Selling Secrets of the Home Shopping Network

Last Updated Jun 26, 2008 7:08 PM EDT

If a great salesperson can sell an air conditioner to an Eskimo, Joy Mangano can sell clothes hangers to a nudist colony.

Mangano is a home improvement megasaleswoman on the Home Shopping Network, and her technique, along with other top sales folks on the channel, were recently scrutinized by two Harvard Business School professors at the request of Inc.com. Read the fun and enlightening story Battle of the Network All-Stars, by Leigh Buchanan.
Here are three of the six lessons identified by Anita Elberse and Michael Norton from watching HSN.

  1. The Slow Reveal. When talking about the beauties of your product, reveal the benefits and features one at a time. "So if you are not convinced by the first benefit," Elberse says, "then you are convinced by the second or by the third. At some point you think, Wow, this is really an unbeatable combination of things, and you go for the phone."
  2. Model Aspiration. Come across in your presentation as a person your audience would like to hang with -- but just a little better. Says Norton: "These people are aspirational, but they don't seem too far beyond customers' reach. The product becomes a bridge to bring the customer toward them."
  3. Enthusiasm is Infectious. Your offering may be run of the mill -- Mangano was selling hangers, after all -- but your presentation shouldn't be. Observes Norton: "The founders of companies often are terrible at selling, because they believe their product is better at a gut level. They don't understand they need to communicate that, to get the customer to see what they see. (Mangano) understands."
So admit your crime and tell us what or who convinced you to buy an item on a TV shopping network.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.