2 min read

Same product, same customer, different problem.

The story of selling combs to monks can teach you how multiply results in your sales and business career.
Same product, same customer, different problem.

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.