Selling Wooden Combs To Monks

Selling Wooden Combs To Monks

Once upon a time, the owner of a large store announced that he wished to hire a manager to oversee his expanding business. His need was urgent and he was prepared to make an unprecedented offer to the best talent available. This news immediately attracted hundreds of applicants.

Even after a rigorous selection process, there were still ten applicants left for the one opening. The owner faced this group and said: "All of you have such incredible qualifications that it is difficult to make a final choice. The only fair way to proceed is to hold a sales challenge. The winner of this challenge shall be our new manager."

"What are the rules of this challenge?" One of the applicants asked.

"It is quite simple," said the owner. "I have many imported wooden combs in my warehouse, and the most difficult challenge I can think of is to sell them to monks. The one who sells the most wooden combs shall be the winner."

The applicant was surprised: "What? Selling wooden combs to monks? Is this a joke?"

Another applicant was angry: "Even fools know that combs are useless to the monks with their shaven heads. Why not ask us to sell water to fish instead?"

Most of the applicants left. Some took offense at the challenge, which they said was clearly impossible. Only three candidates remained. The owner of the company asked them to come back after two weeks to report their results.

Fourteen days later, at the appointed time, the three candidates returned. The owner asked them: "How did you do? How many wooden combs did you sell to monks?"

The first candidate said: "I sold one. This proves that the challenge is not impossible after all."

The owner was curious: "One? How did you sell it?"

The candidate described his many attempts to talk to monks about the combs. Many of the monks ignored him; some accused him of deliberate mockery. He had all but given up when he spotted one monk who was suffering from an itchy scalp. He approached this monk and suggested that the wooden comb could be used for scratching. The monk liked the idea and bought it.

The second candidate stepped forward: "That's very clever, but I was able to sell ten combs."

The owner was impressed: "Ten? How did you manage that? Don't tell me you found ten monks with itchy scalps!"

"No sir, there is a better way." The second candidate said: "I thought about this challenge and visited a temple high up in the mountains. This temple offers a beautiful view, but visitors often enter the temple with hair in disarray because it is very windy up there. I suggested to the abbot that it might be disrespectful to offer prayers in such a state. He agreed, and bought ten wooden combs which could be cleaned and lent to visitors who did not have their own."

"Ingenious!" The owner exclaimed. "You must be the person we are seeking."

"Not so fast, sir." The third candidate came forward. "I sold more than either of them."

"How many exactly?"

"A thousand wooden combs."

The owner and the other candidates were startled. It seemed like an impossible result, particularly for a task that so many applicants considered impossible in the first place. They all asked: "But how?"

"I know it must seem unbelievable to you," the third candidate said. "I went to one of the most popular temples around. Many patrons and pilgrims came into this temple every day. I spoke to the most senior Master and thanked him for providing this sacred place for the people. He was most gracious and said he also wished to thank the people for their support. I told him that a great way to express his appreciation would be to give each visitor a blessing."

The candidate continued: "The Master asked how the blessing could be given to all the visitors. I showed him the wooden combs, which I had already engraved with various words of blessing. I told him that it was something people would use daily, so it could serve as a constant reminder for them to do good deeds. He declared it was exactly what he needed, and immediately ordered a thousand wooden combs."

"You got lucky," one of the other candidates said bitterly.

"Not really," the owner countered. "He had a plan, which was why he had the wooden combs engraved prior to his visit. Even if that temple did not want it, another one surely would."

"There is more," 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 wooden combs with the blessings. Now even more people are visiting every day. Everyone is asking for the wooden combs, and giving generous donations too! The temple is more popular than ever, and the Master says he will run out of the wooden combs in a month... and will need to order more!"


Like the first candidate, we can secure sales by satisfying a customer's personal need. But this is only a beginning, and often may not be enough. 

We can then plan to attract the customers behind the customer, like the second candidate. Everyone is connected to someone else, within an intricate web of relationships. Customers aren't just sole individuals, as they can influence other people in their personal network. Satisfying the needs of this group can expand a Salesperson's target audience from a few dozen to hundreds.

However, the highest level of sales is a continuing business relationship, as demonstrated by the third candidate. At this level, everyone involved receives a positive outcome as a result of the sale. 

Everyone has benefitted; the temple patrons received the wooden combs as gifts; the temple benefitted from more visitors and donations; the third candidate won the managerial position; the owner of the store gained a great customer; even the engraver benefitted from the regular, repeating business.