JUST THIS WEEKEND I WAS ON A TRAIN travelling through Zhejiang province. All was peaceful and quiet, or at least as peaceful and quiet as a train going through Zhejiang province can be, until suddenly a man dressed in a white suit walked in, stood in the middle of the carriage and started shouting.
30 minutes later, crowds of people were surrounding him practically throwing money at him in exchange for magic merchandise! And what was that merchandise? A towel. Nothing but a boring, plain old towel. But people were going crazy for it! So how did this man go from a stranger shouting, to the greatest salesperson this carriage had ever saw?!
Reciprocity, social proof, authority and scarcity. That’s how he did it. If you’ve ever read the book Influence by Robert Cialdini, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. These are 4 of the 6 tools of influence that sales people use throughout the world, and this white suited train robber used them with great skill!
Several seconds after he had started shouting, going on about how he represents the train company and that they are grateful for everyone traveling with them and how he wished them a great journey etc. etc. (all lies by the way), he introduced what was to become the greatest product this train carriage had ever seen. A towel. The size of a regular tea towel, pink and made of some strange material. But this wasn’t just any towel!
He held up a poster, showing pictures of famous Chinese Olympic athletes using this very towel at the Beijing Olympics. This was a special towel that Beijing Olympic Athletes used! If they used it then it must be great! But why is it so great?
“This towel will dry your hair in seconds!”
Wow! A towel that dries my hair in seconds! But wait….Why do I need a towel that dries my hair in seconds?
“Beijing Olympic Athletes used it! Look, here’s a picture!”
WOW! If they needed it, I must need it!
He dipped the towel in water, REAL water that he let everyone touch and feel. Seconds later this towel was dry! Proof that it works!
But wait, why do I need a towel that dries in seconds? I have lots of towels at home, I even have a hair dryer. And my hair isn’t that long anyway.
“Just now a beautiful girl in the last carriage bought one of these! After seeing how it worked, like I just demonstrated to you now, she insisted on buying 10! Not only this, but it’s the best selling towel in Walmart!”
Wow! If a beautiful girl bought it, and it’s the best selling towel in Walmart, then I must need it!
As if from nowhere, he suddenly pulled out a crate with loads of these towels in their packaging. He started distributing them around the carriage.
“Have a look and feel. It’s all real! All exactly the same as the one I showed you just now.”
Wow! It is real! It even feels exactly the same as that one he just showed us working! If it’s real, really will dry my hair in seconds, a beautiful girl in the previous carriage bought one, is the best selling towel in Walmart and is used by Beijing Olympic Athletes then I must need it! Plus, that’s awfully nice of him to let me take it out and play with it…
“But wait, there’s more!”
More! Oh my god! I can’t take much more excitement!
“That beautiful girl in the carriage before asked for a discount. This towel is normally 38 RMB, but I phoned up my boss and asked if we could give a discount. He had to think about it for a while. But he got back to me, and because it’s his birthday today and he is feeling especially generous he will sell it for 30RMB!”
Oh my god! OH MY GOD! It’s even got a special discount!
“But I have some bad news…I’m afraid it’s impossible to sell this towel to everyone in this carriage. There simply aren’t enough towels. And I can only give this discount today.”
“I’ll buy one! I’LL BUY ONE!” Suddenly 30 people started putting their hands up and yelling. They couldn’t take much more, they needed to get their hands on this magical towel that they had seen working in real life, that Beijing Olympic Athletes used to dry their hair, that a beautiful girl in the previous carriage had bought, that is the best selling towel in Walmart, that was originally 38RMB but today is on special offer for 30RMB and that was in limited supply!
Thirty minutes later, out of the carriage walked the white suited train robber and onto the next carriage. I turned to the man sitting next to me staring with a confused expression at his new magical towel. I asked him:
“Why did you buy that?”
“I have no idea…”