Here’s an ugly bit of advice that most wannabe copywriters and marketers (and entrepreneurs in general) don’t want to hear…

In yesterday’s Mailbox Monday, I shared how to break into copywriting.

And specifically, I gave my tough love advice that if you’re not out there writing copy, you’re NOT preparing yourself for a career as a copywriter.

You can learn all you want.  You can buy the programs.  You can study the gurus.  You can even join BTMSinsiders and get instant access to a whole pile of copywriting training.

But it’s all worth nuthin’ until you start actually putting copy out into the market.

And, in general, the response lined up with Jordan, who wrote to say…

“Your latest e-mail/essay was brilliant. It was just the ass-kicking I needed to hear.”

But there was someone who disagreed with me — though not in the way you might expect!

My old boss and my first marketing mentor, Jeff, wrote to tell me…

That I should ALSO tell you to get a sales job.

And you know what?  He’s right!

Jeff also admitted that he’s barely a decent salesperson or marketer.  But as a salesperson, he gets results because he knows how to market.  And as a marketer, he gets better results because he knows how to sell.  So he’s managed to do okay at both, while being wildly mediocre!  (Tongue-in-cheek — love ya Jeff!)

Jeff also emphasized, and I’ll borrow his words, “Most successful businesses are sales organizations first.”

Jeff said you could go into a small business in a niche, and use it as a lab to experiment with both your sales and marketing skills.  Get the chops there.  Learn to use marketing to get leads.  Create communications to nurture those leads.  Develop presentations designed to close the leads.  Really work to understand every element of the process.

This is a 100% proven way to develop the skills you need to succeed…

And here I’ll focus on copywriters.  Although an entrepreneur or a business owner who can’t sell is really destined for failure.  And, in fact, nearly any professional, in any field, would probably improve with a good 6-month stint in selling.

Nearly every great marketer I know has a background in sales.

Some sold door-to-door.  Others got their start in real estate.  Others in some other sales gig.

If you have a marketing, copywriting, or business hero — my bet is that in 99% of cases, you can dig into their background and find at least one really solid chunk of sales experience there.

One of my longest-standing sales gigs was selling subscriptions to the local paper.  I sold them by phone.  I also helped our local paper establish their in-store kiosk program, where we stood in (or in front of) local stores, selling subscriptions to shoppers.

I sold credit cards by phone for exactly 60 days, which is how long I had to stick around to get my sign-on bonus.  I did fundraising for a mix of nonprofits and political campaigns.  I sold appliance repair plans through the local gas company.

And when I was young, I sold everything from popcorn to Christmas wreaths as a Boy Scout, plus sold shoveled driveways on snowy days.

And then, while working for Jeff — and after about three years experience in marketing — I sold IT training, leveraging my marketing abilities to get leads and close deals.

I wouldn’t be half the copywriter and marketer I am today without my sales experience…

And so I’ll second Jeff’s advice.

If you want to become a great copywriter, become a great salesperson first.

Or at least, go out there and get battered and bruised as a wannabe salesperson, in the hopes you learn a few good lessons that might apply to selling multiplied in media.

Here’s a handful of sales lessons I’ve learned, that might shortcut the process…

— People buy from people.  You don’t have to do tricks or be somebody you’re not to succeed in sales.  Yes, people are aspirational and want to buy from a person they respect.  But first and foremost, being a decent human being matters a lot in sales.

— Selling to qualified leads makes life much easier.  A trick from selling newspapers: we’d hand out free copies of today’s paper to start the conversation.  If someone refused, they didn’t care to talk, they didn’t care for the paper, or they already had the paper.  But if someone took the paper, they were interested but didn’t have it.  It was a quick way to qualify leads and start the conversation.

— Follow up is everything in complex sales.  Selling IT training, I’d follow up with a single lead dozens of times to close a $30,000 sale.  Most salespeople won’t do that, but persistence paid off when one of those purchase orders came through.

— Buyers care about WIIFM.  That’s “What’s in it for me?”  If you make your messages about yourself, they’ll lose interest fast.  Make it about their needs, wants, and desires, and they’ll give you their attention and the sale.

— Being helpful does wonders.  Sometimes, I’d help customers by sending them to a competitor.  Other times, by helping them identify a complementary solution we didn’t sell.  At other times, just helping them with their purchasing process, or finding a piece of info on our website.  If you make it all about the sale, you’ll turn off prospective buyers — if you make it about helping them, it will only be natural for them to buy when that’s the next thing you can help them with.

…  There’s probably a lot more, but that’s it for today…

I know this isn’t the sexiest, most exciting advice you can get.

But if you’re serious about your long-term success, it’s definitely one of the best recommendations I can pass on.

Thanks Jeff!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr