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The Ultimate Sin in Selling

George and Clarence

My favourite film of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve seen it so many times that I know much of the dialogue by heart. The premise is what Hollywood now calls “high concept”, that is the situation drive the film. George Bailey faces ruin after a lifetime of service in the small town of Bedford Falls, and decides to kill himself so his family can collect the insurance. Clarence, a trainee angel is sent to stop him.

He decides to do it by showing George what Bedford Falls would be like if George had never lived. The first place George visits is the Bar he knows as Martinis, a friendly family-run place, which in this world is called Nicks, and is run by the Martini’s barman, Nick.

Nick, owner of “Nicks”

Nick doesn’t like his visitors. George talks to him like he knows him and Clarence ask for “a mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon, and light on the cloves.”

Nick says loses patience with the pair and says, “Hey look, mister. We serve hard liquor to men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint “atmosphere”. Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?”

Now my point, which I confess is quite long in coming, is that Nick knew exactly what his business did. And, vitally it was something which was very available to him so he could communicate it to the world.

The ultimate sin in selling is not to be clear about what you’re selling and not tell the client.

I wouldn’t be saying this if I hadn’t seen far too many times a blank look when we asked simple questions like,

How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

What’s your USP?

What’s your key message to win this job?

It takes very little time to get your story straight, so never go out without it.

If you have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life I recommend it. And remember, Nicks.


So can you answer this question, instantly, clearly and effectively?

“What can you do for me?” 

If not, then we can help you answer that simple question. With just half a day workshop we can work with you to clearly articulate what you do in a way that your clients will instantly recognise as benefitting them.

Job done.


Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?


About gristpresent

Presentation, Q&A and Engagement Coach. We help you win more business. Also BAFTA-winning film maker. See our new site www.grist.co.uk


4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Sin in Selling

  1. Great work as always!

    Interestingly though, I find one of the hardest things for most businesses to achieve is that clarity of message. Maybe its different in our respective worlds, but getting the message right is a large part of what I spend most of my time doing!

    Usually to ensure that the message is what the customer wants to hear, not necessarily what the client wants to say!

    Posted by Tony Dowling | August 20, 2012, 9:17 am
  2. The elevator pitch. Often spoken of, but remarkably tricky to teach! (Or at least I find it so)

    Do you have any recommendations Bill for how to put one together?

    Posted by Peter | August 24, 2012, 7:57 pm
    • Peter, I suppose the answer is, that’s what we do.
      I think our backgrounds in TV and TV journalism means we have a long-practiced ability to see “what the story is”.
      Most people find that quite hard, especially when describing what they do, but an external eye may see what isn’t obvious to them.

      But, I quite agree that it’s not easy, which is why ad men get paid a lot.

      Posted by gristpresent | August 25, 2012, 11:46 am

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