Why You Should Embrace ‘Icky’ Sales and Marketing

Why You Should Embrace 'Icky' Sales and Marketing

Icky. It’s a word that makes me shudder.

I shudder because this juvenile term is being used by fully grown adults. Business owners. People who should by now know a little more professionalism and who should speak words a touch above my 7-year-old’s current lexicon.

Really, people. Icky?

But using a childish term when you’re 40 or so isn’t what most turns me off. What really makes me roll my eyes is that some people equate ‘icky’ to a crucial aspect of business success. An aspect so integral to business survival that doing anything less than embracing it leads to fast, hard disaster:


You see, if you’re in business, there’s really no room for ‘icky’ at all. In fact, if you start feeling ‘icky’ about an integral area of your business, you might as well just close up shop right now. Rip down your website. Turn away your customers. Because there’s just no hope.

What am I talking about? Sales and marketing, of course.

And there’s nothing ‘icky’ about it.

If you’re in business, you’re in it to sell.

This is absolutely the first tenet. The whole purpose of being in business is to sell services or products to people who need them, allowing you to make profits in the process.

You’re in business to make money. To earn a decent living. To bring home a salary or an income that feeds your family. You’re not in this for back-pats or accolades or warm fuzzies. Praise is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Without sales, your business hits a dead end.

“But Jaaaaammes, selling is just so… so sleazy… so icky!”

Please. No it’s not. There is absolutely nothing distasteful about telling potential customers that you have something good they might be interested in. There’s nothing disgusting about promoting your products or services if you believe that what you sell is worth money.

Here’s the real truth of the matter:

If you feel uncomfortable selling, you lack faith in what you sell.

I learned this lesson long ago, and now it’s time for you to learn it too: If you don’t 150% believe that what you have to offer is worth someone’s money, then you’re going to feel unsure, uncertain and under-confident.

You’ll have trouble selling. You’ll have trouble telling people to buy – even if they really want what you have. You’ll feel awkward saying, “This is a good thing. You should get it.” You’ll feel uncomfortable asking for money because deep down, you don’t think that what you have is worth it.

Think about that a minute: If you felt 150% confident that you had an amazing offer that people should snap up right now because the deal was that good… don’t you think you’d step up to the plate?

“This is the best damned popcorn you’ll ever taste – and I swear after one buttery-sweet mouthful of this luscious stuff, you’ll never want that other crappy, over-salted dry cardboard again. Go on, try it! Have some and see for yourself!”

That’s convincing. That’s persuasive. That confident attitude makes people believe that yeah, this popcorn does seem to be better. And sure, they’ll have a try.

People believe in your business because YOU believe in your business.

Here’s what most people do:

“Well… I think my popcorn is good… and I know it’s a bit expensive but it takes a long time to make… and maybe you won’t like it but that’s okay because I could give you your money back… if you’re not ready to try it maybe you could just test a bit of it with a smaller sample… does that sound okay?”

I don’t know about you, but the person who’s practically pushing the bag at me and telling me they have the best damned popcorn ever is the one who gets my vote.

And there’s nothing ‘icky’ about it.

Here’s another truth for you:

Selling doesn’t equal unethical, evil intentions.

People who walk around saying sales and marketing are ‘icky’ demonstrate an ignorance of a pretty basic concept. It goes like this:

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

What that really means is that objects, actions and tools aren’t good or evil. They just are. It’s what you do with them and how you use them that makes all the difference.

Allow me to demonstrate:

A baseball bat is a piece of sports equipment. You can use it to knock a ball out of the park or beat someone senseless. It’s still just a simple baseball bat at the end of the day. It had no idea what it was doing.

A banana is a fruit. You can eat it for breakfast and fuel your body, or you can whack your sister with it until her nose bleeds. It’s still just an innocent banana, going about its pureed business.

A sales strategy is a set of actions meant to persuade people to buy. You can use it to tell people that you’re having a sale, or you can scam them into buying something they didn’t want or need. The strategy isn’t evil or unethical. It’s just a strategy.

It’s all up to you, what you choose to do, how you choose to do it and the intention you have when you do it that determines everything.

A banana doesn’t have intention. The baseball bat doesn’t have intention. Strategies don’t have intentions.

People have intentions, both good and bad.

All this means that sales and marketing strategies aren’t ‘icky’. They aren’t evil actions you should avoid at all costs. They aren’t bad behaviors you should shun.

They just are. It’s the intention you use them with that changes the game.

And here’s the biggest truth of all:

You can’t go wrong if you operate with integrity.

Integrity is the saving grace of people who feel ‘icky’ about selling. Integrity is what helps good people do good business in good ways that are right, just and fair.

Integrity means sticking to moral and ethical principles. And the strongest marketing and sales tactics tell you the truth. They’re honest. They’re open. There aren’t any lies or smoke and mirrors or false claims or sneaky ulterior motives.

You don’t have to lie. You don’t have to hide the truth. You don’t have to use yellow highlighter and exclamation marks.

You do have to embrace sales and marketing if you want to succeed.

If you want to win at this whole game of business, you can’t downplay the importance of selling with integrity.

You need to believe in yourself and in your business. You need to believe that what you offer is great. You need to believe that people should get in on it because it’s helpful to them in some way.

And you need to believe that it’s perfectly FINE to tell people about it.

Using a few sales and marketing strategies may feel strange at first, especially if you’ve been vehemently opposed to them up to now, but think about it as a blind date.

Get to know the strategies (like you get to know your blind date). Familiarize yourself with the tactics (like asking your date for more persona details). Look for the good and the positive (every person has them). Figure out how you fit together (so you can be friends).

You might even fall in love.

But if you can’t, if you won’t, if your mind is closed tight… Well, pack up your shingle. Business is over.

This post, though, is not!  Tell me what you think about sales and marketing. (Also let me know if you promise never to say ‘icky’ again, because it would really make me happy to hear that.) Do you hate sales strategies? Have you embraced marketing?  What are your feelings? I want to know.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I read this post just after watching a clip from the Grammy’s – it was Adele singing Rolling in the Deep.

    When reading the post I thought back to Adele at the end of the performance. THe crowd went wild and she just stood their, quietly but with poise (I think she had a little smirk in their as well)

    That is how I want to treat my sales approach – I want to have dignity in it, but also have the confidence to say ‘yep I am giving it my all, your choice how you take the offer’

    And sometimes I feel that way. But other times I feel defeated by my marketing attempts and it shows in the offers and pitches – I feel defeated before I even write the email.

    So my question is How can I have that quiet, confident (with a touch of smirk) approach every single time?


    • When that quiet, confident (touch of smirk) moment happens and you feel it… remember everything about it. How you felt. How you were positioned. What made you feel that way.

      Then recall it to mind at will. You can do this, crazy as it sounds. Just remembering how you felt that day, in as much detail as you can, will bring that feeling right back to you.

      • Uhmm, have you ever heard of Neurolinguistic Programming?
        What you’re propounding right there is not that crazy, even though the field of psychology dedicated to it is rather “fringe”. Still, if you did, you’d be in good company, if you consider Tony Robbins good company. NLP is essentially eliciting emotions, controlling processes going in in your head, changing you own memories, changing the memories of others et cetera through use of language. The ultimate tool of verbal persuasion. Tony Robbins took it and applied it to self help. Richard Bandler applied it to therapy. Ross Jeffries took it and applied it to seduction. All were unbelievably successful. Where would you take it?

  2. This isn’t related to this post (I will promise not to say icky ever again in about 2 sentence time though!) but as an aside, after loving your gun ho ‘I’m going back to my roots’ post and the subsequent one, when I saw notification in the rss in my email that you’d published a new post, I paused what I was about to do (make pancakes for the kids for breakfast!) and read this first. Alls that to say, I’m loving the new stuff. 🙂

    And now, yes, I promise to never say icky ever again. In truth, my own attitude to marketing changed late last year when I *finally* found what I’m here to do and am at last like the girl with the amazing tasting popcorn! Except when I’m not. 😉 Wonderful analogy and I’d love to be able to own it and say that I’m never the second popcorn seller but like Ainslie, yep, there are times when I know I could use a lesson in that quiet, confident poise.

    • Aw, that’s very cool of you to say, El. Please drop everything each time I post. It’s a happy relationship we’ll both benefit from. 🙂

  3. So, so true. I have some crazy internal shaming device that makes it impossible for me to sell something I don’t believe in. Thanks mom! But, when I’m excited about something, selling can be really fun. It will always be hard for me to make cold calls & ask for things though. But, as you say, if you aren’t willing to put yourself out there, pack it up now.

    Marketing something you’re really excited about feels more like sending Christmas cards – like you’re giving a gift or sending well wishes.

    BTW, I liked the word icky; kind of like the words wart and scab, they’re colorful and sound exactly like the nastiness they are. But after reading this, icky’s lost its entertainment value and feels a little wussy.

    No place for wussy around here….

    • Okay, fair enough – icky is a word with fun factor. (I personally like banana, hence why you find it in this post, but it’s difficult to work in and still look smart, y’know?)

      And as you say… selling can be really fun, on several levels. I like to challenge the rules and see how much I can get away with that other people say I should never do or experiment with what we’re told to do.

      I’ve learned that a long signup time fails and that last-minute pushes – despite everyone’s hatred of them – actually do work. (Which means people say one thing – “I hate being pushed!” – but behave differently. “Oooh, I need to sign up now!”)

      I’ll keep experimenting to find MY personal comfort zone.

      • I agree about the time pushes – and a little competitiveness can help too. When I was in a different type of sales, it would really bother me if my name wasn’t on the leader board. And months where I was leading it? No denying the extra confidence and spring in the step.

        That’s one part I miss about working in a busy sales office…

        Oh, and banana is a great word : )

  4. You consistently seem to find a way to say what I am thinking. This post is right on time and just the right amount of sassy common sense that’s missing from a lot of blogs on succeeding in business.


  5. Ms. T.’s comment was great: “…just the right amount of sassy common sense…” We can always count on you for that, James.

    I hope all the DFW class members are reading this, because it’s a message many of us need to absorb and integrate into our prioritizing and soul searching.

    I promise never to say “icky” again…I hope I never did! 🙂

  6. Amen and Amen! I love the part that sales and marketing inherently just “are”. It’s the intentions and uses people have put with them that have made them less than desireable. So what happens now, we take them back with better intentions, the right intentions that lead to right, ethical action that is neither an embarrassment to the seller, nor a turn off to the buyer . I’ll also add my name to the list of those who would be more than happy to read tips on how to keep that kind of confidence when it gets tough to do.

    • Intention is a HUGE factor… and frankly, I’m surprised more people don’t understand this.

      As for confidence tips, I’ll do my best to pen some up!

  7. First impressions matter. It’s important to look successful. People think expensive means good. Etc. So what if you know your product is excellent, you absolutely believe in it, but you’re not yet rolling in the dough and you work from home, sometimes even (God forbid) in your jammies? It’s all well and good to believe that you’ll be there someday (wherever “there” is), but even though you do believe in your product, you feel a bit funny about projecting an image that isn’t real. How do you get over that?

    • You count your successes. You’ve had a brilliant idea. You built this great product. You KNOW it’s good. You’ve put in time and effort and money. It solves problems. You may not have sold many yet, because you’re just getting started, but hey – everyone starts somewhere.

      And if you’re at the point that you’re ready to sell this good thing? You’re ahead of most in the game.

      You’re also never projecting an image that isn’t real – success comes from within, not from what you wear.

  8. Glad you wrote the post! Excellent points.

    From my experience, not only do I love selling, I love to be sold to.

    From a consumer standpoint: when someone is selling to me, I have the best job in the world. I get to sit back and let the other person paint me a picture, present a solution, court me through the senses, and open my eyes to what’s possible. I don’t know about anyone else, but I LOVE thinking about what’s possible.

    If nobody sold me anything, it doesn’t mean I have less needs. I’d only have less options. It would now take more time and effort on my part to go seek out solutions. It’s nice when someone does the leg work for me and tell me what they’ve got!

    We have an adage in Chinese: Don’t be afraid of not knowing which product to buy. All you have to do is compare products.

    So, I’ll just sit back with the best damn popcorn, and consider the sales pitches.

    Now, turn the table. If the above is my experience as a consumer, then as a business person, I KNOW the burden is on me to paint the picture, present the solution and show my prospects what I’ve got.

    I know I’ve got the goods, but how would anyone else know it unless I tell them about it. If I don’t do it, who will? If I don’t do it, my competitors will be seen as having superior product/service. And that would just be ludicrous!

    So you see, James, on either side of the fence, I’m a big fan of good products and good salesmanship. If I ever find myself in doubt, I simply fall back on the adage and do some good ol’ comparison shopping.

    • Hey Xin

      I never thought it about it that way. I must admit I love being sold to as well.



    • Last year my mum wanted a new car – her first ever. (She’s nearly 80.) So we went to several car dealers and got all sorts of case studies on “how to sell an old lady a car”.

      One guy… ah, that guy’s my hero. Masterful. He was SO good at it – while being completely honest and straightforward – that at one point my mum got up and said, “Let’s go have lunch and I’ll think about it,” and I said, “Aw, but I was having fun here!”

      And I was. That guy did a great job AND because he did, I’ll be going back to see him. (My turn’s coming soon.)

      The funny thing? At one point, I’d sat back and said, “Look. I’m in sales myself. I know what you’re doing here – I see it all.” Pause. “And you’re doing great. Keep it up.”

      • “I’m in sales myself. I know what you’re doing here – I see it all.”

        This line summarizes where I trip up with sales. If I “know what I’m doing” then I feel insincere and manipulative. In other words, if there’s part of me that is calculating sales techniques as I’m doing them, I have lost the flow with the moment. I’m thinking too much. I’m being too self-conscious and this is what feels sales-y.

        When I’m being sold to, I love talking with a sales person who really knows their product and can answer my questions. I love it when someone can anticipate what might interest me and point out features I didn’t know about. And I feel quite comfortable providing this service for someone else if they want to buy from me. All of this flows without thought about a strategy.

        I can always tell when someone is using a sales technique on me and I hate it. Likewise, I hate doing it to someone else.

        So how did you feel comfortable having someone “sell” you but still find it fun and sincere? What am I misunderstanding?

  9. If you want a job, you need to sell yourself, your skills, your talents.

    If you need members or supporters, you must sell your cause and/or organization.

    This is a great post to remind everyone that sales and marketing extend far beyond the world of goods and services.

  10. Lovin’ the fact you’ve gone back to your roots. Your last few posts have reaffirmed why I subscribed in the first place 🙂
    As for selling….we are all salespeople whether we like it or not. By getting someone (anyone) to do what you want, you’ve effectively just sold them on your idea. So it isn’t i*@# at all!

    • I agree. Case in point? Kids. We sell them all the time. And when we suck at selling them on what we want them to do, they don’t do what we want. 🙂

  11. I agree with everything you said. I think that when you believe in your product and you think it will help people, it is even your obligation to promote it.

    • I think so – if you have something that’s helpful, that actually sweeps away problems, then not telling people about it is a kind of awful thing to do, no?

  12. Haha, I think maybe even I have thought of selling as icky lately. It is hard not to feel like a used car salesman sometimes, but this post is a good reminder that what is a business but an avenue of sales? Great Post 🙂

    • Whenever I feel I might be slipping into used-car-salesdom, I sit back and ask myself, “Look, what do I REALLY want to say here?”

      The answer is usually something along the lines of, “I have some damned sweet popcorn – best ever. Want some?”

  13. This is great. Thank you for sharing! : ) There are indeed ways to sell and still be genuine. People are not stupid, they can tell commersialism from promoting and your product.

  14. Thank you for this way-overdue post.

    I am a short story writer, editor, and digital publisher of over 100 short fiction works. I have also spent over 35 years in sales and marketing.

    There is such a misperception of what sales and marketing is that we hear about only the rotten apple cases. They have their day but they crash and burn because they have no moral compass.

    There is an old adage that “Nothing happens til you sell something” and that is just so very true. The masters of sales and marketing, like Amazon, Apple, Geico and the like, know their audience. They know them better than the audience knows itself. It is the effective seller’s job to first listen, then craft solutions and products that meet voiced and unvoiced needs and wants, and then guide potential customers to an educated buying solution that results in a win/win ending. And the absolutely best customers are the satisfied ones, who will go on to tell others about their satisfaction with their buying decision.

    I utilize all my sales and marketing skills to first listen to my potential reading market segment, craft great short stories (and now great ebooks of short stories) for my market segment, and then I guide these eager readers to a painless buying solution that will reward them with great reading. And yes, they will sell my work over and over again if I have done my part to give them what they need to do so.

    It’s absolutely amazing when such a sales and marketing plan like this comes full cycle.

    Icky it is not.

    Necessary, it definitely is.

    Wayne C. Long
    Writer/Editor/Digital Publisher
    Where the Short Story LIVES!

    • It’s interesting you mention Apple, Wayne. They do sales and marketing like prestigious rock stars – confidently and with pride. No one thinks they’re being all spammy yellow-highlighter!

      That’s selling with class. And I love it.

  15. I have one word for this post and the post before this: BOOM.

  16. I’m one of those people that cringe at the thought of selling. Specially when it’s obvious you’re selling for the point of selling, not to enrich someone else’s life with your product. Although to me it’s selling ME that is the hard part – and which should be the crucial part. I just feel like a self-centred twat telling someone how great I (and my product) am. And when dealing with private clients it’s really hard to be telling them I want their hard earned cash in my pocket instead.

    But those are just things you have to work on and get around. And this text was inspirational that way, because I do value and believe in my product so as long as I sell that more than me, and focus on how good it is, selling will be alot easier. thanks!

  17. Great article. I included it in this weeks issue of Freelancing Weekly (http://freelancingweekly.com/issue-14)

  18. Yes! I love sales. It’s a rigorous, fascinating process that boasts so many luscious and varied levels and subtle ins and outs.

    This article shall serve as a virtual love letter to the seasoned, never-give-up salesperson.

    Thank you for writing this, James!


  19. Wow! That’s such a great post. I especially enjoyed the popcorn analogy. Selling really can seem hard at first. Especially when you’ve worked at a job that makes it seem like such a horrible thing to be a part of, but it really is nothing more than a tool that can be used to give someone something that is worth much more than the money they spent. It’s taking care of yourself and your business, as well as your customer, and you can’t give others everything for free and not take care of yourself. It should always be a win win situation 🙂

  20. Yes , one of the best “icky”sales moves I’ve ever made is a pop up for clients to sign up to my news letter.
    Of course the pop up offers a great free E-book, but I never thought so many people would sign up using the dreaded pop up. Best thing I ever did for sales.

  21. James Chartrand as an entrepreneur and founder for damn fine words is her truth in her pen which tells you exactly how she sees the world. GUNS DO NOT KILL PEOPLE , PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE. This is totally true. I personnally believe that “Nothing happens until you put something in to practice”. It is the same thing with writing business when you do it with integrity.

    Ntarugera François


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