Marketing expert Richard Petrie reminded me recently of a great selling strategy called 'The Monkey's Fist'.
Here's the background...
A few years ago Richard's uncle (a tour operator) invited Richard and his wife on board a large cruise ship docked in Wellington.
While standing on the deck of a ship Richard noticed that the ropes needed to moor a ship to the dock were huge.
He wondered how any seaman, could ever lift such a heavy rope, let alone hurl it so that it would reach the pier.
Richard discovered that the crew doesn't even try to throw the heavy rope, known as a "hawser."
Instead a solitary crewman hurled a little iron ball, called a "monkey's fist," which was attached to a thin rope to a longshoreman standing on the pier.
The longshoreman then collects the monkey's fist and starts to haul the line in until he grabs the hawser and then pulls the hawser onshore.
Throwing a hawser is too big a first step for any sailor, just as it's too big a first step for any marketer to approach ice-cold prospects and instantly persuade them to buy.
The first step in the relationship between buyer and seller has to be easy.
Richard shared a story from direct marketing legend Gary Bencivenga on how coffee salesmen in the early 20th century would sell door to door.
The selling rate was around 4 per cent of every door knocked on. Imagine what a tough job that would be with doors constantly being slammed in your face.
The coffee marketers tried many different approaches but they ultimately found a winning formula.
They threw the 'monkey's fist' and made the first step in the sales process irresistibly easy.
The coffee salesman would knock on the door. But rather than launching into a pitch the salesman would hold back and say, "Good afternoon, madam, today I bring you a special gift, a free half-pound of our finest coffee.
Please accept it with my compliments. In about a week, I'll return to see what you think about it. Fair enough?"
How could she refuse?
The following week he would return with another gift if she placed he first order.
What happened by design was that the salesman had bypassed the automatic rejection he would surely get if he tried a hyped-up sales pitch in the first meeting.
This made the sale so easy, because the salesman made the first step easy.
The conversion rate went from 4 per cent to over 40 per cent using this new approach.
How to apply this concept
Offering free problem solving information is one of the most successful ways to apply the Monkey's Fist.
A recruitment company discovered that offering a guide for teachers about getting a new job was 30 times more effective than simply placing a branding ad (as was typical for the industry).
An architect discovered that providing a report on 'Mistakes people make when renovating' was 20 times more effective than her traditional brand advertising.
A tourism company went from self-promotion to the promotion of free useful educational resources not only captured more enquiries but also opened the door for permission to start a conversation.
As Richard explained, selling works well when the buyer only needs to make a series of small risk free steps.
"Stop selling. Start helping."
How could you use the Monkey Fist concept in your own business this month?