The Toddler’s Guide to Salesmanship

They wreck our stuff, kill our sleep and chase away our non-parenting friends. But we still love ‘em and want to take care of them. I’ve learned a lot about effective persuasive communication from my three-year-old.

And it only makes sense. Toddlers are too small to do much, and lack their own credit cards, but they need the same food, shelter, love and amusements that anyone else does. All they have are their powers of persuasion.

These suggestions aren’t (just) tongue-in-cheek. Try them out in your own communication to make some stronger connections.

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

Parents of young children are typically broke, frustrated, chronically anxious, time-crunched and sleep-deprived. In this, they strongly resemble customers.

Toddlers know that when you’re speaking to a distracted audience, you might have to repeat your message 6 or 7 (or 60 or 70) times to get heard.

Repetition at toddler levels will drive your customers out of their minds. But you can repeat your message a lot more often than you think you can. Just like exhausted parents, your customers are only listening to you with half an ear. Be sure you’ve made your point enough times for them to get it.

Grown-up tip: Look for varied ways to convey the same message, or you’ll run into Are We There Yet Syndrome.

Look for ways to surprise and delight

My boy imperiously demanded some animal crackers the other day. “Animal crackers!”

“Hmm, what could you say that would make me want to give you animal crackers?” I said, in that mom way I have.

“Animal crackers, darling?” he said.

Darling bought him a lot more animal crackers than please would have. Their ability to surprise us and make us laugh is a big part of what keeps toddlers alive on those difficult parenting days.

Grown-up tip: It’s not always easy for us to reproduce the sideways logic of a toddler. Start by capturing all your ideas, including (especially) goofy ones. Set aside some time regularly to noodle on communication ideas that are “too silly” or “can’t work for me.”

When you come up with something both simple and surprising, you may just have a winner.

Use the language of your audience

The other day, my always-entertaining small person looked me in the eye and asked soberly, “Mama, is Papa maybe not a morning person?”

One of the vastly amusing things about toddlers is the way they repeat our phrasing exactly. This gets kind of stressful when we start worrying about the kid getting kicked out of Montessori school for R-rated language. But mostly it’s one of the great joys of hanging out with little kids.

Toddlers know that we hear best when we get a message that uses our own words.

Grown-up tip: One of the less-known uses of surveys and testimonials is to find the language of your customers. Look through everything your customers send you for wording you can mirror back to them. Artful, “writerly” language isn’t nearly as important as using the words and phrases that your customers do themselves.

Added 6/21: Don’t miss Bob Hoffman’s brilliant observation in the comments below that “clients are just toddlers with money.”

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Flickr Creative Commons image by Kah_Zanon


  1. James Hipkin says:

    You are such a good writer, you amaze me every time I click in to see what you’ve said. Thank you for that.

    A small build on your last point. White mail (unsolicited correspondence) is a great source for both real customer language and advance notice on issues that may be percolating under the surface. Please, please, please (do you like how I used point number one) make it easy for your customers to talk to you. Don’t hide the 800# 12 clicks deep on your site and do provide easy-to-find email links on many pages not just the previously mention 12-click-deep Contact Us page. Some variations on this are listen to customer service calls, attend focus groups, do store checks, and go on sales calls.

  2. It’s true, children are too much trouble to keep, except for their un”adult”erated appeal!

    I love the way you combined the essence of parenting with marketing — especially the “surprise and delight” point.

    That one is supreme.

  3. cougarmark says:

    Nice points here.
    Thanks for reminding me how cute the little people are – and how smart they are.


  4. Sonia Simone says:

    @James, I could just hug you. Thank you.

    I could not agree more about making it easy for customers to talk to you. And online sellers are particularly HORRIBLE about it. Interaction is a great blessing–encourage it!

  5. Kelly says:


    As a mother, I am a sucker for posts combining business and the wisdom of little ones. Little people are wise, spontaneous, and artful in their persuasive ways. Seems clear yours is learning well from Mama. A funny post with great points.

    “Look through everything your customers send you for wording you can mirror back to them.” I know it, but I don’t apply it nearly often enough. You said it so brilliantly it’s going to be top-of-the-mind for a long, long time. That’s my aha! moment for today. Thanks.



  6. What You Can Learn About Sales from a Toddler

    Sonia Simone offers The Toddler’s Guide to Salesmanship, posted recently on her blog, Remarkable Communication. Sonia writes:They wreck our stuff, kill our sleep and chase away our non-parenting friends. But we still love ‘em and want to take care of

  7. Hi Sonia,

    Great article. Become as little children, eager to notice what’s new, learn from those around you, and explore what’s really going on.

    Great post, looking forward to more!

    Mr. Twenty Twenty
    The ExHostage turned Professional Visionary

  8. Sonia Simone says:

    Kelly! I am mighty glad to be of service.

    Welcome mr. Twenty Twenty!

  9. bob hoffman says:

    Talking with toddlers doesn’t just help you talk with consumers. If you’re in the marketing business, it also helps you talk with clients.

    When my daughter was a toddler she put every question through what we called “Twelve Degrees of Why.”

    “Dad, why do flowers have different colors?”

    “Um, to attract insects”

    “Why do they want to attract insects?”

    “Well, they don’t really want to, it’s just that those that do tend to have more success reproducing”


    After the twelfth “why” you found out whether you really understood something or not.

    It’s just like talking to a client. In fact, clients are just toddlers with money.

  10. Absolutely Fabulous, darling. :)

    Great analogy. Surprise and delight with gleefulness. Kind of challenges us to make everything old, new again.

  11. Kelly says:


    “Clients are just toddlers with money.”

    Hahahaha. That’s super.

  12. Sonia Simone says:

    @Bob, that is the most fantastic thing I have read all week. Thank you.

    I’m actually most struck by the resemblance of senior executives to toddlers. The better known and higher up the food chain they are, the more often I find myself wanting to ask, “Do you just need to poop or what?”

    • Jen says:

      I have often said to my project-manager husband who spends a lot of his time with highly paid execs and highly paid engineers that he needs to do a degree in Early Childhood Education to manage those guys! Honestly you often see better negotiating in the sandpit than you do in the boardroom!

  13. Sonia,

    I am learning so much for your site – I can’t even tell you. Thank you for the awesome articles. I enjoyed your Three Bears Series too – it gave me a lot to think about.


  14. Gadget guy says:

    I am a gadget lover and like to read about the latest gadgets. I really liked your post. Keep up the good work. I also have a blog on this topic, please visit and share your thoughts.

  15. Christie says:

    ‘Darling’ – Love it! What a little genius! :)

    Christies last blog post..Juicy, creamy, sweet n nutty. Who, me?

  16. Love it! Just saw this (someone tweeted your 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew article) and shared this with our team members on the front line with prospects and customers. And, as a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) firm I can’t help but notice how absolutely true “Use the language of your audience” bit is. It’s not only true in selling, but in SEM. That’s keyphrase reesarch, plain and simple. And now I’ll be sharing that extra bonus with our clients: not only are you learning how to be where your prospects are looking by ranking well for the keyphrases your prospects are typing into the search box at Google and Yahoo! but you’re also getting the language to sell them!

    Thanks much and I’ll be back!
    Leslie Carruthers
    The Search Guru – Search Engine Marketing Firm making Google and Yahoo! sell for you.

  17. Great post again!

    Children learn by example -”One of the vastly amusing things about toddlers is the way they repeat our phrasing exactly. ” And so do our clients. That is why we follow successful bloggers, we want to learn by their example.
    Also using the clients language validates them, makes them right and communicates in a way they can hear.
    Thanks Bob, sometimes I just want a client to just let me do the job. I like your point for both exploration and for reminding me that answering enough questions will build trust.

    Sheila Atwoods last blog post..Only The Good Friday

  18. Thank you Sonia!

    It was an informative article.



    Hooshmand Moslemis last blog post..Niche Review Templates

  19. Carey Van Wagoner says:

    Sonia, I am a new reader of yours, and I just cannot get enough. It is helping me so much. Thank you and keep them coming!

  20. Susila Dewi says:

    Great article. Verry informated Tips.
    .-= Susila Dewi´s last blog ..Infant Car Seat Cover =-.

  21. Judy Soccio says:

    Great comments, Sonia. I just discovered your blog through the Launch coach mastermind series. And now having read that “clients are toddlers w/money” and your concern that senior execs “. . . just need to poop or what?”, I am really going to have a big grin on my face at my next client meetings! Brava! P.S. Hi, Leslie Carruthers!

  22. tiensstore says:

    This is one of the best and most informative articles i have ever read. thanks

  23. Thank you, everyone! I’m a new follower here and not only was the post fabulous but each of the comments further enhanced it. Utterly delightful, darlings ;-)

  24. Tina says:

    What a great post! I love your analogy and got a good chuckle out of it. And I love your reference to our kids chasing away our non-parenting friends. I just experienced that not too long ago!
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..The Power Wheels Eliminator – Dune Buggy Heaven =-.

  25. Matt says:

    Sonia, this article rings true on so many levels. And Bob is spot on, “Talking with toddlers doesn’t just help you talk with consumers. If you’re in the marketing business, it also helps you talk with clients.

    The analogies put a smile on my face. I’ll be back to read more.

    Matt at Momentum
    Matt´s last [type] ..Affcon 2010 Affiliate Marketing Conference

  26. Anne says:

    I am also a sucker for posts that connect business with raising a toddler. I find that I often has to keep re-phrasing my question/request to my 2 1/2 year old until it is exactly the right tone and wording. She’ll completely ignore me until I get the message right.

    Interesting. I never thought about doing the same thing with my clients & subscribers. Until now!
    Great post…
    Anne´s last [type] ..Chocolate…Glorious Chocolate

  27. Thank You for your brilliant, enlightening observations. I’ll be sure to apply your observations as I promote my blog. For now, I am just subscribing to your blog but will be back later to read all the posts. Also this site is so well designed. It is a great model for bloggers everywhere.

    Kindest Regards~Dezzy
    Debi Williams´s last [type] ..Finding Stop Gap Work- From Business Manager to Retail Support Create Supplemental Income Between Jobs

  28. Jodi Meehan says:

    I loved this article. The second tip made me laugh out loud! I have a 4 year old and he is always saying or doing things that I have been able to connect to my copywriting work…

    Also love the “toddlers with money” comment – I always tell my copywriting students to think of their readers as being 2 year olds, and that everyone really just wants some cookies, some milk and a nice nap. But I don’t think they believe me :-)

    I wrote a similar post about how to get customers, kids or cats to do what you want them to. It’s called the “close the door and walk away” technique. Works every time!
    Jodi Meehan´s last [type] ..Need Money No Problem!

  29. Sven Markert says:

    Sonia, this was artfully written and very engaging. Loved the analogy. Thank you for your insights!!!

  30. Gail Mc says:

    This article is spot on! For years I’ve told new salespeople to watch the toddlers around them. Toddlers always know exactly who the decision maker is; they identify the influencers and aren’t afraid to use them; they aren’t afraid to change the rules; they don’t hesitate to change tactics if an approach isn’t working; they always make eye contact during their pitch; they completely understand the value of a smile; they build personal relationships; they don’t take the first “no” as a final answer; and when it becomes clear that they absolutely are not going to get all that they want, they immediately negotiate to a lesser win instead of giving up. They are sales dynamos!

  31. Peggy says:

    I got a few good laughs from this article, and some very wise advice. Love that heading too! It definitely caught my attention.


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