The Sophisticated Beggar

During a business trip to Edmonton, I encountered someone who made an indelible impression on me. In fact, he captured my attention, made me laugh, and he even closed the master closer. He did all of this in a matter of minutes by following several basic selling principles. As a matter of fact, I would say he was truly a professional at his trade. Ragged clothing, mussed hair, torn-up shoes, and rotting teeth aside, this man was at the very least a “sophisticated beggar,” and at the most someone’s child who, someway, somewhere, and somehow lost his way in life.

It is amazing how some of life’s greatest lessons come from the least likely people or circumstances. There is an abundance of lessons available to all of us if we simply open our eyes and hearts to the endless possibilities. Many times, we are so caught up in our own little world of pressing problems that we are blind to the magical moments surrounding us. This “chance” encounter on a street corner in Edmonton was a great example of one of those magical moments.

As I left a restaurant with my business associates, an abrasive person demanding money immediately confronted us. Yes. I said “demanding money,” and he was doing so in such a manner that anyone’s desire to help would quickly diminish. Simply stated, the approach was flawed and overbearing. As we waited for the light to change, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned to see who was behind me, and I heard a very kind voice say, “Excuse me, sir, may I ask you a question?” I looked into the eyes of a man whose face could tell you a million stories. I said, “Sure, go ahead.”

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He said, ”If I tell you a joke and make you laugh, will you give me a dollar?” I found this approach to be very engaging. Think about it for a minute. The gentleman opened the conversation with a polite, permission-based question. He made great eye contact, smiled, and spoke in a pleasant voice. He then used a strategy I have taught my students for years by offering me value before he asked for money. Not bad, for a beggar on a street corner in Edmonton. Every salesperson could learn from this man’s approach.

I responded, “Sure, if the joke’s clean, go ahead.” He immediately became very animated in his movements. I was shocked as he used great communication skills to tell his joke. This man used voice inflection, cadence changes, and planned pauses to deliver the joke with impact. One thing you can’t really teach is timing, and this man had great comedic timing. Obviously, he had mastered his presentation skills. It is safe to assume he had delivered this joke over and over until it was second nature to him. Truth be told, it was hilarious, and we all burst out laughing when he finished.

At this point, he gently held out his hand with his palm facing the sky as if to say, “Pay me now.” It was his very sophisticated, yet subtle, version of a closing question. I reached in my pocket and gave the man a 20 to 1 return on his original request. He had definitely exceeded my expectations in every way.  As I handed him the $20.00, he thanked me graciously and wished me a great rest of the day. I thanked him for the laugh and the enjoyable experience. As he walked away, I saw him stop and gently tap another person on the shoulder. When is the best time to close a sale? Right after you just closed one.

I wish all my students would follow the guiding principles of selling that this man used that day in Edmonton.

This man was much more than a “sophisticated beggar.” He was a truly great sales professional.