By Tim Vandehey
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Anthony “Sully” Sullivan went from selling car washers in rainy Welsh street markets to selling to audiences of millions around the world as the face of OxiClean. How did he do it?
Convincing people to give you what you want is an art form that takes charisma and confidence. But no great pitchman achieves success based on those qualiÂties alone. The good ones make themselves great with practice and discipline, mastering a series of skills that Sullivan dubs the ten “Pitch Powers.” These are essenÂtial techniques he’s learned in more than twenty-five years “on the joint” (that’s pitchman-speak for the area where you’re selling).
For the first time ever, Sullivan reveals the secrets behind his seemingly superhuman ability to persuade others–even if they start out regarding you with susÂpicion or even hostility. Do it right and you’ll change minds, open doors, get opportunities, turn adversarÂies into allies, make more money, and gain the kind of confidence that makes other people want to know you.
From the first Pitch Power (“Know Your Acceptable Outcomes”) to the last (“Finish with Confidence”)–with invaluable strategies along the way on using your flubs to get a laugh, how to deal with push-back, and more–Sullivan reveals that pitching is all about engaging a person face-to-face and eye-to-eye so they feel like you’re speaking directly to them, even if there are fifty other people in the room. It’s turning a crowd of strangers with their arms folded into a legion of fans ready to say “yes” enthusiastically to whatever you propose, what Anthony Sullivan calls fierce agreeÂment. It’s the power to get the job, get the girl (or guy), get the part, make money, get better service, advance your career–do just about anything you want to do.
From Welsh Street Markets to Selling to Millions as the Face of OxiClean
As we begin, let me clear up a common misconception right off the bat.
Pitching is not about selling.
Pitching can be used to sell, but that's not the same thing. Pitching is more. Pitching is about connecting with another human being. It's about being authentic about your ability to meet somebody's need or solve his or her problem. It's about filling up the room with positive energy until the other person—a recruiter or judge or credit card service rep or whoever—is delighted to give you what you want. Become a master at pitching and you become a boss at three skills that can change your life:
1. Connecting with other people instantly.
2. Taking command of every environment.
3. Getting people to see you as the solution to their problems.
Pitching and the ability to persuade people to give you what you want—even if they started out regarding you with suspicion or even hostility—is power. It's figuring out what someone cares about and then caring about it yourself so you can give them what they need. It's engaging a person face to face and eye to eye so they feel like you're speaking directly to them, even if there are fifty other people in the room. It's turning a crowd of glowering strangers with their arms folded into a legion of fans ready to say yes enthusiastically to whatever you propose, what I call fierce agreement. It's the power to get the job, get the girl (or guy), get the part, make and save money, get better service, advance your career—do just about anything you want to do. Unless you live on an island or spend your days playing video games in your parents' basement, happiness and success in life depend on persuading someone else to give you something you want. You're constantly pitching, even if you don't realize it. If you walk into a Jeep dealership, you're pitching the salesman and sales manager, trying to persuade them to give you the best deal on a shiny new Grand Cherokee and the best price on your trade-in.
If you see someone interesting and attractive at a bar or nightclub and want to get their phone number, you're pitching them. You're trying to engage their sense of humor, get past their natural skepticism at being hit on, pique their interest, and build some trust so they'll take a chance on meeting you for coffee.
When you walk into your boss's office for your annual performance review, you're pitching her on how you gave the company amazing work during the past year and convincing her that you should receive a gold-plated review, a fat raise, and maybe that corner office that's been standing empty since last quarter.
If you're a server or bartender, you're pitching customers every time you clock in. You're talking with them, paying attention to small cues and body language, listening to their terrible jokes, finding ways to make them feel taken care of, and possibly acting as their therapist, confessor, partner in crime, or wingman for the evening. Why? So you can get a big tip, pay your bills, and afford a vacation to Mexico where somebody can wait on you for a change.
I'm pitching you in this introduction. It's true. I'm trying to connect and get you excited so you'll keep reading, and I'm using all my enthusiasm and boyish charm to do it. (It's a shame you can't hear my English accent, because it's dazzling.) If you've read this far without even realizing it, then it worked. That's the power of the pitch. The better your pitch, the better your outcome. But becoming a pitching superhero doesn't just happen.
OXICLEAN, BILLY MAYS, AND ME
Convincing people to give you what you want is an art form that takes charisma and confidence, but no great pitchman becomes great based just on those qualities. The good ones make themselves great with practice and discipline, mastering a series of skills that have proven themselves from the street markets of coastal England and the home shows of America all the way to the election stump. Those are what I call the Pitch Powers.
Think of the Pitch Powers as your version of Batman's utility belt: an arsenal of precision tools you can use to craft a winning pitch, rescue a situation that's going sideways, or get a conference room full of people cheering for you. They're the essential techniques I've learned in more than twenty-five years "on the joint" (pitchman-speak for the area where you're selling, where you try to attract customers), and they've taken me from selling £10 car washers in rainy Welsh street markets to selling to audiences of millions as the face of OxiClean.
If you know me at all, you probably know me because of OxiClean. After all, I've done countless commercials for the product and I wouldn't be here without OxiClean. That also means I wouldn't be here without Billy Mays, and while Billy is a book all by himself, a little backstory is in order.
The first time I saw OxiClean, it wasn't called OxiClean. I actually don't remember what it was called. It was 1993 and I was working a corner booth at the Miami home show, a twenty-four-year-old kid selling my Super Shammy Mop. Not far from me was this lady at her joint with this giant mound of white laundry powder that looked like a prop from the movie Scarface. While I was busy pitching mops, business was slow for her. Around the corner was an older pitchman named Max Appel, sitting with his wife, Elaine, selling rubber brooms. I liked Max. He was a genuine guy who always had interesting ideas and would always come over and say hi.
Max must have noticed this new oxygen-powered stain remover and seen something that I didn't, because before I knew it Max was sitting at the joint with the white powder, and now it was called OxiClean. It wasn't long before Billy Mays was on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) selling OxiClean, and then a few a months later Billy and Max had produced the first thirty-minute infomercial for OxiClean—with Billy as the pitchman! I vaguely knew Billy, but he was the right guy for OxiClean; he just nailed that pitch. It was trademark Billy: loud, positive, going a mile a minute with his classic catchphrases. If there was ever a match made in heaven, it was Billy Mays and OxiClean.
Part of being a pitchman is finding the hook, message, or "wow" factor that makes your pitch stick. Billy found out that OxiClean wouldn't just take stains out, but that certain things would turn white instantly the minute it touched them. At HSN, where he was already pitching Orange Glo furniture polish, Billy was able to hone his pitch for OxiClean. He would take a wedding dress, sneakers—anything that was normally white—make them pitch black, and then do these live demos and blow people away.
The lines he would come up with! "Powered by the air you breathe, activated by the water you and I drink!" "The power of bleach without the damaging effects of chlorine!" "It's like a white knight in shining armor!" "The Stain Specialist!" They were perfect, pitch perfect. In very few words he was able to clearly communicate what this amazing new stain remover was doing. "It's not clean unless it's OxiClean!" he would bellow.
Billy would go from a relaxed demeanor to soaring bird of prey in full flight, right there on live TV, firing off these great lines one after another. He'd put a scoop of OxiClean in a fish tank and the water would go from black to white. It was amazing. OxiClean sales at HSN went through the roof; it became their biggest cleaning product ever. The hosts would get excited and Billy would get louder and louder. But the magic was the method. Billy was a master at setting everything up so that OxiClean looked miraculous.
It wasn't long before HSN was ordering forty or fifty thousand units of OxiClean at a time. Max Appel and his family had found their man in Billy, and Max decided the next step for OxiClean was to get it on store shelves everywhere. For that, he needed a two-minute commercial as a promotional tool. That's when he called me. I had just started my production company, Sullivan Productions, and Max knew me for a very successful commercial I'd done for a product called the Tap Light. A meeting was arranged at the Venetian Resort Hotel in Las Vegas in 1998 and Max said, "I want you and Billy to work together and do a two-minute commercial." Billy and I looked at each other. At this point, we were not the best of buddies; we were rivals who didn't really have time for each other. I couldn't see Billy taking direction from me.
Finally, we agreed. One commercial. One.
Then, flying home from Vegas in first class, guess who was sitting next to me? I pulled out my laptop and asked Billy what part of his HSN pitches would fit into a 120-second commercial. We ordered a bottle of wine and he started pitching me, loudly, right there in first class, annoying the hell out of everyone. By the time we landed (after a second bottle of wine) we were half crocked, but I had this piece of paper with the best-of OxiClean lines written on it. I turned it into a shootable script, and a few days later Billy pulled up to my office in his Rolls-Royce. With a shoestring crew and budget, we set up a table and shot our first OxiClean commercial in three hours.
I was a rookie director and not sure how to direct Billy, who wasn't going to take any crap from me. He would glare at me as if to say, "Do not tell me what to do," but I knew what I was doing and he could tell I had our best interests at heart. To Billy's credit, he was a pro and he brought his "A" game; he was great at what he did. Me, I loved being behind the scenes, running the show, and giving him shit. He hated it, and he was constantly telling me to zip it and giving me the evil eye. That was the beginning of our back-and-forth relationship. The bottom line is that we both wanted it to work.
I edited the commercial in a day and sent it to Max for approval. He made one edit and it was done. We sent the commercial to the dub house for distribution to stations everywhere, and then it happened! You couldn't turn on the TV without seeing it. Suddenly, Billy and OxiClean were everywhere.
In a few weeks, we heard that the CEO of Wal-Mart, Lee Scott, was so excited about the spot that he made OxiClean a global VPI, a volume-producing item. Almost overnight, every Wal-Mart in the world had huge stacks of OxiClean by every cash register. In no time at all, OxiClean had gone from a small no-name brand to an HSN staple to the biggest thing to happen to laundry since bleach. I was walking down Madison Avenue in New York City a little while later, saw an issue of Advertising Age, and on the cover was our commercial! The best part, though, was that the guys from Procter & Gamble, who make Tide, had no comment.
After that, it was up and to the right. Billy and I shot more and more commercials—for Kaboom!, Orange Glo, you name it. We also became fierce friends. I loved it. I didn't have to be on camera. I could write and direct and Billy would go on camera and dominate. We shared in everything. He pitched, I produced, and it was perfect.
Of course, nothing that good could last. In 2005 I received a call from Joel Appel, Max's son: they had sold the company to Church & Dwight for $325 million. The next day I was in Denver and sitting down with the CMO, Bruce Fleming, who looked shocked when he said, "You're the marketing department for OxiClean?"
I told them that the marketing department was actually me and Billy. To their credit, they understood Billy's value immediately. They cut a deal with him, welcomed him warmly, stayed true to the pitch, and Billy and I were a team once more. For four years, we worked with the new OxiClean team and a super talented TV reporter and consumer advocate named Paul Moriarty to create many OxiClean and Kaboom! commercials. Then, out of nowhere, Billy died tragically in 2009, and after a very challenging few months, I ended up becoming the on-camera pitchman for OxiClean. I knew the pitch and knew the lines, and I've been privileged ever since to walk in Billy's very large footsteps. It's 2017, and my commitment to OxiClean and Church & Dwight is rock solid. So you'll be seeing my mug telling you how to get rid of stubborn stains for years to come.
I wasn't thinking in terms of Pitch Powers back in those days. We really didn't know what we were doing when we made that fateful commercial, but it's my favorite spot of those I've ever produced. The cadence, the offer, it's all perfect. In looking back, I realize that the key to pitching is to keep it simple. The Pitch Powers are really just good sense and knowing how to make people smile.
What are the Pitch Powers? I'm glad you asked.
1. Know Your Acceptable Outcomes. Before you set a toe in that office or walk on stage to give your speech, know your goals. What's the best outcome? What can you live with?
2. Understand Their Pain (and Be the Cure). Learn how your audience is hurting and why, and how you can help.
3. Obsessive Preparation. Know your pitch blindfolded. Practice until friends think you've lost your marbles. No stammering, no hesitation, just smooth, clean, and confident.
4. Make an Entrance and Take Control. Finally, you're ready to go into the room. When you do, make sure everyone notices. Use power words and gestures to grab attention. Control the pace and rhythm. Stand out from everybody else.
5. Breach the Force Field. Most of us distance ourselves from other people for our protection. I call it the force field. If you can breach it with humor, compassion, or anything else, you can really connect.
6. Facts Tell, Stories Sell. Nobody wants to sit around a campfire listening to someone recite facts and figures about the stars and planets. But everybody loves a good story about the night sky. Tell a story and you'll have your audience in the palm of your hand.
7. Love Your Mistakes. You're going to forget details, get nervous, and otherwise step in it. You know it; so does your audience. Don't pretend. Use your flubs to get a laugh, break the ice, and make you more relatable.
8. Push Back. A pitch won't always go your way. The listener will dislike you, throw you a curve, or say no. Don't slink away; turn the twist to your advantage.
9. Never Be Closing. When you pitch, trying to make things happen can undo all the trust you've built and the spell you've cast. Don't force it. Don't close anybody. Trust the process, allow silence, listen, and let things happen.
10. Finish with Confidence. A great pitch ends with the listener wishing you weren't done. Accomplish that by making a confident exit or an impossible-to-refuse offer, until the listener can't wait to spend more time with you.
Since most encounters proceed according to a more or less predictable pattern, the Pitch Powers are meant to be used in a rough sequence: prepare, learn about your audience, make your commanding entrance, and so on. But as your skills improve, you'll find that you can improvise and mix them up to fit the situation.
Where to Use Pitch Powers
What situation? Any situation where you're across the table from another person or group of people trying to persuade them to do things your way, give you something you want, or agree with your idea—basically, almost every situation! People associate pitching with selling, and if you're in that line of work, you can absolutely use them to crush your sales goals, but the Pitch Powers are superpowers for a lot more.
Pitch Powers can become your secret weapon in areas of life where you wouldn't think knowing how to pitch would make a difference… but it does. What I'm going to teach you will help you:
• Land the dream job that seventy-five other people have interviewed for.
• Get the number of that attractive person who's shot down everyone else at the bar.
• Earn more tips than everyone else at your job put together.
• Destroy your sales benchmarks and earn bigger commissions than ever before while creating customers for life.
• Win a disagreement about anything, from where to eat to a child custody battle, without ill feelings on either side.
• Bring the house down with that big keynote speech or critical presentation.
• Get discounts and credit card rates that nobody else can seem to get.
• Talk your way out of a traffic ticket.
• Successfully make your case for that raise in pay or year-end bonus.
• Make an unbeatable case before a judge or mediator.
• Convince investors or crowdfunders to give their money to launch your start-up company or hot new idea.
• Convince your kids to do what you want without shouting.
• Become Teacher of the Year.
• Own the room at your next audition.
• Lead your team to the playoffs.
• Successfully run for office.
A few of the situations on that list probably apply to you. Maybe a lot of them. Either way, it's easy to see that being persuasive, charismatic, and confident can get you money and romance, open doors, get you out of trouble, and make life a lot easier. Pitching has brought me opportunities and gotten me out of a few scrapes, such as the time when, newly arrived in America and driving from California to the East Coast, I got pulled over and successfully pitched a highway patrolman a Smart Mop in lieu of a speeding citation that could have gotten me deported. Thank God that cop had dirty floors.
Pitching is powerful. But it's just as important to know what the pitch isn't:
• It's not a way to get people to buy things they don't want or need.
• It's not a con artist's trick. If you think that, you've probably been watching too much Glengarry Glen Ross.
• It's not a "say anything" weapon for getting someone into bed.
• It's not a secret tool for winning arguments with your significant other when you're the one at fault.
I'm going to teach you not to sell but to share. I'll show you why you can't persuade anyone until you love yourself. I'll impart trade secrets and explain the role that showmanship plays in a winning pitch. You'll learn to read your audience, control the tempo, win them over with total authenticity, and stop pitching at the perfect time to leave them craving more.
This takes resilience, repetition, and being best friends with risk. You'll get comfortable with rejection because no matter how skilled you are, no pitch works every time. But each time you go back to the drawing board and reassess what didn't work, you'll fine-tune it. Eventually, it will feel effortless. The perfect pitch is like beautiful music that you don't ever want to stop listening to.
I'm going to teach you how to be successful at whatever you want to do. You don't need a rich daddy. You don't need a degree. You don't need to rely on government handouts. You will need:
To smile more than you frown.
A strong heart.
To get up early.
To be able to withstand extreme conditions.
To be able to laugh.
To be able to pick yourself up when you're down.
Can you do that? Then you can pitch. Forget about a magic word or getting bitten by a radioactive spider. Let's get you some Pitch Powers.
POWER NUMBER ONE
KNOW YOUR ACCEPTABLE OUTCOMES
Good for saving the day in every pitching situation.
It was Tuesday, June 22, 2009. I was sharing a limo ride to the NBC studios in Burbank, California, with Billy Mays and thinking, Do not fuck this up over and over again. I had been preparing myself for weeks for what was about to come, but I was nervous. After spending thousands of hours and most of my adult life pitching products on television, as well as making hundreds of guest appearances on every type of talk and news show you can imagine, I was going to make my first appearance on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. I had been training, mentally and physically, as if I were getting ready for a big race. When the moment came for Billy and me to walk toward that famous curtain for our entrance onto the set, I wanted to feel ready. I had a few goals in my head:
1. Don't fuck it up.
2. Promote Billy's and my reality show, Pitchmen.
3. Increase my fame a little bit.
4. Look like I know what I'm doing.
5. Again, don't fuck it up.
One of my favorite lines from Gladiator reverberated in my head: Win the crowd, win your freedom. Right. It became a calming mantra.
You have to be a guest on The Tonight Show to fully understand what it feels like. You spend hours in the bowels of NBC, first in makeup chairs and then in the green room, before finally walking on stage in front of a live audience of millions. The show clock counts down to showtime: tick-tock, tick-tock. Can't back out now. Is this cold sweat normal?
Billy was already the most famous pitchman in the world, a booming-voiced icon in blue shirt and khakis, with jet-black hair and a jet-black beard, who had appeared on TV more often than Oprah herself. He had already been on with Leno twice, but this was my maiden voyage, and I went for a morning run in Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills to unwind. Nearly twenty years earlier, I had come to America a nobody from England with less than $200 to my name. Yet somehow, I was a multimillionaire, about to appear on The Tonight Show with my friend and partner. I felt great and confident about our journey together.
We met back at the hotel. Billy had arrived late, but he was already in his blue-and-khakis uniform, and we ribbed each other as was customary.
"How many shows you gonna do today, Billy? Aren't we just doing the one?"
"I just want to give them options, Sul."
"What options? You always wear the same thing!"
"It's my suit of armor, Sul. How many times have I been on The Tonight Show?"
"How many times have you been on The Tonight Show? Oh, that's right, zero."
This was our normal routine, taking the piss out of each other. We'd had a lot of practice.
Soon after we arrived at NBC and were tucked into the green room, Conan's producer, Rachel, came into the room and greeted us. Then she said, "Okay, so here's the plan: Sully's sitting next to Conan."
If this had been a reality show, it would've been the moment when the camera zoomed in on Billy's face just as a thudding bass note played. It was like a bomb had gone off. Billy had a healthy ego and loved being a star, and he could go from teddy bear to super-pissed-off grizzly bear in the blink of an eye. Grizzly Billy was out. He glared at Rachel. Then at me. A grumbling "urgh-urgh-urgh" came from deep within the pipes of the loudest pitchman on earth, a baritone assertion that meant, That ain't gonna happen. You could've cut the tension with a knife.
Rachel began laying out the plan for our segment, but Billy interrupted her, pointing at his chest with his right thumb and saying, "I'm sitting next to Conan."
Without hesitation, Rachel fired back, "No, Sully's sitting next to Conan." So began the test of wills. I watched with amusement as the two of them battled like that, back and forth, for the next few minutes. Rachel wasn't giving any ground, so Billy finally played his trump card: he started putting his stuff back in his satchel like he was packing up, taking his ball, and going home. It was a bluff and I knew it. There was no way that Billy, who adored the limelight, was going to let me, his second banana, go on with Conan alone.
I understood why the producers chose to seat us this way, even if Billy didn't. They worried that with our healthy egos and Billy's louder-than-a-747 voice, we would shout over each other and turn the interview into chaos. If Billy sat next to Conan, they figured I would disappear entirely. They thought that if they put me between Billy and Conan, I'd have a fighting chance. What the producers didn't realize was that Billy and I were professionals. Over our two decades together we had become a well-oiled interview machine. We had our shtick down, and once cameras were rolling we knew how to handle each other.
When I realized that I was going to get the top seat, I turned my head to keep Billy from seeing my smile. Billy was pissed, and I wanted to stay out of the shit storm. But I was thinking, I got him… for once! My goals—my acceptable outcomes—for the evening, shifted instantly:
1. Don't fuck it up.
2. Get my brand and notoriety more on a par with Billy's.
3. Don't let Billy murder me.
4. Be charming and celebrity-like.
Then came the second blow to the man who built the house of OxiClean: Rachel told us that I would walk out first. Billy stared at her for several long beats and then just shook his head. After she left, I said, "Billy, you told me you wanted this for me. Well, here's my moment, and I'm taking it." That, I'm certain, is when Billy hatched his plan.
Billy did want me to have everything he had—money, fame, opportunity—with one exception: he absolutely did not want me or anyone else to overshadow him, ever. We settled into an awkward silence in the green room as he started doing his makeup. Billy did his own makeup, ironed his own clothes, did everything himself. It was part of his process. We watched Lisa Kudrow's interview and we knew Conan's team had us up next because, as the executive producer of Pitchmen told us, we had become a "world-class comedy team." We had the patter, the insults, and the laugh lines down to perfection. We would be doing a mock infomercial with a hundred products lined up on a table, and we didn't know ahead of time which ones Conan would ask us about. We had to be ready with our key lines and one-liners, and we were. We knew how to win over even the toughest audience and we weren't about to bomb on The Tonight Show.
Stealing the Seat?
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2017
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Da Capo Lifelong Books