Need To Increase Sales? Hire A Child … or Panhandler

Posted on: September 22nd, 2013 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

Who would you most likely buy from? A child or panhandler? Think about it as you read this blog. 

The selling process fascinates me. I study how EVERYONE “sells” and I’ve observed that the key denominators for success, in my opinion, are emotions, resilience, empathy and sympathy. In Daniel Pink’s must-read “To Sell Is Human” he points out that we are all selling something, either directly or indirectly. For those who think they aren’t good at it or that they don’t do it, they need to realize that if they ever attempt to persuade others to do anything for them they are indeed selling – they are convincing others to take action, whether it’s to purchase a product or service or getting to stay up past bed time.

There are two types of “salespeople” that don’t actually sell a product or service that fascinate me for their use of emotions, resilience, empathy and sympathy and both can teach us how to improve our own sales skills: 1) Children and 2) Panhandlers.

Selling Like A Child:
Boys Laughing Whispering and Telling SecretsThink for a moment of the last time a child (or even a teenager) tried to persuade you to do something. Maybe he/she wanted to stay up past his/her bedtime, wanted a new toy or wanted to stay out past curfew. If you haven’t had any experiences like this think about things you tried to get as a child.

Here’s a very specific example of what I’m talking about. I had to pick up my two-year-old nephew one day from daycare and bring him to my house. There he sat, buckled into the backseat of my car, and initiated the following conversation:

Andrew: Auntie Gina, why don’t you have any toys at your house for me to play with?

Me: Andrew, that’s because you never leave toys at my house like I’ve told you to.

Andrew: Oh. (thinking). I got an idea Auntie Gina.

Me: Yeah?

Andrew: We could go to the toy store and get me a new toy.

Me: Wow Andrew. I never thought of that but I don’t have any money to go to the toy store.

Andrew: Oh. (thinking of a new strategy). Why don’t you have any monies Auntie Gina? Don’t you work?

Me (looking in the rear view mirror and trying not to bust out laughing, yet shocked by such an intrusion in my life and gearing up to justify my finances!): Well Andrew, Auntie Gina has bills to pay, like the electric, heat and mortgage. There’s no monies (yes, I mirrored his word choices) left over after I pay for everything.

Andrew: Oh, ok. (another pause for thinking) I have another idea Auntie Gina.

Me: I’m sure you do. What’s your idea?

Andrew: What if we went to my house and got my piggy bank. I have monies there.
[what a brilliant strategy to show me that I didn’t have to spend my own money]

Me (absolutely in awe at this point): Another great idea Andrew, but I don’t have a key to your house to get your piggy bank.

Andrew: Can we call my daddy to get the key?

Me: Uh, Daddy is at work. That’s why I’m picking you up. Let’s go to the toy store.

So, let’s analyze his strategy:
1) He didn’t have one! He was 100% in the moment using the knowledge he had.
2) His knowledge was knowing what he had at his disposal as bargaining tools and knowing personal details about his target audience.
3) His negotiations style was authentic, energetic, convicted and smart.
4) He was resilient and never gave up until he got what he wanted; he nicely wore down his target.

Here are some of the tactics children use that we can learn from:
– Never taking “no” for an answer by always coming up with a new angle (resilience)
– Crying or throwing tantrums (emotions)
– Enthusiasm and excitement (emotions)
– Questioning to get you to think (empathy and sympathy)

The true beauty about children is that they are pure in their intentions and typically are not deceptive in their approach; they haven’t quite learned intentional deception yet. They have passion for what they want and that’s what drives them. So the learning lesson here is: Know your audience and sell what you love. Sell with enthusiasm, excitement and passion until you get yes for an answer. At Carolina Improv Company we have incorporated an exercise in our sales training programs called “Sell Like A Child” in which attendees have to literally sell to each other like children until they get what they want. It’s hysterical to watch and interesting to hear what motivated their partners to give into each other.

Oh, and by the way, my brother called me later that night after picking up my nephew (his son) and said, “Why were you talking to Andrew about things like electric and gas bills today?”

Selling Like A Panhandler:
homeless beggingFor those who might be offended by me using this as an example, I apologize in advance for offending you. It’s not my intention. The intention is to demonstrate what moves us as humans to “buy” from others. Growing up in Chicago and living there most of my life has exposed me to so much homelessness and panhandlers; not all panhandlers are homeless – that’s why I mention them as separate categories. Sadly, many of us “city folks” become desensitized to people begging. It’s normal to be approached ten times a day on the street, on public transportation or in our cars at a stoplight by someone soliciting for donations by singing/performing, selling a publication called Streetwise, holding up signs about being homeless vets while sitting in wheelchairs with missing limbs, or moms holding up signs about feeding their children while sitting with their children. And in Myrtle Beach, SC there’s so many panhandlers posing as tourists who “ran out of gas and need to get back home.” They all have different approaches and styles. Some are passive and never speak and merely hold a sign. Some are polite. Some are vulgar, mean and under the influence of a controlled substance. Some (intentional or unintentional – I’m not judging) use tools like children or obvious physical impediments. I’d like to believe that they are all truthful and are all in true need. Whether or not they are truthful is not the issue here. What’s interesting to observe is what moves/persuades others to help them and give to them.

Those who buy (donate) may do so because:
– They want to help the starving artist who’s on the street performing and giving a great show
– They are emotionally moved by seeing homeless children
– They are emotionally moved by seeing war veterans who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms
– They are emotionally moved in general when they see anyone suffer

Those who don’t buy (donate) may not want to deal with the realities of it or may strongly feel that these panhandlers …
– Could get a job or help from someone else (friends, family, government)
– Put themselves in this position and should get themselves out
– Are just faking it to make a living the “easy” way.

Again, I mentioned that growing up in Chicago I’m one who has become desensitized by most of it. It’s like “stray animal syndrome” for me. Do your customers/clients ever feel like this …

– How many people can I give to (buy from)?

– How do I select the most deserving (best solution/fit)?

– Who’s the most authentic (telling the truth)?

– How should I budget my donations (spending)?

It gets too confusing and overwhelming and a confused mind doesn’t buy, which is a key learning lesson in all of this.


Here’s another real life example in which I actually went digging into my purse for money … I was in Chicago on business recently and took the train from the airport to downtown. The trains are pretty safe in Chicago despite all the negative media the city gets for crime. But one thing is for sure, there are always panhandlers and we (society) just ignore them. So, there I sat on a full train when a young guy, maybe in his early 20s, stood in the middle of the train and started to make an announcement:

“Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, but I need your help. I’m homeless and have been living and sleeping like a dog on the blue line (train line) for the past week. I hurt my leg and have an infection. I went to the free clinic and they gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. I need money for the antibiotic. It’s 16 dollars and 43 cents nd all I have is 4 dollars. If anyone could help me I would appreciate it. And thank you for not yelling and swearing at me like most people usually do.”

He spoke so passionately and politely that I started to reach for my wallet (and this is before I saw him nursing his open wound leg). Just as I was ready to buy, I mean donate, some random passenger on the train said, “You can get that prescription filled for 4 dollars at Target (can’t remember what store she actually said) on such and such street.” Those who had been visibly moved by the man all went back to their own little worlds as he went nearly silent other than saying, “Oh. Really? I didn’t know that. Good to know.” He took a seat and attended to his real wound quietly. Was the wound self-inflicted one begins to wonder because we lose trust as a society. Sad, but true.

So, what happened here? What was his strategy and why wasn’t he able to “close the deal”?
– He opened passionately and politely
– He presented facts about problem at hand
– He stirred up emotions to get both empathy and sympathy
– He didn’t know how to handle the objection to his selling price; he could have continued to ask for money for something else like food but he gave up; maybe he gave up because he didn’t expect someone to actually speak up.

There are many other panhandlers out there that clearly sell better than this guy does. Most are relentless because they are either desperate to survive or they’re really crafty at getting the sympathy of others. Some key selling attributes here they we can glean from the panhandler:
– Using emotions, both sympathy and empathy
– Presentation of facts and numbers
– Passion, conviction and desire to survive or be in a better situation

This was a lengthy blog, I know. Hope you took away some ideas you can use in your selling strategies.

Now, back to the original question:

Who would you most likely buy from? A child or panhandler? Why?

Use your answers as a guide to improve your own selling skills and ultimately increase your earnings.

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2 Responses

  1. marianne says:

    Very inteteresting and well written!

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