. Not because they’re better people… but because they are unencumbered with the burden of stupid beliefs.

And, they understand the process of selling that is going on in every store, on every Website, in every magazine, on every TV station… and between every set of humans alive — spouses, friends, neighbors, colleagues, enemies, and even strangers.

6. I’ll bet I get brow-beaten over this post in the comment section.

You challenge people’s beliefs at your own peril.

7. In fact, one comment kinda rankled me last time. Some yo-yo wrote “I don’t like what you’re pushing here”.


Dude, I am not pushing anything. This blog is free. And, if you’re honest about it, I’m delivering a ton of great info here.

For free.

I never push anyone into anything. You like what I’ve got to teach, and you want to go deeper with it, I’ve got courses and coaching programs. No, they’re not free. Neither is Harvard or Yale.

Is my advice worth the hefty price tag? Absolutely not, if you believe there is nothing I could teach you. Rock on, dude. I am not, and have never claimed to be, everyone’s cup of tea.

I earned my reputation as one of the highest-paid freelancers alive by getting results for over 25 years… often in the toughest markets out there. I’ve taught massive numbers of people the deep, dark arts of world-class copywriting and salesmanship for almost as long (and that would be why, my main site, is so crammed with excited testimonials).

So, disagree with me, if you must.

But don’t distort the argument. I never mentioned “get rich quick” schemes in my prior post. If you’re a geek who has made the sticky connection between long copy and scams in your head, that’s fine. Make a case for another path, by showing me results, though — not boring rants about your beliefs.

You know who uses long copy… with all the advanced salesmanship tactics available?

You’re not gonna like hearing this…

Reader’s Digest (they even use “grabbers” like pennies glued to their long-copy direct mail letters)…

Prevention Magazine point-of-purchase (published by the folks behind the mega-successful “South Beach Diet”)…

Men’s Health magazine…

Sharper Image catalogs…

Sky Mall catalogs (in the seat-pocket in front of you)…

The Wall Street Journal (owners of one of the most famous long-copy direct mail letters in history)…

Time-Life — their hour-long informericals for music CDs are legendary…

The ACLU… both political parties (and most third-party candidates)… and every charity out there: the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Cancer Society…

and on, and on, and on.

You think people bought iPods because of a few bitchin’ commercials featuring the Vines?


Apple orchestrated a tsumani of planned articles for a year in advance. Very much the equivalent of a stretched-out long copy ad… using every salesmanship trick in the book.

You think Ford and Toyota and the other car makers sell just from their splashy television spots? Get real. The big sales and rebates (great examples of desire-inflaming take-aways, by the way) are just to get you in the door. Once there, you are in for a spoken “long copy” sales pitch.

You wanna talk about scams?

How about the bullshit shoveled out by Big Pharma every night during prime time? Happy, healthy people dancing along tropical shores or sleeping like untroubled babies… while the list of admitted side effects are glossed over matter-of-factly (and the truly nasty side effects only make an appearance as headlines when people start dying).

Is Coke a “reputable” company? Nice, graphic-heavy ads. Nothing hard-sell, or offensive to be found.

Right. It’s sugar water. Not just with zero health benefits… but with negative health implications from the corn syrup, the fizz, the “secret ingredients”, even the caffeine.

In blind taste tests, I seem to recall, Pepsi even wins against Coke head-to-head… though Pepsi remains number two world-wide.

So, is it the nice, friendly ads doing all the selling?

Nope. It’s all about shelf position in the store, and monopoly status in restaurants and vending machines. Hard core, cutthroat, street-level salesmanship. They’re good at it, and have been for a century.

It costs them pennies to make the goop and bottle it. You pay a vast multiple of their cost for the privilege of dousing your guts with nutritionless sugar water. And the proceeds keep them fat, rich, and with an advertising budget bigger than the GDP of most nations.

And you’re pissed about the Nigerian bank scams, just because they offend your sense of “dignified advertising models”?

Well, okay, I’m outraged at the scamsters, too. They have sullied the skills of legitimate, world-class salesmanship, and given teachers like me an uphill battle when helping clueless newbies get their business chops together.

But really. Stop equating graphics-heavy, clever, entertaining ads with “reputable”. It’s bullshit.

And unless you take the trouble to at least learn the honest basics of real salesmanship, then you’re ripe for being a sucker over and over again for the rest of your days. In every human interaction you engage in, from buying crap to keeping the romance alive in your main relationships.

Get hip, stop fussing with belief systems, and get over your fear of Voodoo.

You can make your ads look nice. No rule against that.

But you cannot get world-class results without salesmanship. If you’re happy with your results, and content to be clueless, great. Carry on. Be well and happy.

But if you’re NOT happy with your results, then… just maybe… learning a few honest selling techniques can turn your life around.


I got on a friggin’ roll there…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • Ramon Thomas says:

    John you are telling it like it is. I know most of the Jeeks as we call them here in South Africa will never get this and that’s why I have such a good time laughing at them at the Geek dinners they host on a regular basis. They are all wanna be marketers or wanna be journalists and don’t understand the first thing about direct sales copywriting as you, Gary Halbert and Michel Fortin has taught me.

  • Greg Thompson says:

    Great follow-up post – I didn’t think the first one was quite harsh enough toward the geeks.

    Funny thing is, I used to be one of those geeks a long time ago until I finally saw the light.

    And until I read your first post (and checked out what those guys were saying), I had totally forgotten what it felt like to hold those old beliefs. Wow.

    I think you should do a post on “hate mail” and the like because I remember back when I first started, I wrote a good sales pitch and almost right away started to get an influx of hate mail.

    Some examples?

    Well, people pretending to be doctors e-mailing me trying to shut me down, people e-mailing me all the time just to tell me how much of a scam they think I am, people calling my house at 3am only to hang up (I later learned never to answer a call that had caller ID blocked), and so on and so on.

    All that almost made me want to quit… but I was making more money than I ever had so I pressed on… and I’m glad I did.

    I think you should talk about hate mail and stuff like that to give the new people a fresh look at what to expect and how to deal with it.

    Now I’m starting a new project and its even more ambitious so I expect the hate mail to come faster and more furious than ever before.

  • Danny Guspie says:

    What a “KICK-ASS” analysis John!

    You wrote:

    “Apple orchestrated a tsumani of planned articles for a year in advance. Very much the equivalent of a stretched-out long copy ad… using every salesmanship trick in the book.”

    Finding the post is synchronicity in action…

    Having come back a few weeks ago from Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula workshop in Denver, Heidi and I learned the very same thing by osmosis. Didn’t mean we could articulate it CLEARLY immediately either. But we will be doing so in a testimonial video we’ll be sending him…AND we’ll be referencing the above quote from your post.

    Jeff’s examples and explanations triggered the connection between using your sales copy as the template for integrating your storyline, conducting your ASK campaign to find and answer all objections and weave them into the sales letter and storyline (Using “the equivalent of a stretched-out long copy ad” or your web sites planned sales letter) as the basis for a Product Launch Sequence…

    It gave a lot of “meat” to the MindJet mindmaps he supplied us, and the amazing one I created during the weekend.

    Jeff shared the use of storyline, archetypes (Jeff’s “Reluctant Hero” for example…) and matching the “twists, turns and pivotal moments” of your sales letter to the “”twists, turns and pivotal moments”” of the storyline in your product launch.

    It was a real “AHA” moment, but one that has taken time to “metabolize” and “crystalize” into an action plan when writing sales copy, planning a PR campaign, advertising etc when launching a product and/or service.

    Your post has helped us to crystalize, confirm and articulate it at a higher level as we transition our off-line legal services for divorced dads business on line at

    as we prepare launching a teleseminar course for those fathers.

    It also has helped crystalize what needs to happen as we launch several products and services in another unrelated business – Podcast Marketing at:

    Which is in pre-pre launch, which is why we went to Jeff’s workshop. We’ve decided that this site needs to be our main blog/hub as opposed to what we have so far.

    We’ve been fortunate to work with Mike Filsaime on his podcast at

    The next installment (Episode 14) utilizes remote recording which we taught Mike who is in Long Island, while we are in Waterford, Ontario Canada. The podcast sounds like we are together in the studio. It comes out next week.

    This site is still in the early days of development as we work with our outsourcing team to put the systems in place to fine-tune the site so we can clone it gain again with several others such as Jeff Walker, Ken McArthur, Sylvie Fortin in the initial run. There’s a VERY special pre-sales WEB 2.0 / Podcast Marketing product coming from each of these marketers beginning this fall…

    And a big part of that will be creating a system to ” orchestrate a tsumani of planned articles in advance…” as part of our launch systems.

    So your post comes at a GREAT time. Thanks so much for sharing your hard earned your wisdom!

    Danny Guspie

  • Kyle says:

    Hey John, this post is too long for me to read the entire thing.

    Would you mind putting together a movie, or maybe a cartoon, with like a polar bear… maybe a penguin on a unicycle or something… that’ll really give me the essence of this post in about 20 seconds?

    That way I wouldn’t have to read it all… but I could understand exactly what you’re trying to say.


    As always, absolutely great post John.

  • Harun Bahri says:

    John, when I read your last post I just had to see what the geeks were saying.

    When I checked out the site — that was worth 30 minutes of laughter and crying it was so funny!

    And this post just rocks!
    You’ve crammed so many nuggets of good information here you should be charging people to read it. Seriously, there’s more advanced material for copywriters in this single post than in most programs for $197+!

    Now if I could only find the Print button… (when are you adding that feature?)

    As always, thanks for your insights and sharing the truth for those of us who WANT it and can handle it.

  • dave says:

    Great post and this is easily the “meatiest” internet marketing (and lifechanging advice in general) blog that I have ever read. Hats off to you JC and add me to your long list of groupies. 😉

  • Donna says:

    I joined the world of copywriting just over 2 years ago. I heard your name. Knew you were highly respected. I had been instructed to hand-write your copy (which I did), I even swiped some stuff – including my website! But you can’t follow more than one “mentor” at a time (or so I thought). So I never dug in to what you had to say.

    Then I met you for the first time.

    It was in San Fransico with Garfinkel and Kilstein in January of this year and I have yet to recover.

    I’m not sure exactly what happend over those few days. I don’t know what I THOUGHT I was doing back then, but reality has given me a whole new view.

    Since that time I have downloaded every issue of the Rant I can get my hands on – and have read most more than once. I have read nearly every blog post here – I could “listen” to you endlessly, taking pages and pages of notes in the middle of the night. I have joined your Coaching Forum (thank you for that BTW), and I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity.

    In short, you seriously have my attention. Kind of like a teacher’s slap up the side of the head.

    You can be sure I am grateful for the wake-up call.

    Thanks again!


  • […] John Carlton writes in his “Bid Damn Blog” about the power of being a true salesman, and about how many people think they know everything about Sales and marketing; when really they don’t. John has been making a living as a freelance salesman for 25 years, and he still gets comments on his blog of people arguing that he doesn’t know what he’s doing! Why? Because like so many other things, Sales is counter intuitive. […]

  • […] gets into it in his second post. I actually commented in similar form over on the other day. Brian mentioned that […]

  • John Dilbeck says:


    I think I’ve found a gold mine here.

    I’m a long-time computer consultant who is transitioning to marketing and much of the time I feel like I’m stumbling in the dark.

    I know there must be better ways to do what I want to do, but with no training in direct sales, salesmanship, or the technical aspects of marketing, it is a hard nut to crack.

    If anyone can recommend good books or resources that will help me understand how to identify and plan a real marketing campaign, I would be very grateful.

    I know I can learn it if I can find the best resources.

    Today is the first time I’ve been here and I’ll be looking into your other sites and products.

    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Act on your dream!


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