The Billy Mays 5-Step Guide to Easy Selling

Billy Mays

Billy Mays, who sadly passed away this summer at age fifty, was a pot-bellied, black-bearded Atlantic City carnival barker in a blue long-sleeves over a white undershirt.

He had a loud, shrill, and annoyingly exuberant voice. And he seemed to lean forward, through the TV screen, and put his nose in your face, the way only pitchmen do.

Madison Avenue style brand marketers who believe asking for an order even once, unless it’s in small grey type, is undignified, contemptible and just plain bad manners, absolutely loathed him.

Direct marketers idolized him.

Consumers, well, they either loved or hated him… or were totally unaware of him (presumably Tivo owners).

Bottom line: Billy sold the hell out of stuff. And he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it.

Billy bellied-up to bar with the TV viewer and spoke straight and to the point: you got a problem, I’ve got the solution, I can guarantee it or your money back, buy it now and I’ll make you an even better deal.

Inelegant to the max. But he sold and made millions. Not through artifice; there was no false imagery, cheating or stealing, just great showmanship and the secret behind great salesmanship.

The Secret Behind Great Salesmanship

But great salesmanship, contrary to popular opinion, is not about selling ice to Eskimos.

The truth is less flamboyant, and far more reasonable.

Simply put, behind every great salesman is a great product. And Billy Mays understood that better than most.

Because if it’s a great product—it was easy for Billy to sell, using salesmanship techniques he had honed over two decades of selling.

Who better than Billy Mays could grab your attention (Hi, Billy Mays here for…)… get you excited (So fast and easy…)… make you want to buy it (No more dings, dents or scratches—and it’ll save you money, too…)… and get you to buy it (But wait, order now and I’ll…)

So how do you know if the product you’re currently selling or developing is great… and easy to sell?

According to Billy Mays…

Your Product Must Have These 5 Essential Character Traits

1. It must solve a problem.

If it doesn’t fix, mend or alleviate a nagging pain, problem, condition or situation—why would people want it, much less buy it? There must be a strong, recognizable and somewhat measurable or appreciable benefit to owning and using your product.

2. It must have mass appeal.

You may have invented the best mousetrap ever, but if only one in ten million homes has a mouse problem… you’re not going to sell a heck of a lot of mouse traps. Sure, you can sell just a few at a ridiculously high price-point? But a mouse-trap priced at $50,000… how easy of a sale will that be?

3. It must be unique.

If it’s the first or only one of its kind—that’s a homerun! If it’s not, then it should at least be different and beneficial in a way that isn’t currently offered. A rose by any other name is still a rose—but a rose that never loses its petals, now that would be unique.

4. It must offer instant gratification.

If it’ll only be of use next spring, why buy it today? People don’t want to buy seeds. They want the fully grown tree, planted and providing shade now. We’re an impatient nation of consumers. We don’t want the fishing pole—we want the fish fresh, filleted, seasoned and served.

5. It must be demonstrable.

It’s a law of nature: seeing is believing. The customer must see with their own eyes how easily, quickly, and effectively your product does what it does. Though people will often say they can’t trust their eyes—they always do.

But wait, there’s more…

You Don’t Need TV Air-Time to be a Successful Marketer

A demonstration doesn’t have to be live or on TV to be effective. If you’re selling from a webpage, then diagrams, schematics, and before and after pictures will also do the trick.

And if you’re not limited to a 30-second or 1-minute TV spot… you might have a distinct advantage!

When you’re selling off the page, you can pile on the benefits—as many as you can think of. And, you can highlight features and advantages in bullet-point after bullet-point.

You can show why your product or service is superior to your competitors by creating tables.

You can provide testimonials, endorsements… and your own impressive credentials.

And as long as you know how to keep the reader reading—you can methodically, step-by-step, convince and persuade the reader to buy from you in a voice and style that’s compelling, empowering, believable and completely your own.

I’m sure that’s what Billy Mays would do. He’d begin every letter or ad with, “Hi, Billy Mays here for…”

Thanks, Billy. Rest in peace.

About the Author: Barry A. Densa is one of America’s top freelance Marketing and Sales Copywriters. Visit his site Writing With Personality and see how easily and quickly Barry converts prospects into buyers using “salesmanship in print”.

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Reader Comments (40)

  1. says

    All the essential characteristics for the successful selling of a product are true for the type of products that Billy Mays sold…those mass appeal products that could fit into just about any household. But obviously there are niche markets and niche products that can be and are highly successful that would not sell in the mass market segment even with Billy Mays pitching.

    That doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful products, just not successful in the mass market direct sales market. His market was a niche, albeit a MASSIVE niche, but suited to a very particular type of product.

    So much of building a successful brand and product line is having that intuition and natural sense of what will work and what won’t for your particular market. That is something that you can’t learn, it’s something that you just know. Billy Mays was a master of knowing what would work. Love him or hate him, he was great at what he did and earned his success.

  2. says

    Excellent post. Billy Mays was truly a magician when it came to selling. He was also phenomenal at delivering value. I recently had 21 of his most popular infomercials transcribed just so I could study his style. (They’re available here (no opt-in required):

    I think the biggest tip I learned from him was the importance of being demonstrable. It’s something I think about now every time I sit down to write.

  3. says

    Billy Mays was a powerful speaker and a great pitchman. He even had a new show called pitchmen that I would watch. The show wasn’t around for very long though because of his end.

    R.I.P. Billy Mays

  4. says

    Great article. I’ll admit that I’m one of those who found this guy annoying, but there’s no denying he was a great salesman.

    Your tip #1, “solve a problem,” is making me think of new taglines for my blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. says

    Agreed on most of the points except for “Must have mass appeal.” While mass appeal may result in higher sales potential, I don’t believe it usually results in higher sales.

    How many brands of toothpaste are there? Do you think it’s a good strategy to enter to toothpaste market?

    The best policy is becoming to choose the underserved market, not the overserved.

  6. says

    @Brian Cray –

    Agree to you that mass appeal is not possible in a toothpaste market. But we can have mass appeal for he same demand where a tooth paste is used. Ex. A toothpaste specially for gum problems, or cavities or plaque ONLY. Any one of them. Will have mass appeal wont it.

    Rules are always important but to add a taste of Change to flavor it right for the current times :)

  7. says

    I cringe whenever I hear someone say they can sell ice to Eskimos. It’s that attitude that gives selling a bad name. The problem/solution approach is much more authentic.

  8. says

    I’d have to agee with Brian here, I think launching a mass-appeal product nowadays is beyond the abilities of all but the best funded organisations, requiring masses of investment in both marketing and distribution infrastructure.

    I think it comes down to identifying a niche and creating a mass-appeal product/service for that niche.

    The great thing about this is that it allows you to take over-saturated markets and split them down.

    For example if we look at the toothpaste market, sure there are loads of brands, but there are fewer brands of 100% organic toothpastes, or hand prepared toothpastes. These are potentially viable markets to introduce products in.

  9. says

    I agree with your 5 points. However, I disagree with your premise that these make for a great product. They make for a satisfactory product – one that solves the problem. From there, it’s up to the salesperson to tip the scale in favor of their product and that’s what Billy did well.

    Like him or not, and I believe his style was likeable, you clearly understood that he believed in his product and that creates trust – and makes sales. All things being equal, people do business with those they like and trust.

  10. says

    Great breakdown! Backing a great product is the big key, here, whether or not we all agree on what makes a product great. Could Billy have sold iPhones? Hmm… probably not.

    Billy may have backed great products, but more to the point, they were also products for which he was a great match as a pitchman. I wouldn’t buy an iPhone from him and I wouldn’t buy laundry cleaner from Steve Jobs.

    His passing was unfortunate. I always wondered what dinner with him and his family must have been like. I can just see him bellowing, “COULD YOU PLEASE PASS THE MASHED POTATOES!” R.I.P. Billy Mays.

  11. James says

    Great article.

    I sell group travel programs. My products really don’t meet any of the guidelines.

    I’m still on track to have well over a million dollars in sales this year.

    The imperative words used in the article make a great statement, but aren’t true in all cases.

  12. says

    I actually don’t watch TV, and we don’t have cable or satellite. Yet every time I’ve seen a spot on our carpet for the past 5+ years, I think, “Man, what I need is Oxyclean.”

    I only saw his commercials for one summer several years ago while with grandparents, and the impression was just that powerful.

    I’m glad he didn’t get into politics, now that I think about it. 😉

  13. says

    Nice post and some good nuggets about great salesmanship that can transition to any product, any language, any demographic and anywhere.

  14. says

    I agree Jeff, Billy made the sale not the product. He made you want to like him and trust him. Without the trust and likability Billy thrust into those watching him, those products wouldn’t make as much sales.

  15. says

    Glad you did this write up. Brillant. *wink.

    He was a liked, and his personality just sold the product. O don’t know – but everytime I watch him now, he still gets you with his character, personality and how he gets message across so easily.

    I still watch his videos cause I learn a lot from them, and I loved your article here to.

    The way you broke it down. Oozing with value.


  16. says

    Nice post. I used to work at an ad agency specializing in direct response television and I watched plenty of Billy Mays commercials as part of my competitive research. I also watched the “Pitchman” tribute to Billy and really realized that Billy Mays was no flash in the pan. He worked his butt off for years traveling across the country and away from his family. It took him a long time to get good at selling and he was very direct and to the point. It didn’t hurt that he pushed good product, too.

  17. says

    RIP Billy Mays. I love the commercial buildings at the State Fair due to all the guys selling crazy new crap that helps around the house. I eat that stuff up.

  18. says

    That was a superb post about Billy Mays, about salesmanship and a smooth segue to copyrighting being salesmanship in print.

    I liked it enough to click on your link and check out your page. On your page you mentioned creating “MONEY-SUCKING COPY” (your caps) and I want to suggest that you consider revising that phrase. From a strictly copyrighting point-of-view, that phrase could rub some of your readers the wrong way.

    We’re not all here on the net to suck money out of our customers. And I know you didn’t really mean it the way I’m making it sound…I’m thinking you meant create copy that’s capable of compelling the reader to open his or her wallet right then and there and pay you for a great product that you’re selling.

    But my first impression of “MONEY SUCKING COPY” was that it was off-color and I hope this feedback helps.

  19. says

    Solving problems is something that everyone is looking for even when they don’t know it. On my recent trip to the US we called into the fair and there were so many things I didn’t need but was amazed by the fact I ended up coming away think what a great product.
    This is because of the marketing techniques and the selling of products that shows solutions to making your customers life easier and applies to all business of any shape and form. Thanks for this insightful post Barry.

  20. Barry A. Densa says

    MONEY-SUCKING COPY is actually a play on Gary Halbert and John Carlton’s OPERATION MONEY-SUCK. When I first heard that phrase I fell in love with it–which, yes, severly dates the copy on my homepage. I’ve been wanting to redo that site for years, but can’t seem to get around to it. But since it ain’t broken, why fix it–that phrase alone tipped the balance many times in my favor with prospective clients. Nonetheless, one of these days I will re-write the homepage, if for no other reason than to try something different.

    Finally, I’m getting a lot of credit for the “5 traits of a successful product”. The credit belongs to Billy Mays alone. All I did was restate what he believed and practiced. All the credit goes to him.


  21. says

    I guess you could consider me one of the ones that liked Billy. He is worth taking a look at for inspiration on selling! Sad to hear about him passing away.

  22. says

    Some great advice beneficial to both people starting out.
    And veterans who have forgotten to review the products they are selling. Before they sell them using this criteria.

  23. says

    “It must be demonstrable” is a key element that I think a lot of people underestimate. Maybe you don’t have before and after pictures of wood floors that you can show, but you need to keep in mind that there must be some perceivable benefit. When I think back to my days as an education major, my professors used to tell me that “The student will understand” is not a viable learning objective; “the student will list,” “the student will write,” “the student will demonstrate” are. And so it goes with selling a product. You can’t just tell me it’s better, you have to show me. Even if it isn’t better, I’ll buy it if you give me a better demonstration.

    As for Billy himself, I won’t go so far as to say that I liked him, but I can tell you that the new OxyClean commercials can’t hold a candle to the ones he dominated. My 2-year-old son is a fan though.

  24. says

    What I believe is the key to Billy May’s success was his intuitive understanding of his buyers. He could get into the heads of his buyers in a way that connected to the problems they had and present a solution that was a perfect fit.

  25. says

    Billy Mays was a great salesman who catered to the general public. It’s really not that hard to sell to the public when you have a good “hook”. The question is, could Billy sell to a purchasing agent of big company who is skeptical and not easily swayed. If he could have done that, then he would truly have accomplished the art of selling.

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