I said good-bye to my father for the last time a couple months ago. His death wasn’t a surprise; his health had been increasingly poor for many years, and despite his doctors’ best efforts, his body just wore out.

Dad was a straight-commission salesman for nearly all of his adult life. In fact, he continued to sell well into his late 70s, when his health got in the way. He sold chemicals for industrial processes and maintenance. When a refinery needed to clean up after an explosion or a steel mill needed to degrease a rolling mill, he got the call. In his later years, most of his competitors were chemical engineering grads, but his customers placed more trust in his practical knowledge, despite the fact that he barely made it through high school. He was an extraordinary salesman, and that’s not just a proud son singing his praises — he received a constant stream of job offers right up until his retirement. (In fact, a salesman from a competitor once told Dad that his boss had instructed him to check the obituaries every morning, and if Dad’s name appeared, he was to target every one of his accounts. That’s praise, disturbing as it may be.)

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Whenever I visit the State Fair or any kind of exposition such as the Flower and Patio Show, I always gravitate to the booths where the people we once knew as hucksters are giving demonstrations. I genuinely enjoy their sales pitches, and they provide some excellent reminders for my professional life.

What does someone selling a set of pots and pans, eyeglass cleaner, or a high-horsepower blender have to offer to a copywriter? Plenty.

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The men and women who sell advertising are among the nicest people you will ever meet. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll also tell you that I’m a salesman’s kid, so I have a soft spot for good salespeople. Many of them have a genuine interest in you and your company’s success, and want to do everything within their power to help you make that happen. But if you’re going to regard salespeople as trusted advisors, please don’t lose sight of who employs them and how they are compensated.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for advice, or even accepting it when it’s handed to you without a request. But before you base your decision on the advice, stop to ask yourself whether the person who provided it has a stake in what you’ll do.

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Most business owners and managers are eager to find good advice – and that makes sense. If someone else has expertise, why not borrow it (or at least consider it) when you’re making an important decision?

But when you ask for that advice (or when it’s handed to you without a request), stop to ask yourself whether the source has a stake in the advice.

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