Want + Need = Sale


          My grandfather, R. L. Cox, was a born salesman. He could sell anything. Eventually he went to work for the W. R. Grace Company and was one of their most successful fertilizer salesmen for forty-five years. But he learned many of the basic principles of salesmanship before joining W. R. Grace. One of the most important salesmanship lessons he learned was that timing was the key to making a sale. He learned this lesson while selling tombstones to finance his education at Wolford College.


          R. L. said his strategy for selling tombstones was to go to the local newspaper upon entering a town. He would then check the obituaries for the past several weeks to determine who might be in need of his product. But he wouldn’t just call on everyone. Through experience he had determined that his time was best spent on a select group of the surviving spouses and children of the recently departed.


          The way he characterized this select group was in terms of how recent the death had been. R. L. stated that if you approached the bereaved too quickly, all they would do is cry all over you and could never bring themselves to acknowledge their need for a tombstone. Then he stated that if you waited too long to approach the bereaved, their hearts had hardened and they didn’t want a tombstone. But he said that if you hit them at just the right time, they were composed enough to talk about their needs but were still grieving enough to acknowledge their wants. There were plenty who needed a tombstone and plenty who wanted a tombstone. But there was only a narrow window of opportunity where someone would admit that they both wanted and needed a tombstone.


          The lesson of timing and art of waiting for want and need to overlap were used by my grandfather to good effect during his entire career as a salesman.