This story of selling combs to monks is usually told to sales teams, direct-selling, and multi-level marketing groups. I'm simply adapting it in this post.

Quick Takeaways

  • Selling isn't evil. You do a favor to customers by selling.
  • You need creativity in business.
  • A great salesperson is not a pushy guy. He's a creative problem-solver.
  • If your marketing is failing, you might be focusing on the wrong audience or the wrong problem.

Here's the story

Once, there was a business that sold combs. To grow the company, 3 salespeople were hired. The boss, wanting to test their abilities, posted a challenge:

"Go sell combs to monks. The one who sells the most wins."

The three salespeople were stumped. Sell combs to a monk? Monks don't use combs!

Anyway, they needed to keep their jobs – so all three of them started visiting nearby temples to sell combs to monks. After a month, they all came back with three different results.

Salesperson #1

"I managed to sell a comb!"

The boss asked how he did it.

"I'm very persistent and never take no for an answer. I got rejected again and again. But I showed up at the temple every day. One day, I saw a monk scratching his head a lot. I told him to buy a comb to relieve his itch. He bought a comb from me then."

The boss was impressed.

But before he could say anything, the second salesperson said, "hah! Selling a comb is nothing. I sold a hundred!"

Salesperson #2

"I too was rejected a lot. But I spent a day at the temple to observe. I noticed that it's usually quite windy at the temple. Visitors will get their hair messed up. I told the abbot that visitors should look proper when they pray, and recommended that he provide combs to visitors. He agreed, and bought a hundred combs from me."

But before the boss could say anything - the third salesperson laughed, "A hundred combs? Well, I sold ten thousand combs!"

Salesperson #3

"Like salesperson #1 and #2, I got rejected many times. But through a deep conversation with an abbot, I found out that he was disheartened as he didn't know how to repay the faith of visitors who came to the temple. So I proposed that he give away combs engraved with Buddha's quotes and teachings, as a token of blessing. To that end, he ordered ten thousand combs from me."

Same product & customer – different problem.

If you have been hitting a brick wall trying to sell your product, sometimes it's worth taking a step back and re-evaluating if you're reaching the right audience – or if you are solving the right problem.

Many salespeople follow the path of salesperson #1. They are hardworking and persistent.

However, solving problems requires creativity. Creativity is leverage.

Start talking to potential customers. Find out their biggest problems and pain. Work backward to provide a creative solution.

Share this post