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Ben and The Panhandler

Recently my friend Ben was walking home and came across a panhandler. Here is the conversation they had:

Panhandler: “Hey, do you know of any shelters around here?”
Ben: “umm… no I’m sorry I don’t know of any shelters around here.”

Panhandler: “Okay, Can I stay at your place tonight? It’s raining.”
Ben: (a little startled) “No, I’m sorry. I have a roommate and don’t know how he would feel about that.”

Panhandler: “I understand. How about $1.00?”
Ben: (relieved) “Sure! Here is $1.00.”

Ben is Approached by Panhandlers Every day

Living in the Mission (San Francisco) Ben is approached by a Panhandlers a lot. He never gives any of them money. So, what made this situation so different? Why did he give this one a dollar?

This Panhandler is a Sales Genius!

The panhandler understands how to influence people. He used two techniques most marketers know about.

Sales Technique #1: FOOT IN THE DOOR

The panhandler knew that people like Ben are constantly getting hounded for change. The usual response is to ignore them. By asking a simple yes or no question like “Do you know of any shelter around here?”. The panhandler was able to get Ben engaged (or “his Foot in the Door”). This simple yes/no question opens up the ability to ask Ben another question or a favor – it will be much much harder for Ben to ignore the panhandler after he responds to a question.

Sales Technique #2: DENNIS THE MENACE

Ask for something crazy so that your next offer seems like nothing. The panhandler knew that asking for a $1.00 is a lot of money since most beggers are asking for 25 cents. So instead he asked for something crazy like a place to stay so that his next proposal ($1.00) seems like nothing. Honestly I think he could have asked for $5.00 and gotten it.

The moral of the story

Next time you want something follow these 3 steps:
Step 1: Ask a simple yes/no question to start the conversation (get your foot in the door)
Step 2: Ask for something grand (like a lot of money or time)
Step 3: Ask for the thing you actually want (like a couple dollars, a 20 minute phone call, a simple partnership)

Have you ever used this technique? I’d love to know your story in the comments.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ray April 11, 2012, 5:04 PM

    Yes, I use this technique on women all the time. Here is what I do:
    #1 Ask the girl what she is drinking? (simple question that usually gets a reply)
    #2 Then I ask her if she wants to dance. (usually its a no)
    #3 Then I ask her if I can buy her a drink. (60% of time I get a yes)

    • Rishi Shah April 12, 2012, 3:10 PM

      Ray – you must be a serious player.

  • Taylor April 12, 2012, 11:04 AM

    OMG I loved this post! I used technique #2 unknowingly on my boss the other day.
    I asked her for a raise – she said no. So then I asked for 2 more weeks of vacation and got a yes! I’m glad it worked out this way the 2 more weeks of vacation mean more to me

    • Rishi Shah April 12, 2012, 3:11 PM

      that is awesome. Congrats?

      Enjoy your well deserved vacation 🙂

  • Jim April 12, 2012, 11:04 AM

    Telemarketers do this a lot to me. They always start off with “Are you happy with your current service?”

    • Rishi Shah April 12, 2012, 3:10 PM

      I never thought of that. They also sometimes start off with a simple “How are you doing, today?”

  • Ben (the Panhandlee) April 12, 2012, 6:36 PM

    Great article Rishi. You really captured the exact way it went down. Also, I think Ray is on to something by using this technique on women. lol. Well written. 🙂

    • Rishi Shah April 13, 2012, 11:04 AM

      hahaha “Ben the Panhandlee”

  • Jamie April 12, 2012, 7:55 PM

    Haha, Door in the Face (Dennis the Menace) is a GREAT technique!

    It’s actually REALLY helpful when you’re negotiating. You should always ask for an outrageous amount (borderline offensive) so even when you are making small concessions, you are still up.

    Here’s an example when buying a mattress:
    List Price – $200
    My first offer price: $75
    I know it sounds crazy to offer $75 but as long as you give reasons and explain why it works.

    Since the mattress salesman has to start the bidding at $200, even if you concede $50, and get to a price of $125, you’re still getting a great deal!

    The more outrageous your first offer, the more you can concede, and the more willing the other party is to ‘meet you half way’.

    • Rishi Shah April 13, 2012, 11:05 AM

      I had no idea that you can bargain at mattress stores. Another lesson learned – you can bargain anywhere.

      Fun fact all the electronics prices are totally negotiable at Best Buy.

  • Pete April 12, 2012, 11:29 PM


    You can use this same exact technique online with “post-transaction upsells”.

    Once a customer purchases your entry product, you can offer them a high-ticket upsell — and if they say no to that, then you can offer them a downsell that provides some of the benefits of the high-ticket upsell (and removes others), at a lower price. Alternatively, you can downsell to the same exact high-ticket upsell via a payment plan, which makes it more affordable on Day 1.

  • Sunil April 12, 2012, 11:58 PM

    Gr8 insight in sales process…

    Thank you Rishi!!!! for nice article.

    Most of the Indians use this technique while doing bargaining… In Mumbai there is a place called “fashion street” where you can get T-shirt, jeans, shoes accessories etc. I went there to buy T-shirt, shopkeeper quoted me price INR 500($10) , then I quoted INR50($1), finally after doing rounds of bargaining, I purchased T-Short for INR100($2)..as per me this is fare value for T-Shirt.

    I dont think that there is anything wrong in asking Discount(bargain the price)…. whithout that will not know the fare value of product.

    Keep it up Rishi…

    • Rishi Shah April 13, 2012, 11:08 AM

      Hi Sunil –

      I’ve actually been to Fashion Street! I let me cousins do all the talking. Usually when they realize I’m not from India the prices double.

      Thanks for sharing that awesome technique. Its a good one.

  • JAW April 13, 2012, 11:15 AM

    Evenings, I frequently see a guy holding sign on a long stick in Union Square. “Comedy Show Tonight. $10 with coupon.” Clever. Offers something “interesting” and solicits you to ask him for a coupon.

  • Ross April 17, 2012, 8:02 PM
    • Rishi Shah April 18, 2012, 3:28 PM

      wow – awesome post! Thanks for sharing that.

  • Raj April 29, 2012, 10:42 PM

    A girl scout used this technique to sell thousands of boxes of cookies. Initially asking for a large donation getting a “no” then asked if they would rather buy cookies.

  • Chris Pritchard June 8, 2012, 2:10 PM

    Haha! Now I owe that guy a dollar 🙂

    Good post!

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