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Economic Recession: Can You Sell A Comb To A Monk?

Have you ever met one of those glib-tongued salesmen who succeeded in making you buy something you did not really need but you bought because the salesman was able to convince you about why you needed it? I am resolutely convinced that the value of a product is not only in its content or proposition but in the capacity of the people selling it to properly connect it with its intended market. Success is easy for anyone who knows how to sell well. Many years ago, I ran a series on this column on the need to master the art of the sale because whether you know it or not, everybody in life is a salesman. The difference is only in what we sell, how we sell, where we sell and who we are selling to! If we know what to do, we can indeed sell coal to the residents of Newcastle!

To be effective in the marketplace, you must learn to think on your feet. Innovative thinking is the only thing that can produce innovative selling. It not only requires thinking outside the box, it actually requires acts oblivious of a box! Learn to see every prospect as a lifetime friend rather than someone to make a one-time sale to!

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One of the first questions I ask young people who come to me for counseling  is “Can you sell?” Usually the question throws them off balance until I take time to explain to them. Without capacity to sell on the platform of relationship-building, nobody can make significant strides in life.

A friend recently sent me a story entitled “How To Sell A Comb to Monks” by Joshua Chao. I tell it here largely in my own words. A business conglomerate in Asia needed to boost their sales capacity by hiring a new sales executive. They wanted the best. Several sales professionals had applied for the position.  Three candidates with what seemed to be impeccable credentials were shortlisted. The sterling qualifications of these men made it very difficult to decide which of them should get the job. So the Board decided to set them a sales challenge.

They were to sell combs to monks of any of the Buddhist monasteries up in the mountains. They were given three days for the task. The real problem however, was not in selling combs or the quality of the combs. It was in the fact that monks were supposed to be completely shaven! How do you sell combs to people who have no hair?

At the end of the three days, the applicants returned to give their reports.

The first candidate said “I managed to sell one comb. The monks scolded me, saying I was openly mocking them. I was so disappointed I gave up and simply walked away. However, on my way back, I saw a junior monk with an itchy scalp; he was constantly scratching his head. I told him the comb would help him with his scratching. He bought one comb “

Grinning from ear to ear in what seemed to be a self-congratulatory posture, the second candidate said, “Well, I did better. I sold 10 combs.”

Excited, the panel asked “How did you do it?”

Prompt came the reply.

“I observed that the visitors had very messy hair due to the strong winds they faced while walking to the temple. I managed to convince the Head monk to give out combs to the visitors so they could comb their hair and show greater respect during their worship.”

As the members of the panel made to applaud, Candidate 3 stepped up “Not so fast. Why don’t you let me give my report?”

“How many did you sell?” asked the panel.

“A thousand combs” he replied. The panel was dumbfounded. One of them exclaimed, “Wow! How did you do it?”

The candidate replied, “I went to one of the biggest temples on top of the mountain, and requested to see the Senior Master. I thanked him profusely for serving the people and providing a lovely and sacred place of worship for them. He told me that he would like to appreciate visitors to the temple for their support and devotion. I suggested that the best way would be to offer his visitors a souvenir inscribed with the blessing of Buddha. Before going up the mountain, I had gone to engrave some words of Buddhist blessings on the combs and I showed him a sample. I also told him about how people would use the combs daily and how they would be constantly reminded to do good deeds. He loved the idea, and proceeded to order a thousand combs!”

“You were only lucky,” one of the other candidates said bitterly.

“Not really,” a member of the interview panel countered. “He had a plan, which was why he had the comb engraved prior to his visit. Even if that temple did not want it, another one surely would.”

“That is not all,” the third candidate smiled. “I went back to the temple yesterday to check on the Master. He said many visitors told their friends and family about the comb with the Buddha’s blessing. This has resulted in an upsurge of visitors daily with each one requesting for the comb, and giving generous donations towards the operations of the monastery! The Master is sure that if the influx continues, he will run out of the combs in less than a month and will need to order more!”

Who got the job? No prize for guessing right!

The same product was to be sold by all three of them. But the first candidate demonstrated the most basic level of sales success. He was concerned with meeting the client’s personal need or solving a personal problem. In which case, the potential for making any sales is only if any monk would personally need a comb and for what purpose. He made one sale to the monk who had an itchy scalp and needed something to scratch his head. As far as that monk was concerned however, the comb could have been anything else that would help him do the same thing!

The second candidate anticipated and created new needs for the prospect. The Master monk might not have needed the comb but it would be of some benefit in keeping the sanctity of his monastery

Educating the prospect on new possibilities and benefits for his business puts you ahead of competition.

The third guy took it a notch higher by deliberately and painstakingly developing an ongoing relationship which created a win-win situation that resulted in repeat sales. He also expanded the circle of relationship by helping the prospect to meet the deepest needs of their own prospects in a way that created significant value to all involved.

Sustainable success is only possible when you can consistently create a circle of satisfied customers who trust you enough to be loyal and to desire to keep doing business with you!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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