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The World’s Greatest Salesperson!

by David Brock on April 2nd, 2010

My colleagues have been talking about OgilvyOne’s contest to find the world’s greatest salesperson.  I was curious about it, went to the website to read the press release and to their YouTube Channel to learn more.

It’s an intriguing notion.  I have to bow to the wisdom of Ogilvy, after all they are a prestigious advertising firm, they must really understand sales.  The Chairman of OgilvyOne, Brian Fetherstonhaugh, has said, “In marketing, the noble craft of salesmanship sometimes, gets lost in the pursuit of art or the dazzle of technology.”  Cool–I can’t disagree with this.

Executive Creative Directof, Mat Zucker, goes further, “Our business is all about selling and how we are selling is changing fast.”  I couldn’t agree more!  Customers are changing how they buy, as sales professionals we must change what we do to better align with our customers, creating greater value for them.  Ogilvy may have something here.

Zucker, goes on to say, “We thought it was time to reassert the importance of sales, honor the timeless craft of persuasion, glean wisdom from the best….”  Ok, now I’m worried.  Has sales been reduced down to the craft of persuasion?  But surely a firm like Ogilvy can’t be so far off target.  I’ll check out the YouTube site and learn more.

The introductory video  a sharp polished piece.  The narrator describes the job of the best sales people as “to pitch, pry, persuade….we turn no into maybe and maybe into yes”  He goes on to say, they will select the world’s best sales person based on video’s of people selling a brick.

OK, now I’m going off the deep end, but surely a firm as sophisticated as Ogilvy has to know that sales is about connecting with the customer, creating real value, and solving their problems.  I don’t think sales is just about the pitch.

Well, I’m really stupid, I must misunderstand what’s going on, so I look at one of their examples of a “great sales person.”  Guess what, they started with a car sales person—well if they can make a car sales person be truly great, then there must be something of value in what OgilvyOne is doing.  The video shows the car sales person drooling over a car, not one the customer was apparently asking about, talking about how he (the sales person0 would love to buy the car.  A subtitle appears “Envy Transfer,”  the story goes on, the customer now wants to look at the car.  The final scene is the sales person winking confidently at the camera, silently saying, “Screwed and manipulated another customer, let me go count my commissions.”

So this is an example of great salesmanship?  The sales person never asked the customer a question–I guess the sole purpose of a customer is to be an audience for our pitch.

Is this truly what great salesmanship is about, or is this really a representation of the lowest form of selling?  Doesn’t this really reinforce why customers don’t want to see us, don’t want to talk to us, or don’t trust us?  Is great salesmanship reduced down to a pitch and how great that pitch is?  All Ogilvy wants to judge is who does the greatest pitch, they don’t even provide a context of who the customer is and what their requirements are—Oh, I forgot, the customer is just there to be our adoring audience.

They are right, selling is a noble profession.  The business of selling is changing fast and we must change.  But professional salesmanship is about so much more than the pitch.  It’s about establishing a relationship with the customer.  It’s about learning about their goals, strategies, problems, dreams.  It’s about understanding what they want to achieve and then presenting how we can help them do this in a superior fashion.  It’s about delivering on this every day.  Professional selling is about managing a business–your territory, and doing it smartly and profitably.  It’s about executing the strategies of your company–all while aligning yourself with the customer and building value for them.  Professional selling is about managing your time, constantly learning, improving your skills, productivity and effectiveness.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.  Unfortunately, I think OgilvyOne’s contest does the profession of sales a disservice and does our customers a disservice.  It seems to be focused on tricks, techniques, manipulation–oh and yes, “pitching, prying, persuading…..”  I just hope buyers don’t see this and think this is what sales is really about!  To me, this contest takes the profession of sales 10 giant steps backwards.  It’s a shame, as a respected thought leader, they could have accomplished more for themselves, the profession, and the perception of sales.

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  1. David, I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and diagnosis. The irony of holding such a contest only to promulgate the wrong skillsets and attributes is dissapointing.
    The art of selling is a component of all successful people, whether it’s selling a commodity, a concept, or a political agenda. One of the most successful salespeople I know is a Mom who seamlessly moves her kids into better food, friends, and television choices. Great selling is a functional part of great leadership…getting people to do what you need them to do but making them understand it was their idea to begin with!
    Write on my sage friend!
    ~ Michael W. Young

    • Michael: Thanks for the comment, sales is helping people understand new possibilities–to improve their businesses, to improve how they serve their customers, to help them solve problems and improve their operations and to help them improve their lives.

      Doing this effectively is the what the best sales people in the world do, but it doesn’t start or end with the pitch. To reduce it down to “the pitch” reinforces all the negative perceptions that sales pitchmen have justifiably earned, createss a wider gap between buyers and sellers, and does the community a disservice.

      While it may be a publicity stunt, there are probably more effective ways of engaging the community than OgilvyOne has chosen.

  2. While Ogilvy may be exaggerating sales tactics for the purposes of entertainment, and prompting people to participate in their contest – are they really so far off?

    While we can discuss the differences in sales tools available to us in 2010 versus 1950 – has it actually become heresy to say that sales does equate to persuasion? We may persuade via different vehicles today, but ultimately, buyers are persuaded to act on an offer.

    I think they are simply drawing attention to the human side of moving goods and services,and encouraging us to remember that a quality sales process can not be automated – or reduced to clicks and tweets.

    “The pitch” is one aspect of the process – and it is the aspect that will certainly make for some very entertaining video, and a lively contest. Think of this as the “American Idol” of sales. I encourage a more light-hearted perspective. After all – they got us talking about it.

    Making sales look “bad” is in the hands of each sales professional out there – not Ogilvy.

    • Kathy, you make some interesting points. There is nothing wrong with persuasion–it’s how change happens. Effective sales professionals are effective change managers, helping clients envision better ways to run their businesses or identifying new opportunities. I’ve no problem with persuasion—if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog.

      I certainly also like a light hearted approach to looking at what sales people do–we often tend to take ourselves way to seriously. However, while it may sound crazy, when one looks at many of the perceptions of “what sales is,” if what OgilvyOne is doing is a parody, it has hit squarely on all that is wrong with selling, and is reinforcing that with the “World’s Best Sales Person” label. I see too much “serious” stuff that people are trying to push, that fits squarely into the same approach. I see too many genuine questions from naive sales people, trying to find out how to do these things—not recognizing they are doing the wrong thing. If it is a parody, then it is highly likely to be misinterpreted.

      There are so many other ways they might have approached this–even light hearted and humorous, but I think they have really missed the mark, and as purported thought leaders, I have higher expectations of them.

  3. You nailed it David. Surprising, coming from a firm who should understand the importance of consultative selling.


    John Robertson
    Director of Sales
    Brother International (Canada)

  4. David,

    Thanks for your posting about The World’s Greatest Salesperson – glad the contest intrigued you, although I hope I can clarify some things that obviously aren’t sitting with you right.

    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.

    You’re quite right that salesmanship is more than a pitch. The contest pitch is merely a focused way to highlight three pieces of the puzzle – an opening that builds a connection, a persuasive and convincing argument (maybe with some news) and a motivating close to help a customer take action.

    It’s certainly not an end allm and we would never say it was. The selling process starts way before that moment and certainly continues long after. (Indirect sales aren’t even included here, which we know are growing in importance). The persuasive part of it is what we have in common between sales and marketing. That is the part we can learn so much about, which is part of why the pitch is the test.

    You’re also right that establishing a relationship with a customer is important. So much of what we do too is about building long term relationships with customers for our clients. Incidentally, one of the videos (admittedly, humorously) even highlights that, illustrating the value of the salesperson’s connection with the customer. They know each other. They trust each other. He doesn’t want his customer to make a bad choice.

    I hope that clarifies some of your concerns and hope you’ll be supportive of the effort. We have much to learn as selling evolves, and it’s the great sales people in the world that are best suited to help lead that.

    Mat Zucker

    • Mat: Thanks for taking the time to comment and clarify Ogilvy’s intent. If being supportive is stimulating some discussion about the pros and cons of what you are doing, I guess I am being supportive. Actually, it could be very powerful to take this discussion to your site and engage your community in a great discussion on professional selling….just and idea.

      That being said, I think Ogilvy has missed a real opportunity to really do great service to sales. Your contest and promotion of the contest reinforces the old practice of sales, not what great sales professionals and leaders do and the dramatic changes that our profession faces. There are so many opportunities to engage an audience in a different way–one that is more reflective of the revolution that is going on in how people/organization buy, and what sales professionals must to perform–for their customers and for their own organizations.

      There are great opportunities to engage people in a light hearted and humorous way, but to stimulate a great discussion about sales professionals. Instead, it seems that OgilvyOne has chosen to take the easy way–the low road, by creating a “pitchfest.” I’m certain there will be a lot of clever entries and I look forward to a lot of laughs in the future, but based on the set up, I don’t think you will be doing anything to progress the state of practice or the state of understanding of professional selling.

      That’s the problem with it, OgilvyOne is a thought leader, it had/has a great opportunity to persuade–to change perceptions, to help the community grow and improve, instead it has taken the easy way out, and will get great parody’s of sales, but nothing that improves the profession.

      Mat, I do appreciate your courage and time to comment. I suppose we can agree to disagree, or possibly even engage in a discussion about how we leverage this to create a powerful discussion and build a strong community with great leadership from OgilvyOne. Regards, Dave

    • Matt,

      Your intentions are good, however I agree with David.

      At the core of selling is the “pry”, using your words.


      Because the “pry” allows the salesperson to understand what the buyer is looking to accomplish. It helps them understand what the buyer needs the product for. It delivers motive and need to the salesperson. It delivers the reason for the purchase.

      The pry is the linchpin to all sales. Once the motives, needs, etc (both obvious and hidden) are identified the “pitch” and “persuasion” keenly focus on demonstrating why my “brick” or widget can help them achieve their objectives and goals.

      Without the “pry”, persuasion and the pitch are nothing more than manipulation. It’s not sales.

      Without the “pry” the salesperson has no idea why the buyer needs the “brick”, car, software etc. Therefore they are shooting in the dark, pitching features that may or may not benefit the prospect. Hyping benefits that may or may not meet the needs of the buyer. We’ve all been there. Have you ever seen a car salesman try to sell a Porsche to a married guy with 4 kids. It’s not pretty.

      The “pry” is at the core of selling. If there is no pry, it’s not selling.

      You contest is asking for the best “pitchman” not the best salesperson. The best pitch person is in no way the best “salesperson”.

      The first lesson I ever learned in sales is: “Selling is NOT telling.”

      You’re contest is asking for a whole lot of telling!

  5. Sales professionals battle the used-car-white-shoed-con-artist image before they utter a single word. Many have done away with the “salesperson” title to disassociate themselves from this negative icon. And if I am incorrect for agreeing with you, than what I have done for nearly forty-years was not selling.

    Thank you for stepping up and speaking out.

    • Gary, thanks for the comment. While what is being done is probably a spoof, unfortunately, to too many people this is what sales is really about. (Both on the buying and selling side). Rather than perpetuate the image, the thought leader would try to change it–with humor.

  6. David,

    You are a gracious man, and being overly kind. I would like to respond to Mr. Zucker, who–in my humble opinion–is even worse than the original, because he thinks he’s ‘explaining’ the core elements of sales. In his words, an opening, an argument, and a close. Right out of the 50s.

    Wrong, wrong, and entirely what’s wrong with that old school approach. Mr. Zucker et al are stuck on this one-night-stand, linear model of getting customers to do what sellers want. They focus on efficiency–meaning don’t waste too much of your time on the customer before moving on to easier kills. They imply the customer/seller relationship is over when the sale is done.

    While Mr. Zucker acknowledges, at least in words, the importance of relationships and trust, the entire ad screams otherwise. Dave, as you know, the best salespeople in top companies and professional services firms are, on a daily basis, getting well past these issues. They focus on partnership, collaboration, joint value creation, and are guided not by closing rates and expense ratios, but by value created for customers, rooted in the belief that if you do that, your own numbers will do well.

    Go read an interview with Neil Rackham at where he suggests the best salespeople are ethical, and the biggest failure of sales people is pitching before listening. Why doesn’t Ogilvy give some play to ethics and listening, instead of trotting out 40-year-old manipulative models?

    Go read Jeff Thull on Exceptional Selling. Go read SharonDrew Morgan’s Dirty Little Secrets. Go read Jill Konrath’s Selling to Big Companies. Or if you’ll indulge me, go read my own Trust-based Selling

    Go read something, in other words, that talks about selling from other than the days of Mad Men.

    It is contests like this that keep the Big Four from buying books with “sell” in the title, for fear of being tagged with the very kind of “he could sell a brick to you” stereotype you’re reinforcing, that make firms like McKinsey to ban the use of the word, for fear of tapping into the same thing.

    Selling often is, and should be, an honorable and hugely value-adding calling. The largely transactional, one-off, zero-sum carnival barker games that Ogilvy is pitching in this contest are the business equivalent of blackface lawn jockeys.

    The reaction to it in this column and on twitter ought to give Ogilvy some major cause for concern. If they can’t sell selling itself any differently than they’d have done in the 50s, then why should anyone else expect them to work effectively in the 21st century?

    • Now Charlie, it’s not like you to hold back! I wish you would learn to express your opinions!

      As usual, the qualiity of the comments and the discussion far exceeds the quality of the original blog post. Thanks for your comments, I couldn’t add to them.

  7. WOW! That is frightening David. Actually, it seems fairly disrespectful to an entire profession. Perhaps they think that since “Mad Men” was such a popular portrayal of the ad industry, it made sense to drag sales back 50 years as well.

    • Keith, thanks for the comment. While it is disrepectful of sales and the example set by top sales professionals every day, it is more disrespectful of the customers—the victims of these meaningless pitches. Nowhere is there a mention of the customer, they are apparently these obstacles we must manipulate in making a pitch. The NY Times Article, in which Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman, is quoted as “recreating the noble art of ka-ching.” If I were a customer, I would run as fast as I could from people who espoused that philosophy. I’d be concerned about, whether they were really concerned about me–the customer, or if it was all about the deal, and what they could manipulate.

      The worlds of buying and selling are changing, unfortunately, they are promoting a vision of the past, without the wisdom of understanding how that vision has failed. But I suppose it makes good copy. In a day of Mad Men and CEO Reality TV, it’s not really a surprise.

      Thanks for the comment Keith!

  8. Dave,

    The more I learn about this contest, the more it ticks me off! It’s bad enough Ogilvy sponsors this travesty. On top of that, they were actually able to get “executives” from and IBM to serve as judges!

    Is it possible they’re so utterly clueless? What on earth are these people thinking?


  9. To bring a little levity to this discussion, there is an amusing story about the “world’s greatest salesman.” It seems that he was very depressed and decided to jump off a very tall building. The police sent a priest to talk to the despondent salesman. The priest jumped….

    Forgive me for sharing this irreverant story on Easter weekend but I think about it every time I hear the words “World’s greatest salesperson.” For the record, I agree with many of the comments, especially regarding the importance of sales as a noble profession.

    • Have you heard the one about 200 salesmen, I mean ad men, I mean lawyers at the bottom of the ocean……

      Thanks for bringing some humor to the discussion, we do take oursleves too seriously. In fairness, OgilvyOne intends, in some way for it to be a spoof, but the mixed messages in their press materials, detailed materials, NYTimes article, etc. and defense here shows they don’t quite know where the joke starts and ends.

      If anything, they have provided a great platform for a lot of us to talk about the profession and what it means to be among the world’s best sales people. For that, I can’t thank Mat and his team enough!

  10. Wow, what a terrific discussion! The sales profession thirsts for more discussions (or should) like this one. A few thoughts:

    1. To distill the art and science of professional selling down to “pitch, pry, persuade” is just plain wrong. The broad diversity of customers, of sales situations, of products and services being sold begs for more nuance and complexity than this three word phrase.

    2. On the other hand, I am a believer in persuasion. Persuasion is not only a PART of selling, it’s a part of any relationship (business relationship, family relationship, friendship,etc.). I’m from the pro-persuasion camp. Some salespeople are fearful of persuading because they equate persuading with manipulating, which it is not. It is getting another party to see things your way.

    3. I hate the word “pitch” when used in a sales context. “Presenting” is a part of successful selling, but only one portion of what we do.

    4. It’s just too easy to blame “car salesmen” for all the woes and ills of both the sales profession, and the source of the public’s disdain of salespeople. There are tacky car salespeople, for sure. But they exist in most industries, and I’d also like to point out that many salespeople, like B2B peeps, who would be released from their jobs after a week or two on the car sales floor because they just can’t make it happen. One call closing is difficult, and I’ve seen many experienced B2B salespeople fail at it.

    5. It strikes me that the core problem with selecting the “world’s greatest salesperson” is that we don’t all agree on what metrics should be used to make such a determination. What is selling, really? What’s the definition of a great salesperson? What’s the definition that can be used, and is applicable, across a great many industries and products and services? The profession seems to dance around these issues, and I think these discussions are valuable because they force us to begin to define our profession and create professional standards.

    • Skip, thanks for the great comment. You’ve added so much to the discussion. I particularly like the comment about car sales people. I fall victim to portraying the stereotype, but know that I wouldn’t even last a day. I think that’s one of the other issues with the contest, the thought, “I guess if you can sell a brick, you might be able to sell anything.” Sales is very diverse, requiring different sets of skills, capabilities, etc. A great B2B sales person, might be terrible at cars, retail sales, financial services and sor forth. Likewise, a great retail sales person might struggle selling enterprise software. Great sales people in North America, may not be successful in Asia.

      As you mention the context of what a great sales person is, changes depending on markets, products and other factors. Then going further, is the best sales person the one with the best presentation? Or is it the one who establishes the highest level of trust and confidence with the customer, though may have done a terrible presentation.

      To try to reduce the selection of the world’s greatest sales person to the best “pitch” for selling a brick demonstrates a real misunderstanding of the rich dimensions and challenges that face all sales people in being as successful as they can be.

      Thanks for adding the ideas. The great thing about this contest is that it provokes great discussions!

  11. Wow. To no one who knows me’s surprise, I’m horrified. My heart is actually racing. I really wish I hadn’t seen this link but thanks, David, for shining the spotlight here.


    So here’s are the two reasons Ogilvy has this so wrong. 1. They traditionally work in the B2C space and, 2. Agencies still sell their own services with the Darrin Stevens/Larry Tate methodology.

    1. Like most people who have never carried the B2B bag, there is still a horrifying misbelief that Brand and The Pitch win deals. Couldn’t be more wrong. Thank goodness more and more folks are realizing that we need to end our Brand stupor in B2B Marketing designed to sell candy bars, cars, and …er… bricks, is not not not the type of marketing and sales support we need to sell data warehouses, consulting services, BPO, and the like.

    2. They’re pitchmen. It’s what (I think) their clients and prospects expect. For whatever reason, it still works for them, but it’s definitely an outlier selling methodology. Although I can’t understand it, HQ folks buying agency services are still looking for the razzle dazzle pitch presentation – outmoded stuff great B2B relationship folks and organizations dumped at least a decade ago if not more.

    I’m actually embarrassed for the Ogilvy team:

    “Do you know your customer? Her Brand strategy?” Really, Ogilvy? Her Brand strategy? That’s what you think is an important question for a great consultative seller? Gack!

    “Sell us this Brick?” Really? Really, Ogilvy? Well that would require a monologue, eh? Monologue-ing is not something we want our sellers doing ever.

    “Close us.” Ok, words fail me here.

    Our best B2B sales tool is great questioning + great listening.

    I’m willing to bet that, if we quizzed the Ogilvy folks who put this spot together, none of them would be hired as an enterprise seller because they wouldn’t be able to sell in the world outside ad agencies but, more importantly, they don’t understand their target.

    Thanks for publicizing this, Dave.

  12. This is an April Fools – right?

    I mean you don’t hear Sandler, Hutwaite, TAS Group, etc. holding a contest looking for the best ad men……

    I know many people in the advertising business. Non of them can sell very well. They (the ones I know) spend an inordinate amount of time in beauty contests pitching their ‘credentials’ and entering contests.

    I note Mats’ comment about the pitch being only a part of selling – true, but it is the LEAST important part. I have not given one sales presentation in 8 years.

    However, there is a wider debate here as it’s not just the pony tails who see selling as a pitch.

    I recently witnessed the CEO of a Fortune 500 company give this advice to people who want to sell to the C-Suite..

    “You want to be enthusiastic about your topics, but you don’t want to sell, you want to be genuine. You want the passion you hold for a given subject to win the day. You don’t want people walking out saying ‘that was a load of corporate speak and a sell job’ – that’s not going to help you achieve the results”

    There you have it….. according to these CEO’s, selling is telling, a load of corporate speak and not in the least genuine.

    • Paul, thanks for the CEO quote. It drives home the point that you build your sales reputation and earn the business.


      John Robertson
      Director of Sales
      Brother International (Canada)

  13. I agree with the concerns and various remarks about how the Ogilvy competition could be pointing out the wrong parts of professional sales people.

    However it seems while we were so busy taking the high road we have all gotten a little high on our own horse. Take a good look at this campaign, what Ogilvy is doing. I think you’ve dismissed it before actually assessing it for yourself.

    First off, it IS a marketing campaign for Ogilvy One. This is a publicity opportunity for their organization and it is also a celebration of their heritage (and our profession). They may not be going over the top to communicate this point, but it is clear that the program is rooted in the love of David Ogilvy himself, as a salesman and this is their way to celebrate it. The winner is announced June 21 at Cannes and it just so happens that Ogilvy’s birthday is June 23rd – perhaps this will tie to something else? Either way, its an advertising campaign for arguably the best advertising agency in the world for the best salesman in the world.

    Watch the 4 minute video talking about David Ogilvy himself, his job as a door-to-door salesman, and his personal belief about sales. Seriously, Ogilvy was a remarkable salesman (for himself) and then as an ad agency for many others. Do you really think the team at OgilvyOne is trying to celebrate the smarmy salesman? No way. It would make Ogilvy turn over in his grave. He clearly loved sales as a profession and worked to move the concepts of sales into his advertising agency.

    So, why the videos of the car salesman (envy transfer), the kid wanting the gaming system (stats and facts), and the annual sales projections (personal touch)?

    Because… It’s coming from an ad agency and it has to create interest and attraction and be worth talking about. Also, they have to communicate “sales” quickly and the idea of a sale is best revealed with some of the known tactics in the sales process… Oh.. and these videos we are rebuking are less than a minute long. I’m sure it can be done, but I just doubt that a 60 second needs assessment, rapport builder, product presentation, trial close, close and follow up for maintaining relationship video just wouldn’t be that interesting to watch. So, they cut to the sizzle part of the sale. Can you blame them? I dont. And I dont think they are saying to be a great salesman, you have to model the guys in the videos – its a prop, an attention getter, and something to create buzz (like this blog post).

    If you watch all the videos, then the 4 minute long Ogilvy life video, then read the 6 page pdf – you’ll see its more than a ‘pitchfest’ they are endorsing. They are charging all of us great sales people to get a little uncomfortable, exercise the art of sales, use the passion inside you and show the world how important a brick can be (instead of whatever products and services you currently sell).

    They are saying – if you really are good, the greatest even, show your skills, your talent, your art and do it in 2 minutes or less and focus all that energy on COMMUNICATING why a brick is worth buying.

    I am 100% agreement with all the concerns about how this might make professional sales people seem like manipulative sales people. But its very clear that is not their goal. They have been working with companies for years to help them sell things that people were not buying or didnt know to buy. They thought Ogilvy himself was the greatest salesman in the world and they are asking you, us, to rise to the occasion – the client is up to you, but the product is a brick. Can you sell it?

    • Justin: Thanks for joining the discussion. You make some great points. It’s clear this is an advertising campaign with Ogilvy’s tongue clearly planted in it’s cheek–at least when you look at the video’s. As you look more deeply, at the NYTimes interview, Mat’s comments in this post, the rules, and so forth, it’s not clear to me that Ogilvy understands the joke. To some degree, it seems, while recognizing there are other aspects of selling, it is the pitch that is the most important component.

      Let’s take it a step further, isn’t Ogilvy just reflecting a common perception, both by customer and sales professionals alike? Isn’t there really too much focus on the pitch and presentation? We hear and see it everyday. I wrote a post about this, The World’g Greatest Salesperson – A Culture Of Pitchmen.

      Paul Lanigan makes some great points about the role of the pitch in his comments. I tend to agree.

      But isn’t this thewrong conversation, the conversation about professional selling should not be about the role of the pitch. Isn’t the right conversation about “how do customers want to buy?” The world of buying is changing profoundly–and customers are driving it. If sales doesn’t change, we will only be pitching in contests.

      Ogilvy has started a great discussion (whether intended or not). I don’t know what their plans are, but they have a great opportunity to demonstrateg real thought leadership, provide great value to their clients and to the community. I hope there is another shoe to drop. I hope they seize the opportunity to extend this conversation about the world’s greatest sales professionals. It’s one I know their clients struggle with, and that all other sales executives and professionals are looking at.

      Justin, I really appreciate you joining the conversation. These different views force us to look at different possibilities and reconsider our own views. Regards, Dave

      • Very interesting response Dave. I’d like to elaborate on another edge of the box we are in here. I have a quick personal story to elucidate my point.

        For about 7 years I ran a web development and marketing company – before youtube, facebook, twitter and information and quality people were much more difficult to find, work was hard to farm out, and it was difficult to rapidly scale manpower and seize opportunities via outsourcing. I was the face of the company even though I had 11 employees. I was the consultant, salesman, and customer service rep. I also came back and did production, quality assurance, design, project management etc etc – all the joys of being an entrepreneur.

        Anyway, I would go out on sales calls. The first call. Usually cold. With a CEO or Owner of a company – usually small to medium size businesses with $5M to $25M in annual revenue. As expected I would start talking to them about their goals and objectives, how they market now, how they would like to market and how their website is a part (or not a part) of that marketing function. On and on this would go.

        Consistently I had 1 of these same 3 outcomes.
        1) Was told no and there was no opportunity or relationship.
        2) Was told yes and began to service the account on agreed upon payment terms.
        3) Was offered a partnership opportunity to take their idea coupled with my idea and do my “tech and marketing” thing, and share in the combined success somewhere down the road (but no up front sale or cash transfer).

        Here’s the thing. I was not looking for partnerships. My mindset, business model, employee efforts and company focus was on creating cashflow through good relationships and good projects. It was consulting and services based on transactions. We had to match needs, abilities, and desired outcomes with willingness to pay. I was not interested in partnership opportunities that may have paid off at some point in the future but required me to fill the production queue with ‘unpaid’ work.

        See. I was looking for one thing and even though another thing (possibly great thing) was presented to me – I declined despite the opportunity it presented. It just didn’t fit.

        I think this is probably analogous to Ogilvy One’s efforts. They have their eye on this one thing they are trying to do, the thing they built this campaign around – the search for the greatest salesman. I fear that even though there is a distinct opportunity to do more with this – they wont.

        So this statement… and I’m quoting you here:
        “Ogilvy has started a great discussion (whether intended or not). I don’t know what their plans are, but they have a great opportunity to demonstrateg real thought leadership, provide great value to their clients and to the community. I hope there is another shoe to drop. I hope they seize the opportunity to extend this conversation about the world’s greatest sales professionals.”

        Is spot on from our perspective as sales professionals looking at this situation. But, similarly, in Ogilvy’s view, this may be analogous to my #3 above about a partnership opportunity for future value – and I’m betting, even though they could, maybe should, and definitely have all of us saying they must, THEY PROBABLY WONT.

        I hope I’m wrong.

        If Im not wrong and the other shoe does not drop, why not have you or all of us, pick up the torch and extend the conversation ourselves? Who says it’s Ogilvy’s place to control whether or not it goes to that next level?

        Anyway, that’s probably another discussion on another blog post! My point is that we may all be asking for #3 to happen when they are only expecting and intending to address #1 and #2 type scenarios.

        Excellent feedback by the way – and I do agree – that focusing on the pitch is “technically” the wrong thing to focus on.


        • Fantastic comment! I couldn’t agree with you more! As sales professionals, we shouldn’t wait for Ogilvy to provide the thought leadership, but we should be picking up the torch, writing, speaking, training, and executing through example.

          In picking up the torch, we might consider expanding the conversation, wouldn’t it be interesting to start talking to customers about how they are buying, how they want to be sold to, then engaging them in a customer directed process. I’ve started an initiative, it’s in the formative stages called the Future Of Buying. There are some posts on this site, but the most important thing is to start the conversation and to engage our customers in the conversation.

          I hope Ogilvy joins us in this discussion! They can bring an interesting perspective. Mat and the other folks at Ogilvy are smart guys, maybe they are thinking along similar lines. Perhaps we will have to wait and see.

          Thanks for keeping the discussion going, spread the word!

  14. Tricia Londos permalink

    Hi David,

    I think you make a great point about Ogilvy’s contest. Even though I am only just starting in sales, this is illustrating to me exactly how I don’t want to be. I want to be seen as a resource and not a sleazy salesperson. Can’t wait to read more posts!


    • Tricia: Thanks for taking the time to comment. Congratulations on joining a terrific profession! Great sales people are resources to their customers. In every exchange they create value, helping build their customers businesses and solve their problems. Showing how your products and services create superior value for the customer, after really understanding what they are trying to achieve is the mark of a professional.

      In addition, the best sales professionals are constantly learning and trying to improve. I’m flattered that you find this blog (and all the great commenters here) a resource for your personal development. There are a lot of great bloggers and resources available (many are people who have commented on this post).

      Looks like you are making a great start and have a promising future! Thanks for taking the time to comment, good luck! Regards, Dave

  15. I wonder whether the OgilvyOne people use the same approach they are pitching to us when they are pursing a significant opportunity with a client of theirs.

  16. Wow! I’ve never agreed with so many conflicting opinions. But overall, I agree with Ogilvy’s contest, and as a salesperson, it doesn’t offend me. In fact, I applaud them. I’m fed up with constant “shut up and listen” messaging salespeople are fed. Every purchase that was ever made required a vendor to communicate SOMETHING. Agreed: “pitch” is an antiquated term. Agreed: there’s much, much more to selling then raw persuasion. Agreed: selling a brick risks trivializing what we do.

    But persuasion is exciting, and persuading someone to part with his or her money for a stupid brick captivates my interest (call me weird–it’s OK). What a challenge! Go for it! Would some of you be more interested if Ogilvy created a contest about presenting the best CRM process (but you must use less than 20 PowerPoint slides!)?

    I understand how many people can take umbrage for reinforcing what can seem a negative stereotype. Salespeople have created enormous wealth and solved the worlds greatest social problems. What about a contest that nominates winners for those outcomes? (The best book on selling could be one that isn’t specifically about it–The Blue Sweater, by Jacqueline Novogratz).

    In the meantime, I’ll keep watching Billy Mays selling toilet bowl cleaner. He astounds me every time. And there’s no shame in it.

    • Andrew: Great comment and perspective! I don’t think anyone would argue about the importance of persuasion. Without it, change would not occur, new ideas wouldn’t flourish and sales people would become order takers.

      Also, I think presentations–yes even pitches–have importance in the sales process, though it seems that OgilvyOne seems to take it to an extreme.

      I think a key take away is the sales process is rich and varied (customer, market, situation) and the best sales professionals execute all aspects of it–in balance.

      Thanks for adding a great perspective. I’m interested to see the reactions.

  17. David Locke permalink

    Sales reps align themselves with the company strategy? I’ve seen too many examples of sales reps that served themselves to the detriment of the company and its strategy.

    As for Olgivy, the only selling they do is to clients. Their ads might sell, but how would you know? But, that would be a different way to sell, rather than a sales rep sale. That would be the sale that got you the leads that sales disregards.

    • David, I always love your comments, you challenge us to think differently.

      Sales reps focused on their own self interest, rather than their customers’ or company’s. It happens, maybe too often, this is a performance management issue, to my mind, hopefully management will coach their people that different behaviors are required, or address the issue in whatever way makes sense.

      As far as Ogilvy’s selling, couldn’t comment, I don’t know how they sell.

  18. Dave,

    You wondered if OgilvyOne uses the contest type of approach to approach new clients. We do what we suspect a lot of good sale people do is, and calibrate the way we sell to the situation, the need, the opportunity and where the relationship is in the buying or selling cycle. What a few have called joint value creation is dead-on for what success looks like. (We would quite tone deaf to a customer if we only messaged to them in a two-minute burst!)

    In some cases, like a new business presentation we might use a convincing argument grounded in research with new ideas and show the business impact. Or if we are with a customer you know and we have a short time with them to make a compelling point. Or if we’re creating direct response television and are trying to educate and persuade. I suppose those few examples are closest to the contest itself.

    Naturally, as MANY have pointed out here and I have tried to reassure that we do recognize: the selling process begins long before the actual ‘pitch’ event (sorry that word has such mixed response) and continues after as part of a substantial relationship. Especially in the direct marketing area of our organization, we do tons for our clients in CRM or customer relationship management.

    As a marketing agency and client partner, we also sell indirectly too of course — we help sales teams with materials and insight for their efforts. They shape and adapt the tools to the way they best see fit.

    As I’ve tried to point out in different ways, this video contest — which is a call to both professionals and even to amateurs) is merely a focused personality-friendly way to assess talent and ideas and some (not all) key elements in salesmanship.

    Admittedly, the narrow area of persuasion is especially close to what we do every day and will help us. Our end goal is much broader and any first challenge couldn’t do all of that. Many of the comments in just this one blog entry and all the comments reflect that broader canvas and complexity of a sale — and a relationship between a seller and buyer.

    • Mat, thanks for the outstanding response and clarification! Thanks also for your patience and good humor about this and the related discussions going on. Ogilvy has provided a great platform for each of us to get on our own soapboxes (as at least I know I am prone to do). But I think the discussion is an interesting discussion.

      As I have mentioned before, it’s easy to point fingers at the contest and say Ogilvy, doesn’t undertand professional selling (which as you describe, you clearly do). We really need to examine our own profession and how much emphasis we put on presentations and pitches. Yet this morning I was struck by one of the first tweets in the morning from Selling Power was on Power Presentations. There is such a bias toward talking and presenting in our sales culture, all of us fall into the trap.

      As you point out the pitch is just a part of the selling process. Each part of the sales process needs to be executed with perfection. No part stands alone–for example, if we just questioned and probed we would create very frustrated customers and no revenue.

      And persuasion is part of what we do. As I have mentioned before, without persuasion, we would just be order takers, or could be replaced by an internet transaction. Persuasion is not just limited to the presentation but starts from the first exploratory conversations we have. Persuasion starts from how we represent our points of view in marketing and social media. If we are ashamed of using the word, persuasion, then we have chosen the wrong profession.

      Finally, thanks for your enthusiast support of my “selling a brick ideas.” I do have a problem, I am in talks with James Cameron to produce 3-D versions of the pitches. The problem is he has a relatively long cycle time on films. Do you think I could have an extension 😉

  19. Lee permalink

    First of all, I`d like to thank David, Mat, and all the posters for the wonderful debate. There has been a lot of blind praise for the contest on the web, as well as broad sweeping criticism. This is the only place where I`ve read substantiated arguments from both sides. Just to throw in my two cents…

    In all communication from the representatives of Ogilvy, they stressed that the assessment criterion is centered on the salesperson`s understanding of the modern customer, and how that salesperson uses that understanding to establish a connection. I think Ogilvy`s Rory Sutherland put it well when he said that this is a “…test of how well you understand people and your creativity.”

    In this vein, Ogilvy is quite generous in letting each competitor set the parameters for who their target audience is. In this way, the playing field is equalized by giving each salesperson a potentially limitless understanding of their customer. In effect, the judges and voters can most fairly compare how the competitors use that knowledge to reach out and grab the attention of their target audience. Which I think is the point of their video spoofs… not all approaches are going to work for each person, but the salesperson intuitively makes a decision to reach out to their customer in a manner that they feel will best communicate and/or relate with him/her.

    I genuinely hope the negative reaction from respected members of the sales industry does not discourage people from entering the competition. So far, among the small number of early submissions, I am underwhelmed by most all of them.

    So, regardless of your initial reaction to the brick selling contest, I hope you can see Ogilvy`s original intention and encourage those you think are truly original thinkers, those who understand people, and those that are forward-thinking enough to adjust strategies effectively, quickly, and deftly to enter this contest.

    Sorry for the babbling, but I always enjoy watching a good competition! Especially one as unique as this one…

    • Lee, thanks for your thoughtful post. The debate has been tremendous and very healthy. Regardless what one thinks of the contest, the debate is a timely and important discussion. The worlds of buying and selling are changing profoundly. Professional sales people are in danger of being left behind, if they don’t recognize the bar on their performance is being raised — with or without their awareness — with or without their engagement or leadership.

      You make some outstanding points — I do hope there are some great and fun entries to the contest. At the same time, the contest focuses on a very small part of the sales process. I think this is the concern that I and many others have expressed. To focus only on this and to not recognize the other elements does professional sales and our customers a disservice.

      I hope — and think, however, that Ogilvy intends this as a platform for a discussion on professional sales. They and the rest of us in the community need to build on that discussion. Thanks for joining it, I hope you keep commenting and pushing us to be open to different approaches and ideas.

  20. Great discussion. My take is that the truly great salespeople, the ones that we all really want to buy from, have the following in common: Faith, Hope, and Love. (Pardon me for getting mushy here.)

    Faith in people to make good buying decisions. Hope that they’ll do so and that their efforts will be worthy to produce a financial return. And Love (as in the verb “to love”) for people applied in such a way so as to earn the right to appropriately ask for the sale.

    The old school, so perfectly exposed by Ogilvy, is dead. It deserves death because it’s what killed the US economy shortly after world war II. (A death which finally manifested itself late in 2008.)

    • Otis, thanks for joining the conversation! Your perspective really focuses on the human side of selling. Thanks for adding these points!

  21. Thanks Oligvy for creating some enjoyable videos to remind us what we should NOT do. Thanks to you Dave for drawing our attention to it.

    I think the real mistake here is not to differentiate between B2C and B2B. After all, just try pulling some of these techniques in the context the complex sale, or the sophisticated buyer!

    Indeed, our research with sophisticated corporate buyers shows that a key challenge for the professional seller is to differentiate him/herself from the stereotypical salesperson. That is to avoid exactly what Olgivy is highlighting.

    Keep up the good work Dave.

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