Let's Go Back to Some Good Old-Fashioned Selling

Jonathan Salem Baskin on Marketing Leadership

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The last time I remember enjoying being sold something was about 1970, when I got my first suit.

It's not that I haven't seen lots of great advertising and very innovative marketing since then. But there's a subtle elegance to great selling -- not to mention relevance, credibility, utility and value -- that I've struggled to find. My CMO friends say I'm not alone.

Back at that store, my dad put me in the hands of an expert salesman, because I had no idea what choosing a suit entailed. The guy seemed to listen to me, both what I said and what my tone and body language suggested. I don't remember feeling pressured or distrustful. I even backed off the purple-checked three-piece, thanks to his gentle nudging, and thought it was my decision.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin runs Baskin Associates, a global brand consultancy, and blogs at Dim Bulb.
I left the place with not only a suit but a dress shirt, tie and belt. I was completely satisfied, as was my father. We'd been in the presence of a master.

Nowadays, selling has become endlessly complex, requiring steps, methodologies and software programs. Sales strategies dissect the past, manage the present and predict the future. It's no longer an art or even a science, but a system. I just got an automated e-mail telling me so.

Conversely, selling has been ripped out of most branding and marketing.

Today's communications need to be wry, self-referencing, oblique and entertaining. The pages of this magazine are full of very creative, often complicated and usually indirect ways to work around selling. We're told now that the new sales math is to not sell at all.

So we strive to avoid marketing that is an overt sales pitch, then bemoan it when it doesn't sell. Worse, consumers question the authenticity of brands that try to sell to them without admitting it. Major budgets and expectations get spent on corporate-social-responsibility programs, digital games, Super Bowl commercials and never-ending blather about social media in which the selling never starts.

Ultimately, we've never really told the truth to at least one generation of consumers, which is that we want to sell to them and that our stuff is better than someone else's stuff. Full stop. No amount of distracting video or customer-relationship management interconnectivity can take the place of being direct on this point, and with it comes the relevance, value and all the other attributes we spend our days chasing.

I say we consider getting back to some good old fashioned selling. Use a little more of Occam's razor and David Ogilvy's pen and a little less of our schmarty-pants guile.

Somewhere there's a kid who needs to be sold a suit. Only let's keep him out of the purple one.

Questions to ask about simplicity

CONCEPT: Are you telling or merely suggesting?

STRUCTURE: Can two campaign elements be compressed into one?

CAUSALITY: Does the proposed idea rely too much on consumers to connect the dots?

SELF-REFERENCE: Shouldn't we talk more about benefits vs. associations?
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