It's All Fun & Games Until…

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Saturday, 2:48pm
Tampa, FL
Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?” (Monty Python)


Special treat today on the blog.

Another guest post by our good friend, colleague and former stand-up comic (before his new career as killer copywriter), Kevin Rogers.

(Kevin is also the head writer for my Stable O’ Copywriters project, where you can find a recommended freelancer who meets my strict standards of professionalism — and who has my ear for consultations:

This cat is funny.  And every time Kevin and I hang out, I’m reminded of two things:

1. Nearly every top marketer and writer I know personally… has a shockingly-acute high-end sense of humor. (This explains the comraderie you see among the best in the biz.  We make each other laugh.)

2. And… there are awesomely valuable insights to life and success available in studying lessons in tales from the “vice squad”. (Meaning, that part of living well which includes hanging out, challenging the boundaries of sobriety, and squandering time laughing as hard as you can for as long as you can.)

Being funny won’t make you smarter.  And it doesn’t bestow an automatic deeper understanding of human behavior.

However… if you pay attention… you will discover insights and rules for living well that are simply not available to uptight folks.

That’s why I’ve asked Kevin to chime in again here.  This is his third guest post.  (The only other writer to have guest-posted here is my buddy David Garfinkel.)

So, without further ado… here’s Kevin.

Don’t try to read this while drinking carbonated beverages — it’s hell spitting it out through your nose while guffawing.

Take it, Kevin…


Hey, great to be here… let’s here it again for John Carlton folks… the only blogger in history to spark a 600 comment riot with a psychological Dixie cup riddle.

Let him know you love him, everyone… John Carlton.

Okay. No more stand-up comedy/copywriting anecdotes for this post.

Today I want to discuss something much more relevant to all serious marketers: Booze.

Not drinking, necessarily…

… but rather the art of ordering a cocktail.

You can tell a lot about someone by the way they order a drink… and there’s a great marketing lesson in that simple act that could be the “a-Ha!” moment of a lifetime.

First, a quick back-story…

Towards the end of my comedy career, when road life had finally reduced itself into a sappy Bob Seger song, I realized it was finally time to go legit (gasp!)…

… and so began my awkward re-entry to the great American workplace.

I was almost 30… and after a decade of stand-up, the only skills I could fudge on a resume were “long distance driving” and “heckler control”.

So, unless I wanted a new career as road manager for, say, a fledgling white ska band from Wisconsin, it was clear I would need to get me some education.

As luck would have it, The ABC Bartending School in Mount Prospect, Illinois was just about to kick off its summer session.  I dusted off my academic chops, dove in, and passed with flying colors.

A few happy coincidences later, I was manning the afternoon shift at one of the oldest taverns in Chicago. (By the way, first rule of tending a real bar: Never admit you graduated from bartending school.  You’ll get tagged as an elitist snob.)

This place had been slinging booze across the same soggy block of dead oak since before the days of Prohibition (during which they promptly began mixing bathtub gin and became a gangster-haven speakeasy).

The owner was a tough-as-nails but senile old broad named Marge. Every night she would stalk the bar like Mae West in silk pajamas with wild, silver bed-hair… chain-smoking Pall Malls that always seemed to be dangling two-inch ashes.

Marge lived above the tavern in a cluttered apartment reeking of spoiled fish and Ben Gay lotion, with a feisty parrot named “Billy” who cursed like a sailor and attacked my head every time I entered the room (usually to bring Marge cigarettes and remind her not to light them off the stove burner).

“Remember last time, Marge, when you forgot to turn off the burner and the firemen had to come?”

“Are they here now?”

“No Marge. Not right now.”

“Go down and buy them a drink on me.”

“Sure, Marge.”

And, fighting off Billy (as he squawked“Eat shit!” in a Kamikaze dive for my cowlick), I would retreat to the laboratory of marketing wisdom behind the bar downstairs.

Sell Like A Bartender,
Serve Like a Waitress.

Slinging cocktails at Marge’s really was an excellent introduction into the world of street-level selling.

Sure, there’s plenty of sales tactics in play during a live comedy performance…

… but tending bar is a pure closer’s game. (Which is why the gig pays less than the minimum wage.)

So, here is my Great Direct Response Lesson from the world of “saloon commerce”.  It lies in the stark difference between selling like a bartender… or serving like a waitress.

The attitudes a waitress and bartender bring to the sale are polar opposites for this simple reason: As a bartender, people come to you…

… while, as a waitress, you must go to them.

Important stuff here.  Listen up.

Let’s look at a typical cast of prospects for your business… as if they were patrons in a saloon.

Two thirsty patrons walk into a club. One approaches the bar, ready to buy… while the other grabs a seat at a table and looks for the waitress.

With that simple act, they have qualified themselves in very different ways.

When a prospect sits at a table, they are looking for guidance. They need more info. They want to be led, perhaps intellectually coddled, and certainly paid attention to.

So, it’s the waitress’s (or waiter’s) job to arrive at their table quickly, offer up a big friendly smile, get their order and help ’em feel they’ll be well taken care of.  Their happiness is her responsibility.

The other guy, who headed straight for the bar?  He’s ready to buy.  He’s being pro-active, rather than re-active.

An experienced bartender controls a shocking level of power. If the joint is crowded, he has total discretion over who gets served, in what order. So, it’s up to the patron to show the bartender they are worthy of his attention.

They should have money in hand and a cool, casual look that says: I know exactly what I’m ordering.

(If you’ve ever felt ignored by a harried bartender in a busy bar… it’s because you looked confused or kept your cash hidden in your pocket.  We have little time to babysit rookie drunks.)

It’s a good lesson, for any marketer.  There will always be these two wildly different types of prospect on your list.

The ones who wander over to tables to avoid the frenzy are looking for a very specific kind of service. They include the tire-kickers on your list — those annoying freebie-seekers who want to see how well you can serve them before they’ll make up their minds about you — as well as folks who will become life-time buyers.

However, customer service ranks high on their hierarchy of needs.  They wanna shop, they wanna interact.

Their money’s good… but they require patient attention.

Then there are the eager buyers. They elbow their way through the crowded bar, raise cash in the air, shout their order and tip well.

Low maintenance, independent, no-BS types with money to spend, and a definite goal in mind.

So, our job as marketers is to first get as many people into the place as possible…

… and then inspire as many as we can to crowd the bar and waive cash at us. That is the relationship you create with the right marketing strategy and top-shelf copy.

Eager buyers are your best customers, not just because they are comfortable spending money…

… but because they’re also the most likely to put your material to good use. Which leads to them achieving high-end results and then spreading the word.

Once your action-oriented, cash-in-hand buyers are all happily sipping their cocktails… it’s time to grab a tray and appease the higher-maintenance table sitters.

You do this by making sure you provide every prospect on your list the high-value content they need to get involved.

The main rule is to remember they are human — not just a pile of data. They breathe, and think and pay closer attention than you might think.

Talk to them like a good bartender would… once the crowd thins out and shouts have turned to mellow tones.

Listen to their problems. Offer wisdom without condescending. Attend to their needs patiently and expertly.  Let them find their best selves through you.

And whatever you do… don’t let that damn parrot into the bar. Nothing good is going to happen once he gets riled up.

Hey, you’ve been great. Enjoy Carrot Top!


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  • Toni says:

    Masterful story telling.
    You took me to that bar … I throughly enjoyed myself … and had a great night out. Thanks.

  • Man, I’m THIRSTY. Excellent post, Kev. Experiences any of us professional marketers, bar patrons, and drunks can relate to. Will you be here all week?


    • Kevin Rogers says:

      I will, and don’t forget about happy hour from open to close Monday… 2-4-1 well drinks and free brats while they last.

      Like we always say: it’s not a party till the redhead shows up.

  • Jim Allmon says:

    So… How’s the veal?

    Seriously… That was a superb analogy and worthy of study. Thanks for the insight.

  • outstanding!
    Great perspective, and quite true.
    Keep up the insider’s peek at humanity.
    Thank you.

  • tommyw says:

    I grew up in Mt.Prospect,Illimois. Small world. Next time you’re in town stop by my place – Captain Wannabees Copywriting School and Italian Beef.
    It’s located in the old Sammy Skobel’s hot dog emporium.

  • Brian McLeod says:

    Great post and totally creative metaphorical lesson, Kev…

    Makes me think that if the bartender is the smart marketer…

    And the bar patrons are your customers….

    Then the smokin’ band that packs the joint every Saturday night are your super-affiliates…

    It only makes sense to be sure you’re also giving them everything you can so they’ll deliver their best… and that ain’t just a discount on the bar tab.

    A clever bartender always make sure the singer has his pitcher of ice water and the lead guitar player gets his cold Becks and a shot of Jack in hand as they make their way to the stage for the second set…

    Because when the band is happy… and they’re rockin’ the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy… the booze starts flowing fast and furious… and the tips come rolling in…

    Everyone wins… especially the folks who go home exhausted from having TOO much fun and tell everyone in earshot about what a great time they had there over the weekend…

    Fun post, mang. You da man.



  • Ralph says:

    A delightful, memorable and useful tale.

  • Razvan says:

    You are a really good storyteller.

    But let me see if I got this right. You’ve reminded me of something Eben Pagan said again and again
    … and that thing is “people don’t want to bond with companies, they want to bond with another individual (just like them)”.

    They want someone who cares … who will show personal interest in them before and after buying the product … but most important, someone who can relate to.

    Also, this is the difference between A list copywriters and damn good B list copywriters.
    The last ones sell a product.
    The first ones solve a problem.

    Got that right?


    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Right as the mail, Razvan.

      Sharing personal stories is the oldest bonding device in history.

      Cavemen told tall tales in grunts and crude drawings… the Apostles spread the gospel on camelback… and out there somewhere Eben Pagan is grunting crude stories to a camel.

      I’m sorry, what was the question?

      • Razvan says:

        There was no question, only insight … learning from the best.
        Thank you for your reply and I hope that you’ll post more often from now on.


        PS: Your blog is a little faulty. In other words, it doesn’t load, and when it does, on the index page, I get an error 🙂

        Try fixing that, it would be a capital sin not to let people read your blog (the copywriter’s edge).

  • mike says:

    So does the tire kicker have to greatest lifetime value? Because once you served them and they acknowledge your product is what they want, they are all in till the wheels fall off.

  • Except that from F2F selling, the ratio is more like 5 table sitters to 1 bar, right on. If you focus on just the ready to buy, you will lose the others. Taking the time to educate the potential customer pays off in two ways.
    One, they tell all their friends about how helpful you were, when they do buy. This is the most effective, cheapest way to advertise.
    Second, it makes them more willing to be a lifetime buyer. As any person learns more about what you sell, if you sell high quality product, they want more from you. Rarely can anyone buy the best product you sell, right away. They usually can buy the low end products, and will “buy their way up,” as they can. But, only if you spend the time to make them knowledgeable, and able to recognize high end quality, at high end prices,

    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Eh. I don’t know, Walter. You may be setting your sights low with the assumption that people won’t buy your primo package out of the gate.

      Test it. You may be surprised to find how many were waiting for “the good stuff” all along.

  • Alecs says:

    Very valuable and enough all the same instructive example for merchants

  • Ken Armijo says:

    Great post Kevin,
    Wow, I must be gettin’ old or lost my groove or something. I used to be the cash waving, elbow throwing patron jocking for a cold one and dancing the night away of long ago, but what the hell happened? I go to a bar once in a long while and I just want to have a quiet conversation and drink a glass of ice water. The waitress finally figures out I’m not a big buyer and essentially ignores me. Don’t you think the waitress or the bartender should spark my interest with something special?


    • Dave Doolin says:

      Ken, it’s all about the tip. Down at my local hole here in Albany, they all know I drink lemonade, and they know exactly how to make it how I like it.

      The secret: tipping.

      Sometimes, I forget my wallet (for real, think absent-minded professor). When I do have cash, I spew tips *very* liberally. When I don’t, well, the ladies take care of me.

      I want customers like me: Where I know what they want, how to get it to them, and they just throw money at me.

      • Kevin Rogers says:

        Well put, Dave. They don’t care what you drink, so long as you don’t vampire their time. Servers there to hustle a buck, not just create atmosphere.

        Ken, you sound like the quintessential tire kicker. “I’m here, now impress me.”

        And you’re right, the smart and dedicated marketer will welcome the challenge.

  • Randy says:

    “Crown. Rocks.” As I set down my Black Card, settle into my creaky observation post, nod to include the tab of exhausted off duty cops (Or copywriters, I can’t tell which) at the end of the bar and a look to convey a 25% tip for a series of long pours.
    Kevin, from my post in your bar, I can barely distinguish Billy’s comments. I can, however, recognize myself in the various roles. The driven decisive buyer, the uncertain cautious questioner, the Socratic waitress and the execution machine behind the bar. I play all roles at various times and Kevin, you’ve reminded me how I feel in each role and how I want to be approached in each. Thank you.
    Your compelling picture has helped me out of a problems I’ve been having for 2 weeks. Putting me back in the figurative bar stool “observation post” helped me recognize the missing piece. Nicely done. Thanks again,

    • Kevin Rogers says:

      Thanks, Randy. I’m glad it served as a spark for you.

      You make a great point about sitting in the various positions of your business. The best CEO’s are the ones who spend a day at each position, from janitor to manager. There’s no better way to understand your company — and the needs of your customer.

  • Terry says:


    This a very relatable post for me. Being a bartender for many years off and on this lesson of who is ready to buy and those that need a little coddling rings true.

    I have worked mostly in higher end restaurants and some club bars. It is very easy to sell to the person who already has the mind set to fulfill their desire once they walk in the door. But, on the other side the other customer that sits at table is looking for a smile some wit and direction to their needs is a great parable to the act of selling.

    The bartender has a hot market they only have to supply their wants and some dialogue they hang on to make their future business profitable.

    The service person that caters to the tables has to become an icon of service. Their job is to understand how they can make their customers desires special and focused of being acknowledged and taken care. Their realization is that that they will just not be throwing money at you – they want service, answers and suggestions to better satisfy their wants and needs.

    Enjoy a drink and stay service oriented. Your customer has needs you are answering.

  • Dainis says:

    Doing it wrong:

    Hand with $50 bill: “3 beers and a shot of whiskey!”
    Bartender: Oh, no, you want carrot juice with a drop of macadamia oil

  • Great post Kevin, very entertaining.

    I can relate – spent my formative adult years slinging suds… definitely a great way to grab insights and clues into what makes certain kinds of people tick. Useful knowledge for a copywriter.

    And the after-hours parties didn’t exactly hurt my feelings either.

    -David Raybould

  • Ken says:

    Thanks for your insight. If I put two and two together, “tipping” the waitress should bring me a smile and perhaps an irisistable offer to buy a drink like an alcohol free margarita or in marketing terms an offer that’s like a glass of ice water but something better? Ah yes, Kevin, you blew my cover. I’m still kicking a lot of tires. I guess I’m trying to decide which ones will get me the most mileage and are puncture free.

  • David Franklin says:

    Great example of how to tell a story. I was there. “Let them find their best selves through you.”
    Wow. If we would really get this, and do this, people would stand in line to give us their money.
    Great insight.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Thanks, David. Sure works for Oprah.

  • Comedian-Turned-Copywriter says:

    this guy stole my identity!

  • Faceless Comic says:

    Did someone say something funny?

    I musta missed it.

  • ken ca|houn says:

    Great analogy, Kevin – and a fun read, too – thanks.. I’m typing this here on my laptop at the MGM Grand in Vegas, here for awhile; I’ll try that ‘take the cash out’ tip at the local hotel bars and let ya know how that goes, great idea. I like club Tao at the Venetian, and Pure and ghostbar and … hmm lots of fun here to be had.

    Great marketing lesson too, about two different types of prospects; key I’ve always got to remember is, like John says about somnabulent sloth-type default customers on the couch/table, we’ve got to get them taking action and waving cash, with engaging copy and credibility from the get-go, which in a cautious economy is a real bear. Low cost lead gen products at bottom end of product ladder (and payment plans, a hassle to admin) seem to be a good way to get folks sidling up to the bar and waving a (small) bill to get it all started. Me, I like having showgirls at my seminars, like yesterday here — it’s a great way to have fun.

    Thanks for a good read, nice way to start the day.

    from Vegas,

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Hey Ken,

    Thanks, man. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Always fun sitting in for the #1 Dude.

    Showgirls, eh? There will be a video release I hope.


  • turgid says:

    Does this blog ever get anything new? Looks dead.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hey, thanks for chiming in, Turgid.

      Yes, we’re alive and well. I’ve taken a vacation, and a turkey break, like all good folks should do regularly.

      I’ll be posting again soon. There is no schedule here. Get on the mailing list, and you’ll be notified when new posts go up.

      And instead of bitching about not seeing a new post in a 2 week period, why don’t you get off your butt and check out the FIVE FREAKING YEARS worth of archives here.

      Jesus. This new generation — their constant need for rapidly changing stimulation is insane. Here’s a suggestion: Stop skimming over the good stuff… and even take the time to read it over and over, several times. You do NOT retain info or ideas when you blow through life at top speed. You just become a grazing animal, with shallow knowledge and un-honed skills.

      That advice, btw, is worth a fortune if you take it. Slow down, learn how to absorb and retain, and implement.

      Keys to the kingdom.

      • turgid says:

        I have been spanked.

        I’m starting on the December 2004 archive right now.

        Thanks John

        • John Carlton says:

          Thanks for the note. And know that I have been slapped around (metaphorically) by mentors and teachers my entire career. You have the right attitude — it’s all about the learning. Remember how pissed the student was in The Karate Kid. I was just like him, frustrated and impatient. It’s good to keep the larger goal in mind: Discover new stuff, and keep moving toward your goals. If there’s a little moment of readjustment forced on you here and there, so be it.

          Good luck.

      • Eric says:

        It’s official: John Carlton has turned into a crabby old lady in his old age.

        John, please take another vacation. Watch a few old episodes of Golden Girls if you have to. (My mom used to love that show.) Maybe that will help loosen you up.

        • John Carlton says:

          You must be a newcomer to the blog, Eric. I’m been a curmudgeon — when it’s been appropriate — since I was a brash young man freshly encountering the hypocrisy and idiocy of the world.

          And you haven’t got a clue what “looseness” is if you believe watching TV can somehow facilitate it.

          Okay, enough of this boring sub-thread. Let’s all get busy preparing for 2010…

      • Tom McKay says:

        @John in reply to turgid
        Point well taken, John. That’s one of the reasons why I’m personally not crazy about blogs (even though I write several). Blogs are just a crappy way to organize information and articles. Reverse order by date? Huh?

        They make it too hard to find what you’re looking for — even Part 1 of the piece you’re reading.

        So I question how long the current format of blogs will last. Maybe someone will create a WordPress plugin or theme that’s organized around pages (articles) rather than the date of each post. (Or are there some I’m not aware of? Anybody?)

        Oh yeah, almost forgot. Awesome post, Kevin. Great job!

  • Joel Jay says:

    Well said!

  • Jesus loves me.
    I come in late to this bar and all I get is “parrot shit” to clean up?
    Cut me some slack here. I’m trying to learn.
    Mad Guy

  • […] parallel to our direct selling market and how bar customers can teach us a lot about marketing. Give it a read. Tags: Bartender, Blog, Copy Writing, John Carlton, Kevin Rogers, Lot, Marketing, Masters, Quot, […]

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