The Difference Between Salad and Garbage

image of carrots

There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman? ~Woody Allen

You’ve got to feel for insurance salesmen.

They actually rank below used-car salesmen and bloggers on the list of people no one wants to hang out with. With only a slight edge over politicians . . . maybe.

Pushy pitches, cheesy glad-handing, clumsy attempts to build rapport. And all those lame rehearsed messages to move the sale forward. The worst, right?

Unless, of course, you actually need a little help getting an insurance policy.

Then all of a sudden, you don’t see this person as an insurance salesman any more. You think of him as a “broker,” and you’re all ears about how to navigate the horrifying mass of paperwork you stumbled into when you tried to figure insurance out on your own.

In the bad old days, conventional sales wisdom held that it was a game of numbers. If you could just make yourself cold call enough people or knock on enough doors, eventually you would find someone who was actually in the market for your product.

Of course, everyone who didn’t need the product hated you. Which is why a lot of sales training focused heavily on ways to pump yourself up and feel less crappy.

But a handful of smart salespeople figured out that they could do this weird thing called “direct marketing,” where they could identify and reach out to people who actually wanted what they had to offer. Then they sent those people highly relevant information that was likely to convert them from strangers to buyers.

All of a sudden these smart salespeople weren’t a lower life form any more. They solved problems. They helped people make wise buying decisions. They were experts who provided a valued service.

Much more fun.

Much more lucrative.

The difference between salad and garbage

The difference between salad and garbage is timing.
~ Dan Kennedy

When our poor friend the insurance salesman makes a pitch to someone who’s not in the market for insurance, it’s garbage. Unwanted, unwelcome, smelly garbage.

When he’s smart enough to only give people information they find truly useful and relevant, it’s salad.

So how can we create more salad and less garbage?


Instead of being a hapless insurance salesman, become the expert on insurance for coffee shops. Or NASCAR drivers. Or lion tamers.

Niche your topic of expertise down, then niche it again. Understand precisely who you can best serve (and just as important, who you actually like working with). Study your field so you can serve those people incredibly well.

What’s so great about becoming a specialist?

Experts are attractive. Customers come looking for them, instead of making them go out and hunt down customers.

A topic like insurance is almost infinitely complex. It’s very hard to become an expert on insurance. It’s much easier to become an expert on insurance for one particular kind of customer.

You can learn that customer’s language, understand their problems, and get insanely good at resolving the issues they’re most likely to face.

(And once you have that list of loyal lion tamers, because you know them so well, you can offer them additional relevant products and services. Costco-sized boxes of Band-Aids, perhaps.)

Create killer content

Once you truly understand the customer you want to create a relationship with, start creating tons of valuable free content for that person.

Start a blog (or adapt the blog you have to better and more precisely serve that perfect customer). Create an email newsletter and front-load it with a terrific autoresponder. Record a regular podcast. Get a Flip camera and create some quick, hyper-useful FAQ answers to release on YouTube.

Make it valuable. Don’t try to slip in some kind of cheesy elevator speech — that’s garbage unless you happen to hit the person at the perfect time. But do let people know how to find you when they need to know more.

The more inherently valuable your content is, the less “garbage” factor you’ll create. When you do make an offer, it will be taken for a valued opportunity, instead of a stinky pitch made by an annoying salesperson.

Improve your odds

The salad-to-garbage process always goes one way. Start as salad, end up as garbage.

But offers for products and services are different. This week’s stinky garbage could be next week’s fresh and tasty salad.

So put yourself in front of prospects often enough that when they want what you’ve got, they know exactly where to find you. Assume your content will get passed around (because you will make it great, right?), and regularly let new people know how they can make a better connection with you.

(That’s why we make a point of mentioning our Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter several times a week.)

Make it your mission to create plenty of salad and as little garbage as possible. Because the less you look like a salesman, the more you’ll sell.

And always remember some additional immortal words from Woody Allen:

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication. She also co-founded Inside the Third Tribe.

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Reader Comments (57)

  1. says

    I love this salad analogy! Yes, timing is everything. Really if we truly think about it, if the person hasn’t specifically sought us out, the really and truthfully don’t want to hear a sales pitch. I know I don’t – ads are annoying.
    As consumers, we know this, yet some how the minute we enter the business side of things, we suddenly want to bombard people with ads – I think that’s rather schitzophrenic – actually. I think the best thing to do is simply offer valuable information – when it’s requested – that’s the only time it’s going to be heard anyway.

  2. says


    You RULE! Now, although I personally put salad and garbage on the same level, since I can’t stand vegetables (I take vitamins so I don’t die), the importance of specialization cannot be overemphasized.

    I think new business owners fret waaay too much, worrying that they need to spread themselves out in as many directions as possible, when they need to stay in their niche.

    I just wrote about this today, actually… one of my favorite quotes is from Andrew Carnegie (supposedly), who said “put all of your eggs in one basket and then watch the basket.”

    It’s critical to try and get multiple streams of income, but people shoudl still remember to stick to their knitting; the stuff that got them where they are in the first place.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  3. says

    Great post Sonia, you’re speaking the gospel on amazing communication!

    The two biggest keys on making salad over garbage is being useful, remarkable, and memorable. Too many times do we release something to simply release…too have something new out. When in fact, that new product, post, or whatever it is becomes noise. And the more noise we throw at people, the more our customers become apathetic.

    We don’t want apathetic customers! Solid post – I really enjoyed it

    (Strange enough, this is fresh on my mind because I posted an article this morning on the challenge of being memorable…)

  4. says

    As someone who is a former insurance agent and works with insurance agents to improve sales, my favorite line in this was “Which is why a lot of sales training focused heavily on ways to pump yourself up and feel less crappy.” Great post Sonia!

  5. says

    I love the advice and can identify with being ‘That’ insurance guy and being an ‘expert’ and appreciated.

    Now… to start the blog and create content that is attractive and interesting and an actual resource to the specialized niche that I focus on. I was thinking it had to be about a tad bit more than insurance. Or maybe the blog is about insurance; the social media activity is about connecting folks in my niche with other resources that might benefit them that go beyond the scope of insurance.

    Thank you!

  6. says

    Brett, I think with a topic like insurance (or really any topic) it’s got to be about more. People don’t want insurance.

    Seriously, not a single person on this planet would buy insurance if they didn’t need to. So why do they need to?

    For security. For peace of mind. To feel like a responsible provider. To keep their bases covered.

    I think content that works into the fabric of people’s lives through stories is what’s needed. Insurance is primarily sold through fear of disaster, and I’m sure that will always work. But I might try to appeal to the more positive benefits listed above as well to prompt people to go ahead and enter into a transaction they know they should but really would rather not.

  7. says


    I know. I agree. I compare my clients’ skittishness about insurance to my nerves around mechanics: I don’t know a thing about cars, and I don’t want to be taken advantage of, but I know I can’t let my brakes go to hell.

    My thoughts have been to dialogue w/ my clients in my niche–especially those who have encountered issues–and talk about those things: some real life examples of events and their risk management ideas that go beyond just policy info.

    My initial weak attempts (I’m regrouping): I know that I need to just have a bit more fun w/ it.

  8. says

    We’re all so obsessed with being more popular on line we forget your valuable advice. Being a hero to a small group (of qualified leads) is far more important than being prolific. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. says

    Great perspective Sonia. I work in the insurance industry training owners and producers how to use social media and many times it’s a family run agency with 30-80 years of institutionalized, “Pushy pitches, cheesy glad-handing, clumsy attempts to build rapport.” Of course I’m generalizing but it used to be buying a yellow page ad, joining Rotary (or some other civic group) and doing some basic legwork was enough. Fortunately, many agencies are starting to see the benefits of being a thought-leader and community builder, and they’re growing because of it. I also think the perception of Big Insurance is different than that of individual agents – I trust my agent, but not necessarily my provider(s).

  10. says

    Nice, thoughtful post, Sonia, and true. But what the heck do ya do when publishers tell you your niche is too small, even though you are an expert in your niche? So then you rewrite your book to include more people, and then you’re wrong for doing that? It drives me crazy. After reading your post, I’m back to thinking rewrite again back to a narrower focus! Neither way is garbage, but not sure I how I should serve my salad.

  11. says


    I also think another way of differentiating yourself as salad rather than garbage is to stop banging on the same doors that everyone else is. There might be some obvious potential customers, but their phones are ringing and their email boxes are filling with pitches all day long. The pitches become junk, and they stop reading or returning calls. The key is to find those untapped potential customers, the ones that don’t yet know they need you and pitch them in a way to let them know that they do. Instead of focusing on those who already work with someone doing what you do and wasting time trying to convince them to work with you instead, find those green pastures where no one has ventured yet. Take a close look at businesses and figure out a way to apply what you do as a new approach for them to get more business. In this economy, creatively constructing new ways of doing business that didn’t exist before will be more productive then going down the same path that the hoards of others are stampeding down. Find that unbeaten path and take the risk to head in a different direction.

  12. says

    Thanks Sonia, another great article

    Continuing the culinary metaphor; there a couple of other diffferences between salad and garbage:

    Firstly, salad is well dressed — our articles need to be appealing and well constructed, pleasing to the eye as well as taste

    Secondly, salad is reached via the front door and not out the back – our products need to be on show, and arrived at through a logical search on our site – in other words we want our articles to rank in the search engines for the right phrases. If the visitor finds what she is looking for then they will be tempted by our crunch dish.

    After all we don’t want the visitors to our site to go hungry:

    “He that sups upon salad, goes not to bed fasting”

    Thomas Fuller, English clergyman (1608-1661)

  13. says


    Love this analogy. Lots of people have figured out that niche marketing is going to be their saviour since they can’t begin to market to anyone/everyone/someone.

    What they often forget is part 2 and 3.

    Provide some great and helpful info that will make you the sought after expert. Get in front of your audience enough so they know how to find you when they need you.

    And if you can put that into a tidy process that is a bit more managable – you’ll win everytime!

  14. says

    Hi Sonia,

    I have been wrestling with narrowing my niche but have been afraid to go to narrow and alienate people I could also help – even if they are not lion tamers. How narrow is too narrow, especially since I am just starting out as a personal consultant and don’t have many clients yet?


  15. says

    Love this post, many great points made.

    Thanks for this advice:

    “Make it your mission to create plenty of salad and as little garbage as possible. Because the less you look like a salesman, the more you’ll sell.”

    I never thought my blogging mission would include garbage but… point well taken.

    Thanks for the great info.

  16. says

    Sonia, I totally agree with you.

    At the same time a lot of people still get their messaging wrong even when they get their marketing right.

    I think the problem is when people “pitch” something instead of “presenting” it… Pitching is for baseball.

  17. says

    At the same time a lot of people still get their messaging wrong even when they get their marketing right.

    I’m not sure that’s possible. Sonia, want to tackle that one? 😉

  18. says

    Thanks BrianJ for substituting “presenting” for “pitching.” I’ve struggled with the way “pitching” sounds for a long time, but didn’t think to try to find a better way to say it. Presenting allows me feel I’m an integral part of the plan, rather than throwing my ideas (ball) out there for someone else to catch. Love it!

  19. says

    “Specialize Instead of being a hapless insurance salesman, become the expert on insurance for coffee shops. Or NASCAR drivers. Or lion tamers.”

    I LOVE IT!!! AMEN! If I see one more “personal coah” out there I will personally coach myself a drink. LOL And they wonder WHY they can’t get attention. Hmmm maybe you suffer from sameism?

  20. says

    @ Lynn… No worries, I’m glad it helps you…

    @ Brian C… For sure it’s possible… Let’s say someone sends out a direct mail piece which makes the phones ring… But when they answer the phone they “pitch” the prospect instead of presenting the information, which turns the prospect off and the prospect doesn’t buy.

    They got the marketing right, the messaging in their marketing was right… but their total message was wrong because it wasn’t presented properly. I think messaging has to be congruent from the beginning to the end of the sales process to be most effective.

    Does that make sense?

  21. says

    At the same time a lot of people still get their messaging wrong even when they get their marketing right…

    I think that is possible. If you have the right person handling your pitch, anything is saleable (the old iceboxes to Eskimos analogy). That is even possible if the messaging is wrong. Tiger Woods should have come clean a lot sooner. But he still won’t lose too many fans.

  22. says

    BrianJ, okay, I get you. Maybe it’s getting your marketing right, but blowing the close?

    Your marketing is your message ultimately, which is where I got confused by your comment. But if you are not consistent in your message, you’ll end up worse off than if you never got the lead at all. Good point.

  23. says

    That could be — it could also be that the marketing doesn’t know his audience. In the case of Tiger (or moreso, his advisors), they knew his fans wouldn’t book in any significant numbers. They luckily got it right. But using the right tools delivered to the right audience doesn’t mean you have the right message.

  24. Sonia Simone says

    @Nick, I completely agree, and I think that split (I trust my agent, I don’t trust the provider) can be exploited (in a good way) by smart agents. Not that anyone will diss the provider, but that in a low-trust environment, you can cultivate trust of you as a human.

    @Lynn, the way to go may be to create a good responsive audience that’s narrowed the way you think they should be. If by publishers you mean traditional NY, I’d be very wary of letting them dictate my business model, since so many of them are, um, desperately clueless. (I did my stint placing my writing with “real” publishers, found it had both high points and low.)

    @Cheryl, I think that’s a very good point. If there are a million people trying to come in the door, consider knocking (in a way that will be welcome) on the window.

    @BrianJ, I can see that. I think it may often come from trying the approach halfway, but at the last minute being too scared to see it through. At the last minute they let their desperation show, or they go back to old lameass habits.

  25. says

    So true.

    I’m not much of a sales person at all, it doesn’t come naturally! When I started out I simply spread my links around on twitter and made an effort to write to people on facebook etc. with my link at the end of every message. I got nowhere!!

    Now, I don’t contact anyone at all. I accept friend requests, I natter to people on twitter and when I write a blog post I share the link to that. I retweet others a lot and I post relevant information, like the latest news from the companies that I represent but no splash pages or cheesy lines. A lot less effort and a lot more money! All the sign ups come from conversations that people start with me, when they ask what I do… no pitching, just matter of fact and people visiting my blog curious about what I do.

    I’ve yet to find a niche as such, I’m still very new to it all but I’m sure I will soon! :)

  26. says

    About being or not being a salesperson: As someone not trained in sales (I was an English major and have an M.Div. from Seminary), I’ve found problems in accidentally ‘trying’ to be salesish. One of my former colleagues was as winsome as could be when not selling but fell into a sales pitch sound in the voice when he talked to a potential client.

    I’m amazed when I read other blogs in my profession or others (stereotypically stale professions) that are able to pop out of the mundane and become interesting.

    Difficult part is to trust your own individuality and allow that to run the show, not pimping the service.

  27. Hashim Warren says

    I did a marketing exercise this morning where I had to consider WHEN my customers would look for my service.

    Unfortunately, because I’m helping people with their careers, they are most interested when they lose their job, or are feeling dissatisfied with their jobs.

    I do not want to deal with people when they’re desperate because they’ll be more apt to want to cut corners (“Just teach me how to update my resume!”).

    However, if I’m pitching my services while they’re happily employed, I’ll come off as annoying.

    Thanks Sonia. You gave me some solutions to think about, just when I needed them :)

  28. says

    Excellent post. The timing hit me and I laughed out loud. Loved it. I so know about Cold Calling. I tried it once for 3 months and gave up. Hated it. Rejection is a bitch. No one wanted me to test their water and tell them it’s full of iron. lol.
    The message of this post was perfect. Makes you stop and really look at yourself good. I loved how you talked about a niche in a niche. A specialist! That’s very good advice and one that I’m going to take to heart. Thanks!

  29. says

    Copyblogger writers have a unique taste in writing the title of the article. often give the reader an interesting analogy. good work

  30. Sonia Simone says

    Thank you, by the way, to those who recognized that this is not a post about selling insurance :), but a post about selling anything. Woody just gave me that insurance angle and I couldn’t resist.

  31. says

    I like what you said about looking less like a salesman so you can sell more. It’s really about the relationship you have with the people you serve.

  32. says

    Thanks Sonia, 3 things I got out of this post other than salad and garbage:
    1) Niche it down
    2) Create awesome stuffs
    3) Be patient

    Oh, one more: Put yourself out there. Now that’s good marketing :-)

    P.S. Trying to keep myself brief these days, I’m too wordy sometimes.

  33. Dave Doolin says

    I vaguely recall this came out of a recent 3rd Tribe discussion? (An excellent discussion BTW)

    Insurance has definitely evolved from what Frank Bettger sold, in many ways.

    But it’s so cool that the overall strategy hasn’t changed. Thinks change, people don’t.

    Going through the niching it down process myself. Hard work.

  34. Sonia Simone says

    @Dave, more specifically, Brian and I were recording next week’s seminar and the sound went south on us as we were getting into a some of this territory. So rather than re-record, I figured I had my Friday post covered. :)

  35. says

    Hi Sonia

    Thanks for the post – I enjoyed the analogy! I would say when the salad is past it and becomes garbage you need a worm farm!

    Thanks again,

  36. says

    Great post @ Sonia Simone. “The Difference Between Salad and Garbage” this heading really caught my eyes and I like the way yo write your posts :) In a nice and unique way

    Thanks… :)

  37. says


    I just don’t know how you do it. You write so well and with such empathy for the rest of us mortals. You must have had quite a life, thus far, to be able to create the visual images of people the way you do. I’m mystified at how you keep writing “soul food for sales”like this, which takes a lot of effort… and still have time for all your other responsibilities.

    Keep it coming. I hate to hurt other feelings at CopyBlogger, but you are the BEST!


  38. says

    Perfect timing!
    My husband is becoming a *literal* insurance salesman (now called “financial advisor” next week.
    I’m always telling him to read up on marketing and here you’ve written me the perfect post to point him towards.

    Becoming niched as a life insurance/annuities salesman is a little tricky because you HAVE to limit your sales to people in one area. And in a not-particularly-internet-savvy town, we need to find new (uh, new to me, internet-lover that I am) ways to reach new people.

  39. says

    I saw the note about this not being about insurance sales in particular. It is, though, absolutely perfect for us in that particular line. When I tell folks I sell insurance, I quickly say commercial–with a nonprofit/social service niche–so they don’t get concerned that I’ll be trying to get ’em in a new homeowner or auto policy. A quick shoutout to a a great personal lines agent doing social media very well:

  40. Sonia Simone says

    @Steve, you are just always so nice, thank you. :)

    @Brett, that’s good to hear! I’ve sold & marketed a bunch of different kinds of things, but never insurance.

  41. says

    Excellent analogy Sonia. I could have used that insurance salesman advice 30 years ago when I tried my hand at it and failed miserably. I can see now I was shoveling garbage.

  42. Leon Noone says

    G’day Sonia,
    Really fine salad is fresh; very fresh. It has a distinctive flavour. It compliments the food it’s served with. And it intensifies the diner’s enjoyment of the food it’s consumed with.
    In my previous life as an offline direct marketer, one of my most difficult jobs was to get business owners and managers to accurately determine their target market and to accept that until they did that
    * their marketing strategy would be faulty
    * their business would lack focus
    *They’d waste lots of energy–and time and money too–trying to be too many things to too many people.
    That’s the other great thing about a really good salad: while enhancing the enjoyment of the food it’s served with, it tastes good enough to be eaten on its own.
    Once it loses that appeal, it’s garbage.



  43. says

    Hi guys,

    I loved this blog. Because I have been offered a position to become an Insurance Salesman. I’m very hesitant about accepting the position. But after reading this blog. I know that it’s best to find people who are looking to buy Insurance.

    Kind regards,


  44. says

    @Brett – You’re so right! Chris Jordan from Atlanta Insurance Live does a terrific job with social media!

    I have started my own video blog and also use twitter and facebook regularly.

    This is a terrific article to help agents and other business owners get a start using social media (correctly). I look forward to the next post!

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