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 qualities alone. The good ones make themselves great with practice and discipline, mastering a series of skills that Sullivan dubs the 10 “Pitch Powers.” These are essential techniques he’s learned in more than 25 years “on the joint” (that’s pitchman-speak for the area where you’re selling).
In his new book, You Get What You Pitch For, Sullivan reveals the secrets behind his seemingly superhuman ability to persuade others—even if they start out regarding you with suspicion or even hostility. Do it right and you’ll change minds, open doors, get opportunities, turn adversaries into allies, make more money, and gain the kind of confidence that makes other people want to know you.
Here, in this exclusive excerpt, Sullivan covers Pitch Power No. 1: Know your acceptable outcomes.
Know Your Acceptable Outcomes
What are your goals for the situation where you’re bringing your superpowers to bear? Do you know what you want to accomplish before you step into the office for the job interview? Before you sidle over to the bar to charm the attractive stranger? Before you walk to the podium to deliver a speech to your shareholders? Do you know how you’ll react if one or more of those options is taken off the table?
Experience from English markets to U.S. national TV has taught me that few things go according to plan. It’s also taught me that the people who come out on top when things go sideways are the ones who don’t have to get everything they want, just some of it. In other words, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Here’s how.
Anatomy of a Superpower
This should be the first thing you look at when you’re thinking about how to persuade someone to give you what you want. Before you research and prepare and learn about what the other guy wants, know what you want. Know everything that can come of the opportunity that you can consider a win. Each of those is an acceptable outcome.
True, some outcomes are more acceptable than others. You want to land the job, not get the cold comfort of being a finalist. But sometimes you won’t get your first-tier outcome, and a lot of times, it won’t be because of anything you did or didn’t do. If you’re focused only on your first-choice goal, you could blow a solid secondary opportunity while you’re busy being disappointed and pissed off. I’ve learned there are few situations where you can’t extract something of value—as long as you’re prepared to do it ahead of time.
It’s a simple three-step process:
Step 1: What are my acceptable outcomes?
You saw that one coming, I know. But it’s essential. What do you want to get from this encounter, date, speech or sales meeting? What’s the best outcome? Second best? Third best? Is there a second or third? Now and then, it’s win or go home.
Let’s take an easy example. Say you’re knocking back a helping of Dutch courage before going over to speak to the lovely young woman seated alone at a corner table in a nightclub. She’s already sent three stallions packing tonight, so you’re nervous. But before you walk over, you sort through acceptable outcomes (or AOs):
a) Getting her number? Definitely. This is AO No. 1. We call this the jackpot outcome.
b) Getting your face slapped? No. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing.)
c) Having her agree to meet you here again later in the week? Sure. This is AO No. 2, the runner-up outcome.
d) Having a nice conversation and working on your game even though she’s not interested? Yeah, that’s not the worst thing that could happen. This is AO No. 3, the honorable mention outcome.
e) Getting your face punched by her boyfriend? That is the worst thing that could happen. Let’s not go there.
So now you know what you’re after, and having these outcomes in mind leads right to the next step:
Step 2: What do I need to do to reach each outcome?
This is where locking in your AOs is such a smart move. If the object of your affection says, “I never give my number to guys in bars,” most guys will wilt and slink away like kicked dogs. Not you. You have AO No. 2, and you say something like, “That’s all right, how about if we chat for a few minutes?” Odds are decent that you’ll get a yes.
This step is about mapping out your responses should something come between you and each goal. It’s a really simple formula:
a) Go for AO No. 1.
b) If blocked, ask, “Is AO No. 1 salvageable?”
c) If yes, switch tactics and keep trying.
d) If not, go to AO No. 2.
If I take my date into a popular restaurant and they say they don’t have a table, maybe I’ll say that it’s my girlfriend’s birthday and I was planning on treating her to a $200 bottle of wine, or pull out an American Express Black Card. There’s always a table somewhere, maybe reserved in case someone important shows up. Well, that’s me. I just need to refuse to take no for an answer. If there really isn’t a table to be had, what about a seat in the bar? Is that an acceptable outcome? Can I get a rain check and a voucher for a free bottle of wine when I come back? That’s acceptable to me.
Step 3: How will I make the most of each outcome?
Let’s say my date and I end up in the bar, eating at a high-top table. OK, I’m going to make that bar the spot to be in that restaurant, so that every guest hears how much fun we’re having and wants to be where we are. I’ll buy a round for the house, tip the bartender to let me go behind the bar and mix drinks, and maybe start doing a fake pitch of a Magic Martini Shaker or something. I have fun, make some friends and let the restaurant manager know that next time, he needs to find me a table.
Every so often, there won’t be a second acceptable outcome. Skydiving for example. I’m kidding. But seriously, when you’re going after your dream job, not getting it but knowing that you made some great contacts is like being told “Great game” after you just struck out with the bases loaded in the last inning of the World Series. Sometimes the classic line is true: Second place really means the first loser.
It’s OK if you don’t always have a backup outcome. Sometimes you’re in a “go big or go home” situation, and that’s cool. Give it everything you have and don’t be ashamed of feeling angry or hurt if things don’t work out. That happens to everyone. Sometimes it’s enough to know you bled for what you wanted and left everything on the field.
Anthony “Sully” Sullivan, star and co-producer of the Discovery Channel series PitchMen, has been the face of some of the world’s most innovative and successful brands that have racked up over a billion dollars in international sales, including OxiClean, the X5 5-in-1 Steamer, the Sticky Buddy and Smart Mop.