Bullet 29

The Secret of How to Sell Anything

Dear Marketing Top Gun:

 In this Bullet I share the secret of how to sell anything. It’s a simple secret, and it works universally, no matter what business you’re in.

But before getting into it, I want to make…

An Important Announcement about These Bullets

I have always advised my clients to build their products, newsletters, books, and ezines squarely on their strongest proof elements, namely their most persuasive and impressive credentials—including their strongest case histories, endorsements, testimonials, “reasons why” they offer better results and solutions, success stories, proven outcomes, expert status, areas of specialization, reputation within their industries, and especially a spirit of candor and integrity that never fails to delight clients and confound competitors.

When you make your credibility an essential, highly visible part of your marketing, persuasion can flow like silk because your most commonly encountered enemy—skepticism—is largely swept aside.

So when I decided it might be fun to write an ezine, I chose to do it about copywriting, the area of my own strongest proof elements.

A wise man once told me that the best way to learn is to teach, and I have certainly found this to be true in writing this ezine. As I worked on the first few Bullets, I gained new insights about copywriting, even after forty years of doing it almost daily and usually under the watchful eyes of legendary copy masters and many of the savviest clients in direct marketing.

One new insight I gained late in the game is that the most successful copywriters I’ve ever known possess mastery of two separate fields of knowledge…

  1. Mastery of their craft

  2. Mastery of success principles that trigger outsized achievement inany field, whether copywriting or anything else

Brilliant writers and marketers like Dan Kennedy, Clayton Makepeace, Gene Schwartz, Ted Nicholas, and others I’ve been privileged to know have not been just good, smart writers and clever marketers. They have also mastered the secrets of how to manage their time; be disciplined about their copywriting practice; and maintain devotion to studying their craft even after, perhaps especially after, they have hit the top of their game. They don’t sit on their butts or their laurels and are their own best motivators. They still act hungry long after their bank accounts would have persuaded less motivated colleagues to “stop working so hard.” They keep their hand in, even if they don’t need the money, because they’ve come to love the game. Mastery will do that for you—inspire an abiding love of what you do—once you know how to perform with consistent excellence.

This double-barreled mixture—tips on copywriting plus the secrets of personal achievement—became the gunpowder of these Bullets.

Many, many readers have emailed me to say they love this double focus. But lately I have come to realize that both are so critical that each needs its own in-depth treatment. So I have decided to separate these two subjects and write two different sets of Bullets.

This will enable me to help you more, by delving more deeply into each specific subject.

So from now on, these original Bullets will be called Marketing Bullets, and their exclusive focus will be on the best techniques I want to share about copywriting, selling, and marketing. This narrowed focus will allow me to get a lot more specific about the best tips and tricks I’ve learned from legendary copy chiefs and marketing masters I’ve worked with, who generously shared with me their secrets for creating ads that shatter response records and launch blockbuster new products.

And since the principles of high achievement are also critical to your success, whether in copywriting or any field, I will also write a separate ezine called Success Bullets. It will focus exclusively on the latest scientific research, proven principles, and best personal habits to cultivate if you want to rise higher and faster in your chosen field, become indispensable to your client or employer, make a lot more money, and command industry-wide respect and recognition no matter what field you happen to work in.

So your stock is splitting two-for-one, and you will receive both these ezines automatically, unless of course you opt out.

As always, both are free and full of valuable, scientifically based insights. Both will be short and fast, like bullets. And both will be published on my own relaxed, free-floating schedule, which means I’m not going to stuff your inbox with mountains of mediocrity. You should hear from me about once every month or two and only when I think I have a gem to share with you.

As I hope you’ve noticed, I demonstrate utmost respect for your time, attention, and in-box traffic. I resist the temptation to send you anything less than top-of-the-line, highly valuable information.

Today’s Marketing Bullet is a good example, which brings me back to my main idea today…

How to Get Anything You Want in Life

Back in Bullet #12, titled, “How to Get Anything You Want in Life,” I wrote the following…

“The great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, has said, ‘You can get anything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want’…

“Ignoring this simple insight is the most common cause of marketing failure. Over and over, I’ve seen otherwise sharp marketers launch a product because they want to sell it, not because anyone wants to buy it.

“Top Gun, remember this always—you will easily avoid embarrassing failures and discover great riches only when you look at markets through the other end of the telescope—not the lens of what you want to sell, but the lens of what people want to buy.”

While I have never seen it labeled as such, thanks to those words by Zig Ziglar, I have always considered this the ultimate secret of how to sell anything: “Find out what others want and help them get it.”

Imagine my delight when I recently came across a previously unpublished manuscript that took this same principle and fleshed out the profound implications that flow from it, describing how anyone can use it to sell anything far more effectively and easily.

Harry Browne’s Masterpiece on Salesmanship

This undiscovered treasure is called The Secret of Selling Anything: A road map to success for the salesman who is not aggressive, who is not a ‘smooth talker’ and who is not an extrovert.

This unpublished gem was written years ago by one of the most brilliant salespeople, investment advisers, and writers of all time, Harry Browne.

I have no financial interest—zero!—in recommending it. I bring it up here because I am convinced that this is one of the greatest little books (an ebook actually) ever published on effective salesmanship. If you could read only one book in your life on how to sell anything to anybody, and do so without relying on high pressure, manipulation, exaggeration, or even an extroverted personality, this would be the book.

Harry was a consummate “big picture” kind of guy, a brilliant simplifier whose easy-to-read books on investing and politics helped millions of people understand—with the clarity of sparkling spring water—any subject he chose to write about.

Famous for his “live-and-let-live” libertarian philosophy, he ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1996 and 2000 and received a surprisingly large number of votes.

Harry made his living as a salesman, and he was so good at it, he was able to outsell virtually everyone else he worked with, while putting in far fewer hours.

The reason for this was that he had discovered a remarkably powerful and easy method for selling anything. His approach was so simple that he believed that anyone could fairly quickly become a master salespersonwithout being aggressive, manipulative, dishonest, persistent, extroverted, glib, confident, or even hardworking.

And he proved it! When he recruited and trained his own salespeople, he preferred to hire shy introverts, not outgoing backslappers, and he would teach them how to let his “almost effortless” method do all the heavy lifting of opening and closing a sale.

Harry died in 2006 without ever publishing the secrets of his much easier method of salesmanship. His widow Pamela recently decided to create an ebook out of two unpublished manuscripts he had written revealing this selling magic. And thus was born the ebook The Secret of Selling Anything: A road map to success for the salesman who is not aggressive, who is not a ‘smooth talker’ and who is not an extrovert.

Since advertising is nothing more than good salesmanship multiplied by a mass medium, this little ebook’s insights are worth their weight in gold.

Again, I have no financial interest in recommending this ebook, but if you’re interested in owning it, I can think of no better investment you could make in your career for such a small price. You can buy it directly from Pamela Browne’s website for only $9.75. The link is:


All the chapters are short and fast-reading. The first six chapters review Browne’s libertarian way of thinking and how it applies to salesmanship. But the good, specific stuff really starts to rock ‘n roll in Chapter 7 and every chapter thereafter, where Browne spells out, with utter simplicity, the secrets of selling anything almost effortlessly. He tells you exactly how to allow your prospects to tap into their preexisting motivation to almost completely sell themselves.

And the foundation of it all is…

His Secret of Selling Anything

Browne’s secret is virtually identical to that of Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, who said, “The only way to influence someone is to find out what they want, and show them how to get it.”

Browne puts the same idea this way…

“The one rule that sums up the job to be done, the one formula that is fully in harmony with the real world, the secret of success is: Find out what people want and help them get it!

“This is the way you separate yourself from the mass of people who just ‘get by.’ This is how you make sure that your services are always in demand. This is how you command a high price in the market­place, by making sure that what you’re offering is what people really want…”

What a Surprising but Liberating Discovery—
You Cannot Motivate Anyone!

Browne believed that you cannot motivate others to want something they don’t already want. You can’t create motivation. It must already be there, inside your prospect. If it’s not, you’re wasting your time and appealing to the wrong audience and making your job of selling so much more difficult.

 But when motivation is already there, and you know how to identify it, you can make your job so much easier by tapping into it and using the prospect’s own desires to open and close the sale so much more easily.

Here’s how he describes this critical insight…

“It isn’t what you want that determines what other individuals will buy from you—it’s what they want. And that answer can only come from them, not from you…

“Probably 99 out of 100 salesmen try to motivate their prospects. And that’s their mistake. You’re not capable of motivating anyone, no matter how persuasive you think you are…

“Everyone is already motivated. The only question is ‘By what?’ Your job is to find out what it is that motivates your prospect. And then show him how he can get what he wants through your product or service. Only then will he buy…

“Most sales are lost because the salesman presented his product before he knew what motivated his prospect…”

I remember Dale Carnegie explaining this same principle by saying that while he loves to eat strawberry shortcake, when he goes fishing he baits his hook with worms. He would detest eating worms, but he doesn’t try to catch fish with what he likes to eat, but what the fish are hungry for.

How do you find out what motivates your prospect? There are two different answers to this question, based on whether you’re selling person-to-person…or writing advertising to a whole marketplace at once.

In person-to-person selling, it’s easy. Just ask! You’re sitting right there in front of a live prospect, so sound him or her out before you start selling anything.

Browne advises that you never assume that your product or service is right for every person out there, so don’t be dishonest and pretend that it is. That just turns prospects off.

Rather, when you’re in front of a prospect and before you sell anything, probe for his strongest motivation. Browne gives many examples in his ebook on how to do this tactfully. But a typical example would be something like, “Mr. or Ms. Prospect, what is your greatest concern about XYZ?” (For “XYZ,” fill in the blank with whatever area of life your product or service is designed to enhance.)

The basic rule is, don’t start selling until you know what the buyer wants to buy. Otherwise you could start your presentation selling benefit A, which is of little interest to your prospect, while he or she would have jumped all over benefit B, which you never even thought to mention.

In advertising, the situation is different because you’re addressing a mass audience at once. Nevertheless, you must still discover what most of the buyers want to buy before you start to sell.

To do this, you can use surveys and focus groups. You must go out and talk with your current customers and find out what’s most important to them. You can ask your best salespeople what appeals always seem to work best in their presentations. You should research which previous ads have pulled best and which have flopped. Best of all, you can use split-run tests as well as multiple Google ads, each built around different benefits, and scientifically measure which pulls the highest before you roll out with the best.

All these are necessary steps to execute the master strategy of salesmanship we are discussing here: “Find out what others want and help them get it.”

An “Aha!” Moment, Perhaps?

I hope that this Marketing Bullet gives you an “aha!” moment because fully understanding it will change your life if you sell for a living. It will release you from the enormous burden of trying to motivate someone else, which is not even possible. It will make persuasion—either in personal selling or mass marketing—so much easier because all you have to do is show people a good way to experience fulfillment of a desire they already harbor.

In effect, you’ll start tapping into the bubbling wellsprings of desire already in your prospects and letting them make the sale for you. Think of what a relief that is—no more trying to browbeat and cajole unmotivated people into wanting what you have! That game is for losers.

Says Browne, “The moral is simple: A salesman cannot change a buyer’s desires; he can only demonstrate better methods of satisfying them.”

It’s the same in copywriting, which is multiplied salesmanship. Trying to educate and motivate people into wanting what you offer is one of the most common and devastating mistakes.

It’s so much easier to find and then appeal directly to an audiencethat’s already motivated and let them do a big part of the work of selling themselves!

A Quick Example

Let’s say you’re advertising a savings and investment program designed to help people have enough money to retire someday. You could run a headline that says something like…

“New Survey Reveals That Only 1 in 12
Will Have Enough Money to Retire”

On the surface, this seems like a good, smart headline. It factually and credibly points out a problem that millions of people either have or will soon face.

But in my view it’s a weak headline. Here’s why…

The first rule of writing body copy is that your first few paragraphs should immediately pay off, or build upon, your headline. Coming off the headline above, you’d have to expand upon it and that means you’d have to waste your critical introductory paragraphs educating your audience about a problem they may face. In effect, you’d be trying to educate your audience into feeling a motivation. This doesn’t work!

Whenever you find yourself educating your readers about a problem they may have, consider it a red warning flag! If you have to educate people into realizing they have a problem, you’re already losing the battle.

Now please understand an important distinction. I am not talking about educating already-motivated prospects, those who know they have a serious problem or want, about the superiority of your solution. That kind of educating is fine!

I’m speaking about educating people into feeling a motivation in the first place. In effect, if your headline and initial body copy are saying something like, “Don’t you realize you’ve got a big problem here?”…you’re already losing the battle.

You’ll almost certainly trigger a far higher response by letting your headline identify people who already know they have a big problem or want …and then using your body copy to fan their preexisting flames of desire. In advertising, it’s a waste of money to try to educate readers into having a motivation! The motivation must already be there.

How the Master Wrote It

In our example, look at how much more efficiently a copy master like John Caples cuts right to the chase, by using his headline to attract the right audience (an already motivated one) to hear about a retirement income plan.

Caples’ famous headline was written for a retirement income plan available from the Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company, the first client John Caples ever had in his capacity as an account executive at BBDO. The ad Caples created pictured a smiling man, in his sixties, looking straight out at the reader while happily sitting in a rowboat, holding a fishing road and reel. Under the photo, the bold headline said:

“To Men Who Want to Quit Work Someday”

Like a blast of trumpets, this headline instantly calls together the right audience—a motivated audience—of people who already know they want to plan now for a comfortable, worry-free retirement. Caples’ headline instantly assembles a group of already motivated, prequalified prospectsfront and center in the courtyard of his announcement, where he can persuade them with news about a solution they already want. He doesn’t have to start a fire of motivation, only feed the fire already burning!

How well did this Caples headline work?

As reported in the book The 100 Greatest Advertisements by Julian Watkins, this one ad, above all others tested by the company, was “a landmark of historic importance” for Phoenix Mutual. An executive at the company wrote, “To our astonishment, it produced nearly 3 times as many inquiries as its 25 predecessors had averaged. But most important of all, its volume of sales was larger by 4 times!…[It] paved the way for the decades of successful advertising which followed.”

There are many formulas for writing great headlines, and we’ll explore my favorites (those that work most consistently) in future Bullets. But there is one master rule you can take to the bank: Every headline you write should, at the very least, assemble the right audience, one already motivated to hear the rest of your story. If it doesn’t, your headline is weak and will hobble response.

Another Example

Let’s say you’re writing a space ad announcing a new psychological counseling service for troubled teens. Please don’t waste your headline by merely announcing the name and location of your new practice! Use it instead to attract your target audience of already-motivated prospects.Write a headline like:

“To Parents of a Troubled Adolescent.”

Top Gun, this is one of the most important copywriting secrets you’ll ever learn, one that many copywriters never come to understand, which is why they will always underperform those who get it…

Remember that in every medium—newspapers, the Internet, TV, radio, etc.—there are always two different audiences you can choose to write to. One audience—the unmotivated 95%—couldn’t care less about your message. Don’t bother writing to them because you will not succeed in motivating them!

The Real Reason Why Long Copy
Almost Always Outpulls Short

And by all means, don’t shorten your copy because you or your client may fear that this unmotivated 95% won’t read long copy. Take it for granted that they won’t and just write them off, as counterintuitive as that may feel.

The truth is, the unmotivated 95% won’t read short copy or long! So if you shorten your copy in a misguided attempt to get higher readership among the unmotivated 95%, you’ll lose that unmotivated 95% anyway. But you will also deprive the motivated 5% of the longer sales copy they need to make a favorable decision. You will waste 100% of your money if you downsize your message to accommodate the unmotivated 95%!

Write instead only to the motivated 5% and upsize your message to include everything your most motivated, eager-to-buy prospects want to know! Let your long copy sing out with all the benefits, proof elements, specifics, details, premiums, and special offers that your motivated 5% will eagerly welcome as they carefully consider making an important purchase.

How Do You Apply This in a Recession?

OK, I know what you may be thinking…

This sounds terrific, but exactly how do we apply this idea during hard economic times like now, when sales are falling almost everywhere, when prospects’ motivations are changing and the usual copy approaches don’t work nearly as well as they used to?

This Marketing Bullet is already running long, and I have promised to keep them fast, like bullets. So I’ll reserve this interesting question for your next Marketing Bullet. I’ll explain why I believe that recessions are the best opportunities for any copywriter to build his or her income and client base.

Recessions never affected my copywriting income. In fact, during recessions my client base always grew larger, my workload even heavier. In the next Marketing Bullet, I’ll explain why…and how you can achieve the same by applying in your own marketing efforts Harry Browne’s secret of how to sell anything, even in a recession, by tapping directly into your prospects’ preexisting motivations and letting your prospects almost completely sell themselves.

So until next time…

Sincere wishes for a good life
and (always!) higher response,