Friday, May 24, 2024

Innovative selling, on a serious tip

| August 13, 2023 1:00 AM

Note: Harvey Mackay is on vacation. This is a slightly modified column from 2019.

A storekeeper had for some time displayed in his window a card inscribed "Fishing Tickle."

A customer drew the proprietor's attention to the spelling. "Hasn't anyone told you about it before?" asked the patron.

"Oh, yes," the dealer said placidly, "many have mentioned it. But whenever they drop in to tell me, they always buy something."

Intentional spelling errors in advertising are nothing new. Snickers is one of my favorite candy bars (when my wife lets me have one), and I remember when they ran ads featuring spelling errors, even purposefully misspelling the bar's name.

Over the years, I've collected many creative, out-of-the-box sales ideas that I think are winners:

Personalize things — Pet gear, luggage, phones, even donuts specifically geared to a customer are popular gifts.

Break a record — Nathan's annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest gets a huge audience to see how many wieners the participants can down in a brief time.

Establish new experiences for customers — Sports teams have really capitalized on this, as they give their season ticketholders and fans chances to mingle with teams and athletes. Maybe it's a meet-and-greet, a chance to watch practice or be on the field for pregame warmups. How about batting practice or a shoot-around? In a competitive sports market, these experiences are invaluable.

Use props — There is no better example of salespeople using props than what happens at state fairs. Product pitchers demonstrate knives, cookware, cleaners, mops or some product that you can't live without. Always remember: A mediocre salesperson tells. A good salesperson explains. A superior salesperson demonstrates.

Catchy and ubiquitous ads — Advertising is everywhere. We've all seen ads in bathroom stalls and on supermarket floors, and we read them! I chuckled at an ad for a handyman that read, "I can fix anything your husband can. And I'll do it now." A variation on that ad reads, "I can fix anything that your husband breaks."

Contests have been around forever — The crazier, the more outrageous, the better. And just about any product can be featured as a prize: tickets to a hot show, a shopping spree, dining experiences, trips, even a lifetime supply of envelopes! Among my favorites — a year's worth of ice cream. I'd enter that contest any day!

Sell benefits, not features — In other words, don't sell me books, sell me knowledge. Don't sell me insurance, sell me peace of mind. Don't sell me clothes, sell me style. Don't sell me a computer, sell me the time I will save. Don't abandon me as soon as the sale is complete, keep in touch with me so that I know I am your best and favorite customer.

Likability — To be successful at selling, you have to make customers like you. People do business with people they feel comfortable with. Beyond offering freebies and gimmicks, make your service so memorable that the customer can't imagine going anywhere else.

Here's a story to further illustrate my point. Joe was a small-town barber. Joe knew his clients' preferences after decades of service, and he always charged his clients fairly. One day, a national-chain haircut salon opened just across the street from Joe's shop. It had shiny new fixtures, neon signs, young and attractive personnel and was offering haircuts for $10.

Joe watched as traffic poured into the new shop and wondered how he was going to compete with hat. Should he put up a sign "Haircuts $9.99" sign?

After some thought and reflection on his business, Joe posted a large sign outside of his shop: "We fix $10 haircuts." He pointed the sign directly at his competitor's front door.

Mackay's Moral: As the saying goes, you don't sell steak, you sell the sizzle.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.