How to Sell Like Jay Leno

Last Updated Sep 27, 2009 10:30 AM EDT

Photo by Alan Light
I recently wrote a profile of Jay Leno for SellingPower magazine. That article pointed out that Leno isn't just an entertainer, but also a consummate sales professional. Leno's first job was in Sales (door-to-door, in fact) and he's always been active in selling both his TV program and his numerous public speaking engagements. Most recently, Leno led the charge to sell his new prime-time program to NBC affiliates.

In the SellingPower article, I included a sidebar entitled "How to Sell Like Jay Leno." The sidebar was intended for sales managers and had advice about setting up a sales team to encourage the kind of personable sales style -- a combination of determination and likeability -- that Leno uses.

Since Leno's new TV show looks likely to be a big success, I thought it would be fun to revisit that advice. You'll have to find a copy of the magazine to get the full version, but here's a shorter version, with a bit extra added (rule #6 is new):

  • RULE #1: Failure is never permanent. Leno wasn't an overnight sensation. Some of his early performances on Carson's Tonight Show were weak and he didn't appear on television for years. But he kept honing his skills and eventually became a regular guest on Letterman's show, eventually earning him a guest host gig on Tonight, which led to his current success.
  • RULE #2: Work is better than vacation. Leno is famous for spending his free time doing personal appearances that help his career. He seldom, if ever, takes vacations although he is quite generous in giving vacations to his staff. The truth is that, unlike people who see work as a way to fund other "fun" activities, Leno see work as something that's fun all by itself.
  • RULE #3: Fake it before you make it. Leno has a history of sticking his neck out to further his career. For example, when Leno was just beginning to appear regularly on television, his career got a big public relations boost when he was selected "Best Face to Caricature" by the "American Caricature Association," an organization that he invented.
  • RULE #4: Everyone is a potential customer. Unlike celebrities who remain distant from their public, Leno makes a point of being accessible. He invariably waves and smiles when he's spotted in driving one of his many rare automobiles. When hired for speeches, he greets and shakes the hands of as many people as possible.
  • RULE #5: Give back to the community. One way that Leno builds his image as a likeable guy is to dedicate time to community service. For example, Leno has been known to fly at his own expense to Chicago or Detroit to do benefits for the homeless. While Leno's generosity is clearly genuine, there's no doubt that it helps his "brand" when people view him as a nice guy.
  • RULE #6: Be generous with your thank-yous. After the original article appeared, Leno personally called SellingPower publisher Gerhard Gschwandtner and thanked him for the publishing the article. He didn't have to do that, but that gives you an indication of how Leno thinks. Leno truly is the nice guy he plays on TV -- and that's why he's so successful.
READERS: Any suggestions on other celebrities whose sales secrets you'd like me to research?

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