The Panhandler’s Relationship

Back when we had public phones and a local call cost a quarter, a friend was approached by scruffy looking character. “Can you give me a dollar bill for four quarters?”  There were four shiny quarters in the man’s outstretched hand.
My friend took out a single dollar and completed the trade. Then, to my friend’s surprise, his newfound buddy said, “Can you spare a quarter?”
Years later, while telling me the story in a coffee shop, my friend said, “I was blown away. First, this guy starts a conversation with me – a complete stranger. It seemed simple enough. This was a request we encountered often back then. And once he knows I do indeed have a quarter, it is very difficult for me to turn him down. The guy was one of the best salesmen I have ever run into. It was just plain enlightening.”
As we talked about the incident, it became clear what it could teach us about superior selling skills. Our street character engaged my friend and established a relationship. He asked a simple question, framed in a reference that was common to the day. Then, with his newly acquired knowledge, he asked for the order! Had he just walked up to my friend and asked, “Hey buddy, can you spare a quarter?” he likely would have been ignored.
How often have we seen and heard sales professionals trying to close the deal before they have established a relationship? It’s a shot in the dark. In this old story we see a simple interaction that established a relationship, gathered a piece of critical knowledge and closed the deal. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?

One comment on “The Panhandler’s Relationship

  1. Dick on

    Not sure this story is similar, but the quarter story reminded me of this story. When I was about 17 years old, I answered a newspaper ad that said little, except to show in person at a local hotel at 9:00 AM the following day. I showed up along with several others about my age. The presenter talked about what we could earn, about how well we’d be trained, and how much fun the work was. He looked for volunteers to start that morning at 11:00. Long story short, 2 hours later I found myself walking with the presenter onto the porch of a home in Marinette, WI. When a woman came to the screen door and opened it a bit, he introduced himself and said something like, “You’re not going to believe this,” and reached in his jacket pocket and threw a handful of dirt on her living room floor. That was the moment I first learned the job. I did not come to work the next day. Nice article, Mark. I hope all is well with you and yours.


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