Category Archives for small business marketing

Salesmanship’s Black Eye


There’s a small brouhaha in the copywriting/salesmanship world. If you put all the participants in a room together, fisticuffs might be thrown.

If you want to join the fun, start by getting hip to these valuable skills over at

You may as well grab my free report while you’re at it.

But the gist of it all concerns the role of salesmanship in the real world.

There’s a poster who insists that top copywriters should be able to sell anything to anybody. No matter what. This view has been offered by him after multiple professional copywriters (including myself) have both elegantly and inelegantly told him there’s no market for what he’s selling.

He’s adamant about being right. And that’s a whole other issue. (I often run into stubborn marketers who would rather lose everything chasing a failed scheme, than ever admit to being wrong.)

But what he perceives as the “motto” of pro copywriters is somewhat bothersome. If I have ever said I could anything to anybody, no matter what, I don’t remember saying it. And shame on me if I ever did, through some lapse in my thought process. Throughout my long career, I have been careful to qualify the limits of my abilities.

I may have said I could sell almost anything to almost anybody… and that’s something I can stand behind.

But anything? To anybody?

Naw. No one can do that, and keep his soul safe from brimstone.

There’s an old compliment that goes “He could sell ice to Eskimoes.” The image is, of course, that Eskimoes, surrounded by ice, would have to be subjected to one hell of a pitch to buy ice.

It’s a backhanded compliment, though, in many ways… because it implies an unethical transaction.

The joke about “I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you” is based in truth — during the time America was being flooded with refugees and immigrants from Europe (just before WWI), con men actually took money from gullible newcomers who thought they were buying the bridge.

That ain’t funny.

In my course “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel“, I clearly make the point (in the introduction) that great advertising has the power to defy reason. A world-class piece of copy can sell the bejesus out of a bad product… in fact, it can (and sometimes has) sold a non-existent product.

But I make that shocking point as a counterpoint to the other side:

Bad copy can’t sell the best product on earth.

The marketing graveyard is crammed with truly fabulous products that failed because the marketing sucked.

I am also careful to admonish anyone burdened by the notion that learning great copywriting skills gives you the sudden voodoo to be able to jack people around. I write in the introduction that I very much hope you rot in hell if you use the power of salesmanship to do unethical things.

There is no lack of great products out there. There is no lack of niches desperate for new stuff, for information, for another way to indulge in their passions.

If you sell junk, you’re doing it because you’re a lazy sociopath. With the tools and advantages of the Web and new global ecomony, it is just as easy to create a valuable product as it is to work up a con. You have zero excuse for shirking your duty as a marketer to provide something of value and worth… especially if you sell it by promising such things.

Are we clear on this, then?

However, the fuss on the forum brings up another point:

Can great copy sell a product the market really doesn’t want?

The answer is: Yep.

You can sell it. You can write a blind ad that stretches the truth, inflates the worth of what you offer, and ignores the flaws.

You can sell it.

But you can’t make the sale stick.

And no copywriter with any self-respect would take on a job like that. It truly is whoring out your skills.

I’ve seen TV commercials for used cars where the blustery, evangelical salesman points at the screen and declares that no one walks home without a car at HIS lot.

And you know what? If you don’t count the homeless drunks who get tossed, his claim might be true.

And, if driving home in a car that is marginally “yours” is something you desire, then that can happen. You won’t have a very good deal going, you may stand to lose all the collateral you had to put up, and have the car repossessed in three months… but you won’t walk home.

But, really.

Part of the guy’s clownish behavior and shouting schtick is meant to scare off the part of the market he doesn’t want to deal with.

A rational, middle-class car enthusiast who insists on having a mechanic check out the ride, and who knows the standing market value, will give that salesman a headache.

He prefers the easy pickings.

The whole notion of being able to sell anything to anybody is silly.

And it keeps direct response advertising’s black eye shining. People understandably get royally pissed when they decide they’ve been “sold” on something they don’t really want, or have just bought something that doesn’t begin to live up to expectations.

I’ve known marketers who — either by design or by circumstances — have allowed shoddy product to go out under their name. You gotta have a thick skin to withstand the blowback from frustrated, angry buyers. This is why the classic con games involve lots of moving around — after you dump your evil payload on the local populace, you gotta leave town.

An ethical marketer will make good on all guarantees and bend over backwards to fulfill on all promises.

And, if he hasn’t learned the lesson of being clear (even on bold, outrageous promises) about how he’s going to meet expectations… he will soon learn it.

I run a damn good operation, myself. I’m the bottom line for most of the offers, through critiques and consulting and the exhausting fact that I write everything that goes out under my name. So when someone complains about something, there are only two reasons why it’s happening:

Either he has a legitimate reason to gripe (such as not receiving his package, due to some shipping problem either with us — hey, it happens — or with the shipper)… and we jump on fixing it.

Or the complainer is unclear on reality. (As in, yes, if you order something, we do actually expect you to pay for it, as agreed.)

There is a percentage of the population that is unclear on most concepts of modern life.

And there is a larger percentage of the population that feels entitled to exercise their drama queen behavior with your staff, just because they bought something from you. It’s the old 80-20 rule. And there’s no way around it… except to spot the trouble as soon as it pops up, and whack it down asap. (Yes, even if it means refunding a customer who didn’t ask for a refund. If you’re spending too much time with someone because their gripes never seem to cease, you may have been snagged in a high maintenance web. It’s fair to say you simply cannot work with that person, and offer a fair refund to end the relationship.)

So let’s be clear on this:

Salesmanship is powerful.

That power can be used for good, or for evil. The buyer in any capitalistic transaction has a responsibility to perform due diligence — “let the buyer beware”.

This is why I stress finding someone you can trust as a resource to help you stay on the shortest path to success (however you define success). There are several copywriting and marketing forums out there, and I recommend many of them because I know the guys running them.

These forums are such a great tool because — even if you’re trapped in the hinderlands, isolated from other marketers — you can still enjoy the brainstorming and the power of the collective. Working alone sucks. The virtual “family” of a damn good forum can change your life.

But you’ve gotta get over your idealistic stubborness, if it’s holding you back. Many people suffer from glaring ego problems, and are actually energized when the crowd disagrees with them. I know, I know — history is stuffed with people who were ridiculed for their ideas at first, who later succeeded wildly. So there’s always the chance that you’re right, and everybody else is deluded.

But the other part of that history lesson is this:

You may yet succeed… but you’ll do it without your detractors ever being convinced.

A lot of people died smug in their conviction that man could never fly, that electricity was a cheap parlor trick, and, well, fill in the blank with your favorite contrarian victory.

But really… if you can’t convince veteran salesmanship experts that what you have is worthwhile, then you’re kinda out in the cold. The advantage of brainstorming includes the very common realization that you need to dump the project you’re so in love with.

The thing is… while mastering salesmanship isn’t exactly like learning how to perform brain surgery…

…it nevertheless is a skill set that you do NOT understand until you take the time to be taught the lessons.

(You can learn them the hard way, as I did, over a very long time… or you can shortcut the process by trusting a good teacher.)

As I pointed out in earlier posts about the sales-challenged geeks… your belief systems can foul up all the incoming data, so you hear what you want to hear. The advantage of dealing with veteran copywriters is that they’re completely jaded about being pitched on “the next best thing since sliced bread”. All it needs is world-class copy, and we’ll all be rich!

You betcha.

No credible top copywriter I’ve ever known has ever claimed to be able to sell anything to anybody, no matter what. Not because they couldn’t actually do it, though. Because it’s stupid and wrong to distort or manipulate salesmanship in a way that creates unhappy buyers.

Learning great salesmanship includes learning how to judge markets and products.

Most of my longterm clients quicky included me in all discussions about future products, because they knew I was outside their echo chamber, and could see clearly what they might miss.

That’s the job of a copywriter who works beyond just slamming out ads.

The whole mix includes the vialbility of the product, and demographic value of the target market, and the hooks that will hit the sweet spot of the prospect.

Hope my logic in this post wasn’t too twisted for folks to follow — the point is worth making. It seems like it should be obvious, but my experience tells me it’s not (at least not in a way that people “get” easily).

People who understand salesmanship lead better lives.

Yes, the whole concept of being a good salesman carries some unwanted baggage — including a well-deserved black eye for all the scamsters out there abusing their skills. But that doesn’t negate the fact that salesmanship is the foundation of capitalism. The world isn’t perfect, nor is it always fair. Learning salesmanship at a deep level includes massive and continuing reality checks about human behavior… and after the initial shock, you discover it’s a good and necessary advantage to drop the idealism and see people as they truly are.

The human race is still loveable and the world is still full of fun and wonder.

But sometimes, even that product you know, in your heart, is fabulous and a boon to mankind… will be refused by the marketplace. It happens.

Successful marketers acknowledge the reality of the situation, and move on.

Yes, they could probably use blind ads to sell it anyway… but then they would have to deal with overwhelming returns, refunds, and pissed off buyers.

Life’s too short. Learn the lessons of the marketplace, and adapt.

You don’t need to sell anything to anybody.

You just need to master the basics of providing great value to a niche that appreciates it…

…and make sure you tell your story through the wonders of great salesmanship.

Do so in a way that your market gets the message and feels good about acting on your offer.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty…


P.S. If you’re looking for even more resources to help you succeed as a marketer, look no further than this checklist right here.

P.P.S. Hope you’re enjoying your winter. Another one almost gone, but ain’t it a sweet season? Life truly is too short, and I’ve been reminding myself to slow down and experience the way the world is shifting through the heat toward autumn. It’s always High Definition outside, even in the melancholy gray days…

A Quick Trip Up The Political Yin-Yang

I just had one of those Homeresque “doh!” moments… where I finally realized the blindingly obvious answer to something that’s been bothering me for a lifetime.

And I’d like to share it with you… because there happen to be profound business applications to this realization.

But we have to lower ourselves into the muck of politics first.


Here’s what’s up: In my role as a businessman and teacher, I normally follow the bar-room rule of never discussing religion or politics. Why? Because, no matter how delicately I couch my views, I’m sure to piss off anywhere from a quarter, to half of my audience just by floating the most basic opinion on controversial issues.

I learned this rule the hard way, of course.

As a young man, I had some fairly typical idealistic ideas of how we could all get along, and I entered the political fray of the time with almost suicidally-naive optimism. This was the age of Nixon, Vietnam, civil rights, women’s lib, and a whole raft of other poli-social upheavals. (I notice that most of these issues still aren’t settled today.)

I joined massive student-led protests that were, essentially, tantrums. My generation had been schooled to think for ourselves and expect answers to questions… and it was a friggin’ shock when the real world became enraged at our impertinence.

I found it hard to believe that otherwise nice, rational people could also hold such hateful, wrong — and yes, stupid — views on the “way things ought to be”. And to want to throttle me for questioning their wisdom.

Every single political discussion I had with anyone outside my little coterie of do-it-yourself sociologists degenerated into a furious argument.

Neither reasoned debate, nor well-crafted presentations of facts and figures could stanch the vitriol.

It just seemed that people took up a position, and then used emotionally-fueled anger to support it. Heads got bashed in.

I lost my idealism — and avoided jail and the emergency room — when I realized that most of the girls I was chasing considered politics boring. That’s how shallow my beliefs were.

I’ve continued to be a political junkie, though — I’m just careful who I discuss it with these days.

It was good to back away from the red-hot core of the fight, too… because I actually liked and respected many of the people who were blowing their tops over political issues. As long as we didn’t crawl into the slime, we got along great.

And when I discovered Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” — also known as “the salesman’s bible” — I even experienced a new kind of power: By allowing the other guy to have his say, and not argue with him over any point… you can actually get AROUND the anger, and even defuse it.

And then — wonder of wonders — once the fury has receded (because it cannot be sustained without an opposing view to bounce off of)… the now-calm other guy will often be startlingly vulnerable to a non-political pitch. Even eager to hear what you have to say.

In other words: Letting a prospect blow off some steam can be part of a bonding process.

It’s very Zen (though I doubt Dale, back in the 1930s, had ever heard of the Eastern art of non-resistance). And, as far as being a form of social engineering, it’s about as devious as smiling.

Really. It’s a simple rule of classic salesmanship: No one’s mind, in the history of mankind, has ever been changed by arguing. So… don’t argue.

Instead, listen. You don’t need to agree — just keep your clever retorts and superior grasp of events to your own bad self.

What’s more… forcing yourself to listen, with a pleasant look on your face, may even enlighten you to a few things.

(Side note: There is stunning power to being a good listener. Long before I studied salesmanship, I observed that — in the many jobs I applied for during my drifting years — there was a direct correlation between how little I spoke during the interview, to me getting the job. The more the interviewer jawboned… while I listened intently, nodding and smiling non-committedly… the more I knew I was already hired. Weird social observation…)

Now, of course, I’m not suggesting you start your sales pitch by getting your prospect worked into a lather over politics.

Though, I know marketers who do exactly that. (Mostly with disastrous results.)

No. I started out with politics, because it’s such an obvious example of the way people get mad at each other.

The advanced lesson here is based on the observation that even seemingly-innocent issues in marketing — like choosing Pepsi over Coke, for example — still involve the same parts of the brain that get people into pissing matches over who is and who isn’t a fascist pig. (Or which conspiracy theories are bunk, and which are “obviously” true.)

This is where my own “doh!” moment comes in.

I recently stumbled onto a bunch of articles on the wonders of new neuroscience discoveries — the study of how our brains work. The boys in lab coats have been using “magnetic resonance imaging” (MRI) to monitor what sections of the brain act up during specific emotional events.

Like, oh… political discourse.

And what they found explains a lot about the irrational behavior of most folks. (Which includes all of your target market.)

Turns out that any strong opinions you have are very likely hard-wired into your brain. The “reasoning” areas just shut down when you are confronted with ideas, facts, or discussions that run counter to your beliefs. And your “emotional” sections light up like a Christmas tree, to protect your original stance.

So, illogically, the more your opposition presents facts and statistics, the more you feel convinced — absolutely rock-solid convinced — that you’re “right”, and the guy with all the logic is “wrong”.

Once your mind is made up… your brain makes it mostly permanent by not allowing reason to interfere.

When reason butts up agaginst emotion, forget about it. Emotion wins, hands down, every time.

It’s not even close to being a fair fight.

Now, researchers haven’t experimented with any salesmanship-style social engineering, so this discovery is really just a starting point for a long look at human behavior.

But it sure explains why Dale was so right-on about doing end-runs around arguments in order to get the desired result.

When you’re writing copy, there is often a logical urge to pile on the stats and figures. You want to scream “Just LOOK at the preponderance of facts here! How could you possibly not want this product, given the rational TRUTH of its fabulousness?”

This logic will get you exactly nowhere.

Your prospect will trump your facts with emotion. Game over.

This is why we saddle up every feature with a benefit. When you’re selling a new product, in an uncrowded market, this is how you establish your baseline advantage over competitors, when they arrive.

Features please the rational side of your brain.

Benefits tickle your emotions.

I’ve been using the Pepsi vs. Coke example a lot lately, just because it’s so cool. For something like 70 years, in blind taste tests people have consistently said that Pepsi tastes better.

Then they go to the store and buy Coke, just like they always have. The percentage of worldwide sales between the two sugar-water giants hasn’t budged much since before you were born.

This is why Coke can say in its ads “Buy us, because we’re better.” It’s only a slightly more complex move to essentially say the same thing in politics.

Go ahead — throw all the facts and figures you want at me. Even the inconvenient fact that I agree with you in a blind taste test.

I’ll just say “Nyaah, nyaah”, stick my tongue out… and vote or buy the way I was emotionally leaning anyway.

This new neurological evidence has finally made the connection between emotion and action clear to me.

I know — you’d think I would’ve made this connection a long time ago, being a salesmanship expert and all.

But I didn’t. I “knew” that emotion was the key to making sales… but I remained baffled at how people could confront incontrovertible facts that made their long-held beliefs look silly, and not give an inch.

I “get” it, now.

I’ve always written as if my prospect were the most stubborn person in the world. Turns out, I was right all along.

Still… all this also emphasizes how important it is to master classic salesmanship.

Because the punch line is this: While you won’t ever “win” an argument with anyone… you can still persuade them to change their minds, once you understand the neurological process that must occur to uproot emotionally-cemented beliefs.

As I’ve said before — great salesmanship isn’t part of your original equipment, and it’s often counter-intuitive.

So it takes most of us a few “doh!” moments to finally understand the really advanced stuff.

Okay, I’m done.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

P.S. People have been bugging me about this upcoming “semi-secret” seminar/workshop I’m possibly planning for this Fall.

So let’s get something straight: I’ve only offered 3 workshops before… and they were all limited to “Insiders”, or people from my inner circle. I have to limit attendance, because I always offer so much personal attention. These events look like no other seminar you’ve ever heard about — in the Copywriting Sweatshop I held a few years ago, I spent hour after hour deconstructing and reworking specific copy brought in by attendees.

There were no other speakers — just me, and the small group I allowed in.

It can be a truly transformative event. It’s all about you, the attendee. No pitching, no distractions, no bullshit theory.

Just hard-core workshops getting your skills honed to dangerous sharpness.

So, I have never allowed anyone not already involved in my courses to attend. It’s a closed group.

And anything I offer will never be a large event. We’re talking about a dozen or so people. Intense, personal, and effective.

A lot of folks have been thinking I’m gonna offer some huge seminar, and that’s just not the case. I do small workshops. I like to get specific results, and I like to work closely with attendees.

Hope that clears it up for you.

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

The Continuing Saga of the Sales-Challenged Geek

So it’s a gorgeous day, I’ve snuck out of the office on reasonable pretense, and I’m cruising down South Virginia Street with the top down and “Kid” by the Pretenders laying waste to my eardrums.

And I’m thinking to myself: Why don’t I get outa the office more often during the day, and drive around aimlessly like this?

South Virginia is a busy main drag, but traffic is moving fast, like feed through a goose.

I’m blissed out.

Suddenly, every lane north and south comes to a screeching halt, the cars hitting the brakes so abruptly that their rear ends bounce up like cockroaches running into a wall. I fishtail, and somehow everyone avoids a pile-up.

The problem? Some dude in a thrashed Riviera blowing across four lanes of heavy traffic from a cross-street with no light… and getting a good look at him, I start laughing my ass off.

He’s staring straight ahead as he barrels through, his left hand held aloft, giving a defiant middle finger to everyone he’s just given an adrenalin dump to.

Hey, you gotta get across a busy street, you gotta get across the busy street.

Hit the gas, and damn the torpedos.


Two thoughts pass through my mind as traffic starts moving again.

First thought: This is why I don’t get out more often. People go all whack under the summer sun.

And my second thought: Hey, I know that guy.

Okay, I don’t actually “know” him. Never seen that warped Buick with the peeling Landau roof before in my life, or the “proud to give the world the bird” driver.

But I know his type. All my life, I’ve gone out of my way to hang out with different kinds of people. I’m not sure why I’ve done that — probably some vague sense of wanting to sample everything out there — but it’s sure helped me as a marketer.

And I’ll tell you why it helps in a minute.

First, I gotta tell you who that guy reminded me of.

Back in my first year out of high school, I had worked my way into some pretty tough crowds. My long hair and minor skill with a guitar was my back-stage pass to Hoodlum City, and I was eager to experience life outside the mostly-safe, “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle I’d been raised in.

In fact, I spent close to a year hanging out with bikers and ex-cons and other riff-raff. The dregs of society.

I loved it. These guys had a total “up yours” attitude to mainstream America, and purposely violated every rule and social more they could find. Looking back, it was like playing in a lion’s den… but at the time, I felt dangerous and “real”.

And because I was so skinny and naive and young, I enjoyed the privilege of being considered something like the kid brother some of those monsters never had. So I somehow never got my skull bashed in.

Okay, I’ll leave the stories of debauchery and gettin’ chased by cops for another time.

The reason I bring those guys up now is their peculiar world view. I got to know it well, and watching that maroon in the Riviera nearly cause a twelve-car collision today — while flipping off the strangers he’d nearly killed, just to make his point of “don’t give a shit” as poignant as possible — clarified a whole other issue for me.

Here’s that other issue: Last month, my ears started itching. It was because a heated discussion about me was reaching fever pitch online — and I just hadn’t caught wind of it yet.

But my partner Stan noticed a serious spike in views to my main page,… and tracked them to a blog that had started a thread about “long copy Web sites”, with my site as the primary suspect hoisted up for inspection.

No harm there. In fact, I’m flattered. The blog in question is actually more than “just” a blog — it’s been called the top hit-getting Q&A site on the Internet (after Yahoo Answers and MicroSoft QnA).

Perhaps you’ve heard of it — MeFi, as it’s affectionately known by insiders. Or Metafilter, the real name.

It’s truly an amazing site, started back in 1999 by a 35-year-old programmer who wanted to have the best blog in the universe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a subject that doesn’t get covered within any 3-day period on MeFi… from technology, shopping and health to law, fashion and religion.

Oh, and advertising.

It’s as close to truly broad-based community as I’ve ever found online. A cacophony of voices, ideas, opinions, and — primarily — getting questions answered.

Anyway… the founder floated a rather innocuous question last month… wondering if anyone knew if “long copy” Web sites were efficient or not in getting desired results.

And he offered up three samples. Mine was first.

Oh, my goodness, but the stoning began immediately, and went deep.

Let me tell you something: The dust-up over the “Web 2.0” bullshit is pretty much over in the active online direct marketing community. The top marketers may toy with fancier stuff here and there… but they still rely on long-copy sales pitches when it’s crunch time.

However… outside the tidy niche of entrepreneurs and small biz who track results… there’s a raging debate still going on about “nice looking”, high tech sites… versus the “scammy-looking” efforts of the marketers who dare to post copy that… well… looks like mine.

The horror!

I’ll give you the link in a moment, and you can go see how vicious the comments got. (I can recommend Metafilter, regardless, as a resource site. I’ve spent some time surfing it, and I like it mucho.) (Even though they used me as an ideological punching bag.)

The comments were brutal and cocksure. I could tell most of the writers were competent geeks, too, from the way they brandished high-tech language.

In thier view, long-copy sites were ugly blots on the virtual landscape, definitely scams, and obviously maintained by brain-addled low-lifes who were clueless about how to sell anything online.

Reading through the comments, I’m in tears… from laughing so hard.

I mean, I’ll cop to being brain-addled.

But clueless about selling online?

No way, dude.

And today — watching the Bird Man flaunt common sense (and safety) in a way that reminded me instantly of the biker drop-outs from my youth — the lesson here just coalesced in my mind.

It’s all connected.

And it’s about belief systems… and how they will screw your life up.

Harken: All humans are a perverse lot when it comes to logic.

There isn’t, and never has been, any kind of real “common sense” to be found throughout history. We like to believe we possess common sense, and also a clear-eyed view of the “truth”.

But the key word there is “believe”.

For most folks, common sense and truth are as real as the tooth fairy.

Those bikers had a very romantic mythology built up around themselves. They were outlaws, just a band of brothers unfairly hounded by The Man and hamstrung by a society intent on crushing their spirit.

And, to be fair, most of them had huge hearts and an admirable sense of loyalty and honor. I liked most of them immensely.

But their outlaw status was primarily the result of bone-headed, irresponsible behavior. They didn’t have rap sheets from robbing the rich to give to the poor. Often, they did time because they got high, lost control of their bike, and took out a lamp post.

Or forgot they were “carrying” when they flipped off the wrong cop, showing off to friends.

Nevertheless, to them it was a vast conspiracy by society to harsh their mellow.

The Bird Man in the beat-up Riviera?

Same thing. I’m sure of it, just from the glimpse I got of his defiant smirk.

In his world-view, rules and courtesy and order are for suckers.

Of course, Dr. Phil might ask him: “And how’s that working out for you?”

If you’ve got anything going for you at all — any measurable success in life — it’s probably easy for you to see the wrong-headedness of would-be outlaws and wannabe sociopaths. It’s one thing to be a non-conformist, right? And quite another thing to just ask for it by taunting the laws of man and physics.

Ah, but here’s the lesson for marketers: That same trap awaits you, every day.

It’s the trap of drinking your own Kool-Aid… and not having anyone call you on it.

The geeks trashing my long-copy site are a perfect example.

I’m sure they’re good people, and honestly believe what comes out of their mouths.

But that’s the problem. When you believe you know a certain truth… and no one around you refutes that belief, or challenges you on it… then you start to confuse belief with reality.

And whether your belief is “I’m a bad ass outlaw”… or “I understand advertising”… or even “no one reads long copy”… then that belief can become cemented into your head as truth.

Even though it’s bullshit.

Sometimes, you’re not an outlaw… you’re just a dick.

And sometimes, your ideas on what “works” in advertising is so wrong, it’s laughable.

Hey — we all suffer from the effects of an “echo chamber” at certain times in our lives. It just happens — we surround ourselves with people who think like us, we stop getting alternative input, and soon we start regarding everyone who doesn’t think like us as the “Other”.

So everyone with a toehold in the power structure is out to get you.

And everyone aggressively trying to sell are scamsters.

That’s just the way it is. That’s what you believe. And what you believe must be true, because you believe it so deeply, and never question it.

Like I said… we all fall victim to belief systems. We all have a love/hate relationship with reality.

In the case of the geeks, however, it’s just silly.

If you read the posts in the thread about long copy on Metafilter, you’ll see certain phrases pop up like weeds: “I don’t like it…” “I think it’s…” “This is obviously…”

And it’s all belief. No actual facts, or reality behind any of it.

Like I said — in the community of successful direct marketers, the question of long-copy versus graphics-heavy short-copy isn’t even on the table anymore. It was settled long ago by guys who test, and pay attention to what works.

And here’s the way it works: If you’re selling something, you start at the beginning of your pitch, move through all the things you need to say to establish credibility, incite desire, hold attention, counter objections… and move your prospect through every other stage he needs to go through to get tweaked enough over your offer to pull out his wallet.

If you can accomplish that with a few clever bon mots and a nice table of ironic animation, go for it.

However, if you haven’t tested anything… and you simply believe you “understand” what goes into good salesmanship because you’ve seen so many ads in your life that you MUST be an expert already… then please take a time out.

You need a reality check, dude.

Entrepreneurs who model their selling tactics on what Madison Avenue does with Coke and Toyota do not remain entrepreneurs very long. They quickly become ex-entrepreneurs, and are soon forced to get a nice, safe day job to pay their bills.

Business owners who have something to sell… and want to sell it… had better pay attention to the successful marketers who actually understand and employ real salesmanship.

It’s not entertaining… it’s not often pretty… and it’s not about “branding” or creating cool art.

Or even being “liked”. God knows those of us who champion long copy and aggressive sales tactics have suffered our share of slings and arrows.

Like I’ve always said: If I wake up tomorrow, and the laws of the universe have changed… so that pretty, clever, soft-sell ads suddenly sell product like hotcakes… then I will be the first veteran to start creating pretty, clever ads full of graphics and minus hard-core salesmanship.

I don’t write long copy ads because I enjoy sweating out vast sales pitches.

Nah. I’m too lazy for that.

I write long copy ads because that’s what works.

What you “think” about these ads is irrelevant.

That you don’t “like” them is beside the point.

When your belief system butts up against reality, reality wins every single time… at least when money’s on the line.

You can believe that three-of-a-kind beats a flush with all your heart… but you still won’t take home the pot.

The first time I voted for president, I was positive my boy would win in a landslide… because all my friends thought exactly as I did. The other guy running was a putz, no one with any brains would ever vote for him, and our platform was so reasonable and fair, we were a shoo-in.

That was 1972. I voted for McGovern, who got pounded by Nixon in the biggest electoral slaughter in US history. McGovern carried his home state, and nothing else.

I was in shock for a month, my youthful (and very naive) idealism shaken to its core.

But I’m glad I got that kind of vicious reality check so young. It healed fast, and forever after, I was suspicious of people with loud opinions that weren’t backed by practical experience.

There are, essentially, two groups of people in the world of small biz owners and entrepreneurs: Those who believe they know what should work in advertising… and the rich guys who KNOW what works.

Hey… I’m kinda fired up about this, aren’t I.

Just be clear: I’m not trying to embarrass anyone here.

I’m just taking my job as teacher seriously.

And I say this because I know — from personal experience — that getting slapped by reality can jar your entire world view.

It’s very much like getting busted by The Man… unfairly, rudely and wrongly.

How dare reality be so ugly and against my grain?

Ah, heck. Maybe I’ll get into this more later…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Check out that site — — when you get a moment. My partner Stan and I have crammed the available mentoring opportunties there with free goodies that should get your greed gland quivering.

That is… check it out if you’re not scared of a little long copy.

P.P.S. Lastly… any rumors of me giving another “copywriting sweatshop” seminar, where I personally rip into your efforts at writing a good pitch, are just that: rumors.

I do have a small, intimate event coming up… but you can’t get into it unless you’re on my “private invite” list. Sorry.

P.P.P.S. Oops, almost forgot. Here’s the link to the Metafilter thread:

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