Life’s a Pitch - Philip Delves Broughton

Friday, May 11, 2012 by Ivor Dickinson

Douglas & Gordon`s Managing Director Ivor Dickinson, reviews the newly released Life`s a Pitch by Philip Delves Broughton

When I was first asked to review this book I have to admit to my heart sinking just a little bit. I have read so many sales books over the years, constantly searching for the answer, both for my company and myself. A thankless task as each book about selling delivers the same message in a slightly different way, and even if a golden sales mantra is found, remembering it or putting it into practice is a different story altogether. Even the title put me off, I don’t like it – I had always been taught never to use the word pitch, and secondly it has already been written by Stephen Bailey and Roger Mavity.

However it was not long before all my worst fears about this Life’s a Pitch were dispelled. This is not a “teach you how to sell” book but a history of selling. An acceptance that you can’t teach “selling” and that a great sales person comes in many different guises, both of which are long held beliefs of mine. We are told the story of Magid in a Moroccan souk who notices everything from the wear on your wedding band to the state of your teeth, a tale which I wish I had read before my last fleecing in Marrakesh! Or the extraordinary Mrs Shibata, who rose from nowhere to become the top insurance person in all of Japan, and the dastardly art dealer Duveen. My favourite character, and that is what this book is – a smorgasbord of rich characters, is Memo from Baltimore who runs a construction company. He rises every day at 4.30 am and after his very early morning run then sets about managing his team of Mexican labourers, and more importantly his wealthy Baltimore clients who he handles with extraordinary deftness.

These stories are all beautifully written, thoroughly researched and with protagonists from all walks of life, working in very different fields and using very different techniques to all achieve excellence, it just proves the point that there is no simple answer to being good at sales. Instead Philip Delves Broughton delves far deeper into the secrets of their success and inevitably it is not about technique. The characters in this book are highly driven, ambitious, and hardworking but above all else they have an extraordinary ability to win trust. He also claims that they are born this way. “Hybrid Vigor” proves that there is no easy route to being a successful sales person, it has already been decided and it is our genetics and the life that we lead that make us who we are.

This is a fascinating read, both inspiring and at the same time humbling. As well as some riveting stories, Philip Delves Broughton goes some way to explaining how selling is a fundamental part of our life and that we are all engaged in it in some way every day. So why is it a dirty word, why is it not taught at school, he asks. He writes about Jesus being one of the greatest salesman (which I don’t think is blasphemy), and that the serpent in the Garden of Eden being a master of the one off sell. He explores the techniques of Lawrence of Arabia, Estee Lauder and Nelson Mandela, and compares the thrills of sales to the thrills of fox hunting described by the French psychologist Cholaire Rapaille, just one of many academics and gurus to have been studied by the author to give us such extraordinary insights.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it is not one story after another about brilliant sales people who are obviously extraordinary and none of us mere mortals could ever emulate. There are also refreshingly candid insights into the surprising techniques of people like Ted Turner. The story of Ted Turner’s presentation to the only advertising agency that was not buying time on Turner’s channel is hilarious – I won’t spoil it for you.

The easiest way for me to determine whether a sales book has been worthwhile or not is to observe the amount of notes and underlinings that I have made. On this score Life’s a Pitch proved to be a clear winner, every page being littered with notes by the time that I had finished reading, and my speech at this year’s company conference will definitely be influenced by this quite remarkable book. However it is not just that this book is both fascinating and instructive, it is also a very good read whether you are remotely interested in sales or not.

Above all else, his description of fluid intelligence proves what I have always believed about sales people, “that intuition and native wit are like the large lungs of a cyclist, a psychological gift that most of us, however hard we study and practice can never compete against”. If you have not got those lungs, this book will not give them to you, but it sure as hell is a darn good read.