Would You Buy a Brick from Ogilvy?

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
April 3, 2010

Yesterday David Brock wrote two posts on his blog, the first post on Ogilvy’s The World’s Greatest Salesperson Contest which requires contestants to make a two-minute video selling a brick. This first post generated quite a few comments, including a comment from Ogilvy, and they are worth reading. Then David followed up with a tongue-in-cheek post outlining how he would actually sell a brick.

I believe Ogilivy’s contest is going to generate a lot of press for their brand, and it is absolutely going to garner the attention of the sales community. But I am afraid that the outcome isn’t going to be favorable for Ogilvy or for salespeople.

The contest requires participants to make a two-minute video in which they are supposed to sell a brick. Here is where Ogilvy went wrong (and later, I’ll tell them what they can do about it).

This Contest Promotes the Wrong Skills and Attributes To Succeed in Sales

The World’s Greatest Salesperson contest promotes incorrect ideas about the skills and attributes that are required to succeed in sales today. Their promotion video includes the line “pitch, pry, and persuade.” It is telling that they chose words that connote the old sales stereotypes instead of choosing words that accurately describe what it is that salespeople actually do.

The word “pitch” means to present something in a persuasive manner. But salespeople today do not “pitch” or present their ideas, their solutions, and the potential outcomes they might achieve with their customers without context. This indicates that Ogilvy’s contest mistakenly treats sales as nothing more than transactional, pretending that a presentation can be made without any context and without a relationship to the customer’s needs, wants, and desires.

The second word choice, “pry,” is what those of us who work in sales might recognize better by the word diagnose or needs-analysis. The word “pry” connotes something other than what we in sales actually do. The word “pry” indicates tactics are used to gain information that the customer is withholding. It suggests that the salesperson doesn’t care about their customer, only tactical advantage.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Salespeople conduct professional, thoughtful, needs analysis and they diagnose their customer’s needs in order to later present something meaningful. And they care deeply for their clients, or they lose deals. Period. Exclamation point!

And finally, we come to persuade.

Is Persuading with Pitches What Salespeople Do?

It is true that salespeople can and do persuade people to act. But the persuasion that professional salespeople use is not tactical. It isn’t made up of gimmicks, tricks, shortcuts, or secrets. Unless, of course, you are making a single, transactional sale and you care nothing for your customer.

The persuasion and influence that professional salespeople use is made up of all kinds of underlying attributes, many of which I have spent the last 90 days writing about on this very blog. The attributes needed to succeed include self-discipline, optimism, competitiveness, initiative, resourcefulness, determination, caring, empathy, communication, influence, passionate engagement, and adaptability. The attributes that are required to succeed in sales are stacked on top of these underlying attributes and include closing, differentiation, prospecting, business acumen, diagnosing, storytelling, negotiating, change management, leadership, and managing outcomes.

I recommend the good folks at Ogilvy read Influence: The Ability to Persuade Others, the conclusion of which is:

Influence isn’t tactical. Influence is the sum of all of the foundational attributes that make you someone worth listening to in the first place. The best salespeople possess the ability to influence and persuade others, because they are people who create trust. That trust builds relationships and it helps build results. These are the keys to influence.

Where is trust? The absence suggests that Ogilvy believes it isn’t important to the sale when, in reality, it is the whole deal. Exclamation point! Exclamation point! Exclamation point!

Ogilvy Unnecessarily and Inaccurately Creates a Negative Stereotype of Salespeople?

Let me start this section by reminding you that I strongly believe salespeople are getting to be too soft, and I have a history of posts predating this one to prove it. I love the language in the promotional video that states “We turn no into maybe and maybe into yes.” I also love the ideas that “We Sell, Or Else.” More companies should adopt this an operating principle.

But Ogilvy should ask themselves the following two questions:

1. Is this how Ogilivy sells?

Does Ogilvy approach their customers in the manner in which they suggest the World’s Greatest Salespeople approaches customers? Do they in fact start with pitch and move to pry and then to persuade? Do they pitch without listening to what their clients want first?

Do they use the purely tactical approaches they present in the videos?

Do they recommend the envy factor?

Do they use a continuous and rapid-fire assault of statistics to wear down their clients? (I loved that video, by the way. Anyone with a child knows that all of us are naturally born salespeople).

For God’s sake please tell me they don’t use the Name Stamp. You don’t, do you? Ogilvy. Ogilvy? You don’t use the name stamp. Do you Ogilvy? Ogilvy? That’s not too condescending . . . Is it, Ogilvy?

2. Is this how they want their customers to see Ogilvy?

Is this how Ogivly wants their customers to think of Ogilvy? Is it how they want their clients to think of their sales process? Do they want their clients and prospects to think of them as tactical, self-centered, transactional salespeople? I don’t think so.

Mat Zucker from Ogilvy comments on David Brock’s original post that:

The contest is intended to do a great service to sales. It not only raises positive attention within the larger culture, but especially to reinforce how important salesmanship is within what we do — marketing and advertising. Too often, marketing and sales are too far apart. We have much to learn from great sales people and this contest is a way to glean some of that wisdom and skill. And showcase it on a public stage.

How exactly then does this elevate the profession of sales? Is this how Ogilvy believes people should think of other people who sell? Is it in any way a fair portrayal?

I don’t know anyone who sells for Ogilvy, but I am certain that they create the meaningful relationships that allow them to produce extraordinary results for their clients. And I would suggest that none of it is tactical.

This does not create positive attention. It does the opposite, albeit in a highly entertaining way.

It reduces sales to the tactical which prevents this contest from doing much to create a dialogue whereby marketing learns anything from sales. In fact, by reducing it to the tactical, you necessarily create a marketing contest. The contest requires that it be approached as a transactional sale of an item of little value outside of some context.

The salespeople I know would have a difficult time selling a single brick, but they could very easily sell millions of bricks. Think about that and see if you don’t agree.

I will go on record and predict the winner of this contest will win by being a great marketer, not a great salesperson, and it will be someone who adds meaning to a brick.

How Ogilvy Should Have Designed this Contest!

My contest wouldn’t be as easy to create highly entertaining promo videos like the ones Ogilvy made. But it would better identify what it takes to be the World’s Greatest Salesperson.

My contest would require the contestant to make a video with their client. In their video, they would together tell the story of the problem the client faced and how the salesperson and their customer worked together to create something better.

The customer would tell the story of how the salesperson presented their solution, what differentiated them from competing salespeople, and how their solution achieved the outcome the client needed.

They would also tell the story of the challenges they together faced in implementing and executing the solution. This is this is the stuff that marketing may find to be boring, but it is what those of us in sales do day in and day out, and we find it as sexy as all Hell.

Read my interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on April 3, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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