I recently read about a very interesting story about a great sales pitch, which I would love to share with you. Nearly 50 years ago, in 1969, PBS was facing serious budget cuts, and needed $20 million ($140 in today’s dollars) to stay afloat. They turned to a then-relatively obscure TV host named Fred Rogers, who offered a testimony in under seven minutes, which pled the case for PBS. The pitch worked, and the Senate’s Committee on Commerce got them the money.
In the speech, Mr. Rogers featured no elaborate demonstrations. He was mild-
mannered, calm, and friendly, yet also firm and passionate. He demonstrated his product, a then relatively-unknown TV show aimed at children called “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood”. He appealed to his audience by asking them about their own childhood experiences, saying that his mission was not to profit, but give his audience “an expression of care each day”. He then gave an example of the lessons his show would teach these children, reciting the words of one song about anger. As he spoke, the notoriously hard-edged committee chairman, John Pastore, gave in and ultimately approved the PBS budget request.
This offers a great lesson to anybody looking to sell. Mr. Rogers didn’t close this sale because of his product. The Senate already knew what Mr. Rogers was selling. He closed the sale because of himself, conveying a sense of charm and confidence. Anybody that listens to this would be happy that Mr. Rogers was able to succeed and keep PBS on the air.
Mr. Roger’s TV show is the second longest-running children’s show in television history, beaten out only by “Sesame Street”. For my generation, Fred Rogers, in his trademark sweaters, is one of the most iconic pop culture figures out there. Think about why that was: watching his show, he was authentic, patient, and friendly, and by all accounts he was much the same off-screen. Even if he was talking to millions of children at any given time, he was able to come across as if he was speaking one-on-one. Such personality traits also make for great salesmen: if somebody like that is backing a product, and genuinely believes that it’s got legs, you’ll be that much more likely to back it.