Perfect Pitch: A Tribute to Billy Mays, 1958-2009

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Think you can sell ice to Eskimos? What about making a sales pitch in front of strangers for toilet bowl cleaner, picture hooks, laundry detergent, or repair putty. Go ahead. Step right up. See if you’re a better salesperson than Billy Mays, who died this week at age 50.

Billy’s commercials for Mighty Putty, OxiClean Detergent, and Kaboom are as close as a sales process gets to haiku. He builds rapport and trust, identifies a problem, pitches a solution, and motivates action—all within a two-minute commercial. Straight up, straightforward—and straight for the jugular. Whether he’s talking about clean toilets or dirty laundry, Billy doesn’t tiptoe around anything.

Selling unglamorous solutions for unpleasant–even embarrassing– problems is much, much harder than it looks. And while it’s tempting to analyze Billy’s effectiveness by micro-analysis, his commercials are best appreciated without being encumbered by details. Billy connects with emotions, not with intellect. Who wouldn’t buy bonding putty that sets instantly, with the strength to pull a tractor trailer? I saw it in the commercial! And Billy just tripled the offer to six sticks!

What separates Billy Mays from other great salespeople isn’t his mastery of sales techniques. It’s not his effective deployment of people, processes, and technology. It’s his ability to delight the buyer. On that measure, he has few equals.

Whether we’re marketing gardening tools or ERP software, Billy Mays offers sales lessons for all us. In the meantime, a haiku tribute to Billy Mays, who could sell ice to Eskimos:

Top sales producer.
An opening. Hard sell. Close.
Buyer spends money.

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