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4 Powerful Lessons From One of the Greats

4 Powerful Lessons From One of the Greats

July 02, 2009

It's a shame but we don't really get to know someone until after they die.

These past 2 weeks we've gotten to know quite a few people better: Karl Malden, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and of course Michael Jackson, all of whom died in the past few days. But there's one I'm leaving out who has left a legacy we could all learn from that would probably help us run our businesses a bit better.

Who am I talking about?

The same man who brought us OxiClean ('Powered by the air you breathe'), Mighty Mendit ('Before you throw it away, let Mighty Mendit save the day'), the spill cleaner Zorbeez, the Awesome Auger and many others. I'm talking about legendary pitchman Billy Mays whose unmistakable over-the-top enthusiasm for some common every day products dominated infomercials and appearances on the Home Shopping Network.

Pitchman Billy Mays

Whether you loved him, hated him, found him annoying or just couldn't believe someone could get so excited about a laundry cleaner, he got you to pay attention. Sadly, he died Sunday at his home of heart failure at age 50.

But I'll be reminded of him many times this summer as I walk through the fair and along the boardwalk as I pass the guys hawking the knives, the juicers and those super absorbent towels. Mays was one of those guys travelling to fairs and boardwalks up until about 13 years ago when he was asked by a friend to pitch Orange Glo on the Home Shopping Network and they sold out immediately afterwards. Within a few years he was the most sought after pitchman in the business
As we discover more about him following his death, he did leave us with a few lessons learned:

1. "I'm a pitchman, my business comes from the pitch, nothing else," Mays said recently in an interview with Portfolio. Most businesses are about the pitch. It's that Big Zig I talk about, that one thing that separates your products from the rest.

2. "My voice, my likeness is my livelihood,' he went on to tell Portfolio. 'That's it. I keep it simple. I pick good products." Mays was known for only using products that he would use himself. If he didn't find it useful, he didn't pitch it. And that came across in his presentations. He talked from experience and it was clear that he believed in the product he was selling ' there was no mistaking his sincerity! CNN called it an 'I've tried it' believability.

3. While working the crowds along the Atlantic City boardwalk, he described the scene in an April ABC Nightline interview: 'There would be tons of people coming in and you just had to, you know, attack these people, stop them, you know, where they're shopping and tell them the story and sell the product." It was all about the story. That's what kept their attention. People love to hear great stories even if it is about a how soft a seat cushion can feel!

4. He had a passion. Like he said many times, he didn't grow up to be a pitchman. It just happened. But he did have a passion for selling products and telling great stories about how the products worked and he did it with such excitement and energy that you couldn't help but be amazed.

So let me leave you with these 4 questions inspired by Billy Mays:

1. What's your pitch?
2. Do you have that 'I've tried it' believability when talking about your own product?
3. What story can you tell about your product that will keep people's attention?
4. How can you invoke more Billy Mays type passion into your pitch?

Like I said, we often don't get to know someone until they die, which is another topic for another day. In the meantime, ask yourself those 4 questions I just listed. I know it made me think hard about my own business and I have Billy Mays to thank for that.

Taking you from where you are to where you want to go,


Jon Goldman, CEO
Brand Launcher