Pitchman Power: Killer Sales Lessons From the Ohio State Fair

In an increasingly-online world, your real money still comes from selling in person. Face-to-face, belly-to-belly with your clients.

Another industry that still thrives on face-to-face sales is non-electronic gadgets. The peelers, choppers, and miracle showerheads. Thousands are sold every weekend at state fairs and carnivals.

Sales tip from a demonstration chef

Photo by -Marcus-

The best of the pitchmen and women are highly-skilled professionals. They have learned to quickly get the attention of passersby, draw them in, and convince them to buy something they didn’t know they wanted.

You can learn from them. 

Robert Smith and Kenny Malone of NPR’s Planet Money recently visited the Ohio State Fair and spent some time on the midway. 

Robert and Kenny Go to the Fair is the best 23-minute sales lesson you’ll hear this week.

Here is a direct link to the podcast.

Among the lessons:

  1. The power of getting the prospect involved. At about the 10:30 mark, pitchwoman Heather Keto is selling a pruning tool called the Tiger Jaw. 

ROBERT: All of a sudden, she has placed into my hand, like, these garden clippers…And before I could set it down, Heather pulls out a branch – like a real piece of wood. And she offers it up right in front of me to cut.

KETO: Go for it. You know you want to.


KENNY:  And what’s amazing about the way Heather has hooked Robert into her presentation is that she’s put him in a position where in order to walk away, he has to put down the fun, new toy. And it’s a loss. Like, no more chopping sticks. No more wow factor.’

In the car business, the close rate goes way up if the dealer can get the customer behind the wheel for a test drive. 

In your business, the test drive is the spec ad.

2. The real pros practice, review, and practice some more. Just past the 14-minute mark, Robert is talking to PJ Magee. The consensus of the folks at the fair is that Magee is the single best pitchman there. 

PJ is selling $100 showerheads to people who aren’t looking for a showerhead. He takes his profession seriously:

ROBERT He still records his pitches, so he can listen back and see, like, are the jokes landing? Or how’s the audience reacting?
MCGEE: You’ve got to understand there’s a difference between a professional salesman and a guy that talks [expletive]. Really. The most insulting thing we hear is when someone says, you’re a natural-born salesman. Well, screw you. I spent a lot of time and effort and a lot of energy to learn how to do this properly.’
3. You need to ask for the money.
ROBERT: What’s your best close move?
MCGEE: The best close? The best close is asking for the money. I’ll ask you three questions. Is this product better than the one you have now? Usually, they say, yeah. And then I always ask them this defensively and always back up and put my palms up – if you bought this today, would you use it? I mean, not everybody needs a new showerhead.
ROBERT: OK. You cannot see this. But at this point, P.J. McGee has stepped back from the customer. His hands are up like he’s being robbed.
KENNY: And he – like as if he’s saying, oh, no, did I cross a line or something?
My instinct is like, no, no, no.
ROBERT: You’re fine. You’re fine. Keep going.
KENNY: You’re fine. I like you. Keep going.
ROBERT: Keep going.
MCGEE: Please take my money. Please.
KENNY: Oh, so good. And then P.J. McGee has you.
MCGEE: ‘You want to use debit, credit or cash?’ Biggest problem with salespeople – 95 percent of new salespeople are afraid to ask for the money. They think it’s rude. Get into another business.’

Get the prospect involved. Practice your craft. Don’t be afraid to ask for the money. Whether you’re selling pruning shears on a carnival midway or digital solutions in a client’s office, the principles are the same.

  • Salespeople: listen to the full episode. 
  • Sales managers: this would make a great subject for a sales meeting.

Question: If you’ve listened to the podcast, what will you implement tomorrow — or later today? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post. I'll send you the first two chapters of my new book, Breakthrough Prospecting, as a thank-you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Your Chance to Be Heard -- Comment Here!