What the Fuller Brush Man can Teach Us About Selling


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Ecommerce can learn a lot from the Fuller Brush Man. For those of you who are generationally-challenged, Fuller Brush Men were door-to-door salesmen who (wait for it) sold brushes and related cleaning supplies.

When he arrived at the door it was clear he understood the sales process and his place in it. He didn’t tell the women at the door what the Fuller Brush Company stood for. The company’s advertising in magazines and on television did this for him. He was a salesman. If he didn’t sell, he didn’t get paid. He needed to sell, and so everything he did was focused on selling. To that end, he used a time-perfected system to turn strangers into loyal customers.

The Introduction

First came his introduction. He was from the Fuller Brush Company and had an offer for her, something new / interesting / valuable / etc. to tell her about.

He had many ways to engage the interest of the customer. In each situation, he tailored his approach to reflect his relationship with the woman at the door. He had different techniques depending on whether or not they had met, and whether she had purchased from him before. In each case he also communicated the benefit of further conversation.

Above all, in the introduction phase he needed to keep that door open. He never lost sight of that primary goal.

The Presentation

Once conversation was engaged, he would present the benefits of his products. He used colorful brochures that showed how these innovations would benefit the women he was talking to, how they would make her life easier, more worthwhile, and more satisfying.

Testimonials were one of his most effective resources. Objective, third-party descriptions of how his products benefited the women who bought them. Whenever possible he would also provide a verbal testimonial from a neighbor, someone this woman might know and trust.

No hard sell here, just a colorful objective presentation of the facts.

The Argument

Once he had the women intrigued, he would present the argument: three to four salient reasons why purchasing his products was the most sensible and reasonable thing that the women could do today.

As in the introduction, the argument would be tailored to reflect his relationship with the women. This part of the conversation was closely focused on making the sale.

The Fuller Brush Man was wise enough to know it wasn’t about the products. It was all about the woman he was speaking with, and the benefits she would receive from the products.

The Call to Action

Finally, he would ask for the order. This usually involved assurances about how easy it was to buy, a brief reiteration of product benefits, and the offer. He would close with the additional benefit she would receive if she took advantage of his visit right now.

“It will only take a moment to complete the purchase so you can begin enjoying the benefits immediately, at the low, limited time, introductory price. And if you buy two, I can give you the third for half off.”

If she was a new customer, he would take a moment to learn a bit more about the woman and her family. He knew that this was the best time to do that–when she was fully engaged. He’d learned that his customers were surprisingly open about sharing personal details while they filled in the forms to complete the sale. He took mental note of how well kept the home was, and any problems the woman faced that he might help her solve.

For returning customers, he asked questions about the neighborhood. Who else would be interested in his products? Would she be willing to provide him with a reference or testimonial?

Once everything was finished, the check in his hand and the product delivered, he would present his customer with some small token of his appreciation for her patronage.

The Most Important Sale is the Second Sale

Now that the door was closed, the Fuller Brush Man would finish his job. He knew that his most important sale was the next one.

He made notes about what he learned: what the women bought, what he observed about the home and who else might be interested.

He would use this information to inform his next visit so, when he next appeared at the door, he wouldn’t be a door-to-door salesman, he would be a valuable partner in his customer’s household enterprise.

Hipkin’s Hip Shots

  • Selling is a process. Craft each step to be efficient and effective at its job. Don’t expect any single step to do all the work.
  • Design your advertising to be the introduction. Banners and search engine marketing have only one job, and that’s to get clicked. Let the landing page do the selling.
  • You need to keep the door open. Design your landing page to instantly communicate that the consumer is in the right place, and to show the important benefits they’ll get if they stay.
  • Make the page as relevant as possible based on what you know about your customers. Generally, it’s better to lead with the argument and to reserve product information for secondary pages.
  • Make it easy to buy and don’t forget to ask for the order.
  • Invite interaction. Capture information about the customer, what they say and what they do, and use it to improve future conversations.
James Hipkin
Hoffman | Lewis / Link
I manage the online advertising dept. of a mid-sized ad agency. My passions are customer relationship marketing, innovation, learning and interesting people.


  1. James, You are 5000 time right until you get to trying to adapt what shoe-leather marketing could do that web sites can’t.

    You wrote, “He had many ways to engage the interest of the customer. In each situation, he tailored his approach to reflect his relationship with the woman at the door. He had different techniques depending on whether or not they had met, and whether she had purchased from him before. In each case he also communicated the benefit of further conversation.”

    No web site can do that because it is static and it cannot “tailor his approach to reflect his relationship . . . ” Sure, some sites have a log-or register choice but what difference does any web site do that distinguishes the presentation after that? Not many for sure. Those that do, the show, maybe what they customer brought before or, maybe, what others who have bought the same thing(s). However, it may be that the customer wants/needs what they or others have bought.

    The other thing the Fuller Brush Salesman was able to do is address problems the customer my have . . . and he can do it with a very few words rather than rambling on (which a web site does just by it size and levels to get to what the customer may be looking for) After each of his short questions, he can see the reaction in the customer’s eyes . .. . again something a web site cannot do . . . and, if no positive reaction, he moves on to the next one.

    He also had samples the customer could see, feel, and, even, try. From personal experience I can attest, with products that sell for many times what Fuller products would sell for today, they do not have any sample to let me try before buying.

    What people think, and I hope this is not you, is that the Internet can do what it cannot possibly do. When it does it is because the customer buys and not that the web site sells. All the web site does is “clerk” the sale . . . sometimes it doesn’t do a very good job doing that. Sales are not made by or through computers and the Internet. Purchases are made through this medium.


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling,
    Attitudes for Selling offers consulting, workshops and speaking on all business topics that affect sales. He can be reached at [email protected] or via http://www.sellingselling.com.

  2. Very interesting that so many of these techniques still ring true, though any book on sales these days will tell you of the need to focus first and foremost on the customer’s needs – something not mentioned at all in the above.

    Sure we’re talking about brushes – but selling these days requires more than ‘telling’ and ‘offering’.

    It’s interesting the word ‘listen’ is absent in the above.

  3. Alan, thanks for the feedback. The Fuller Brush Man metaphor is a guide to what you should be thinking about when designing a Customer Relationship Marketing Strategy. Many websites are “static,” which is my point. If your customer data is robust there are many ways to have the website dynamically reflect your knowledge of past customer behavior. Amazon, for example, does this well. So does eBay. When you do this you don’t need to “ramble on” as many site do. You put the information the customer is likely to need right in front of them. If you think all a website can do is “clerk the sale” you are missing out on an opportunity to improve the selling process and enhance customer relationships.

    Ed, listening is vital. No argument. But listening without a strategy driving your response doesn’t get the job done. What can you do with what you learn from listening? You need a plan, especially online, to take advantage of what you’ve heard.

  4. April 18, 2009
    James, Yes, eBay and Amazon do great jobs when it comes to suggestive selling and “others who have bought _______ also bought _________” Both are versions of ‘buckshot marketing” in that they are throwing up some buckshot and hope some bird flies into it. Department stores, for years, as the level of sales expertise began to wane, began a sales training for suggestive selling i.e. if a many buys a shirt, also suggest a tie to go with it or visa versa. Today, when they show shirts often a ties is shown with it. However, when looking for a shirt very likely the customer has a tie that he wants the shirt to go with it or, if he is looking for a tie he already has the shirt that it will go with. If the items suggested were not in the customers thought process or conversations, there will be no interest in these items.

    My uncle Harry was a supurb jewelry salesman. Many of the things he did were what the Fuller Brush salesman did – only he did it from behind the counter instead of in front of the door. What made such a good salesman was that he could read a customer’s even before or if the customer didn’t say anything. As I said, he listened with his eyes as well as with his ears. So, too, did the Fuller Brush salesman. From that point they both had a very good idea of not only what to show but to set up a “second sale” for next time That is different from suggestive selling. There are no two customers alike because there are outside influences (family, friends, associates, acquaintances, possibly their customers/cliens and for sure their own conscience that are in constant change.

    I bring these points up because, not you, but so many people think that putting items on their web site will mean that people will buy them if they run into them. But that only happens, as I said, IF they have recently been thinking or discussing the product. Same for putting items for “suggestive selling.”

    Where we agree is that it is having a web site or CRM program takes a lot of thinking and planning and rethinking and do more planning so that what a web site or CRM program is not expected to do what it cannot do. Knowing the limitations is what helps make a site or a CRM program do what it can do . . . and do it effectively and efficiently. Expecting more than that means it will be less effective and more inefficient. That’s a different inefficiency than what is assigned to door-to-door and retail salesmen . . . the inefficiency due to not being able to face a lot of potential customers at one time or getting back to the both customers and potential customers more in a short time span.

    Some time ago on another topic thread, I asked if any business looks at their CRM program as a ‘profit center’ in addition to the profit centers of marketing and sales rather than treating the cost as an expense. If there are any on the CT forum, I did not hear from them. And then they wonder why their program is not doing what they want, need, or expect it to do.

    You brought up a very interesting point, maybe even a hidden point, in your article about the attributes of the sales ability of the Fuller Brush Man, that what made them successful was the ability to be flexible and to “bend” what they did and what they sold in order to meet their customer’s need. Over the years I’ve been in many discussions about the “Fuller Brush” techniques. Women who had bought from them always mentioned the few things that were the same – they way they knocked on the door or rang the doorbell, doffed their had and opened the conversation. I used these notes with some of my younger new salespeople to try to ge them to use their own words so that it would not sound like we had them use a script. Somewhere in my office I have some notes on this. Maybe during my spring cleaning it may show up.

    I’m sure that as the younger (than I) generations mature, a few will fall back, due to their personality, into naturally coming close to the attributes we give to the Fuller Brush salesman. But most, will be separated from their customers due to having a computer between them . . . for them, that is their way of life. For those of use who watched Fuller Brush salesman at work, we are dying off – moribund thought, isn’t it – so our numbers are getting less and less and what the Fuller Brush salesman did will be as foreign as some of the virtual world is to us.

    Again, thanks for bringing up the past and that it can have a positive effect on the future . . . at least I hope it will.



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