Selling and Storytelling is Always About the Moment of Truth

Life as an entrepreneur started for me in 1972 glued to our TV set in Woodinville, Washington.  I was watching the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Hour when my dad interrupted my Saturday morning ritual to entrust me with the sale of my sister Melody’s blue Schwinn bike.

She had graduated to riding horses.  Being the only girl of seven kids, none of us boys would be caught dead on her Schwinn. Our dad was running my two older brothers to baseball practice when he charged me with the sale.

“A man and his daughter are coming by in 30 minutes to look at Mel’s bike,” he said, staring into my 11-year-old eyes that were transfixed on Wile-E Coyote’s latest fall from a Monument Valley cliff.  He grabbed me by my shoulders, pulled me a smidge closer and said slowly, “We want $14, but we’ll take $11.”

“Right.  Got it.  No problem,”  I said with complete confidence, finally awakening to this great endeavor he had just bestowed upon me. Money was an important thing in our household, given my parents grew up in the depression. They never missed an opportunity to stress honesty, integrity and fiscal responsibility with us.

He left with two of my older brothers. His words resonated in my brain: “We want $14, but we’ll take $11.”

Sure enough, as the Roadrunner “Beep Beeped” his way safely into the sunset, the doorbell rang.  “Hmm, who could that be?” I thought, annoyed.

In slow motion, with one eye trained on the opening strains of Scooby Doo and half my brain driving my feet, I moved to the back door. There stood a strange man and a girl.

“Can I help you?’  I asked.

“Yes, we’re here to see the bike,” he said.

“Oh, yeah.”

There, in the breezeway, was the freshly waxed Schwinn speedster leaning seductively on its kickstand with a heavenly glimmer twinkling off its chrome handlebars.  My world snapped into focus.  The weight of my sales goal landed squarely upon my small shoulders, like the bank safe falling on Wile-E Coyote’s head.

As the little girl walked over and caressed the seat, her father turned to me and asked, “Is your dad home?”  “No,” I said clearing my throat to begin negotiations.  “He’s asked me to handle this sale.”

“Well then, how much do you want for the bike?” he asked.

I realized my dad hadn’t talked price with the prospective buyer on the phone.  I deftly sized up the situation.  This guy was flying blind.  I had him right where I wanted him.  His daughter was obviously smitten with Mel’s bike. The only thing between her joy and him being a hero was his wallet.  What an opportunity.  Pops is going to be so proud.  My older brothers will look upon my brilliant salesmanship with respect and admiration.  Mel will revere me as the polished horse trader given the deal I was about to cut.  Once again, my dad’s words rang through my head.

I stepped up and with the cajoling smile of a used car salesman and said, “We want $14, but we’ll take $11.”

My offer shocked the buyer.  You could see it in his face.  Then an odd thing happened.  His shock subtly turned to delight.  It took the keen eye of this savvy salesman to detect it, but it was there.  Then delight turned to humor, and that’s when it hit me.  I not only gave him our asking price but had revealed our bottom number at the same time.

Dang!  The tables had turned, and we both knew it.

With a bit of a chuckle, he pulled out his wallet. “Tell you what, kid,” he said.  “I’ll give you 12 bucks for the bike.”  In quiet desperation, I leaped at the offer. “OK,” I agreed, with a tiny handshake.  He loaded his grinning daughter and her new bike into his Town & Country station wagon and drove off safely into the sunset.

Wounded but wiser, I retreated to our family room to retrace the transaction, feeling lucky to have gotten the 12 bucks.

Forty-seven years later I can tell you that what I learned was vastly more rewarding than what I earned peddling my sister’s blue bike.

Dad laughed and applauded my honesty.  The buyer, who most certainly could have taken advantage of a cocky 11-year-old had the integrity to meet me half way.  And the transaction epitomized one of dad’s greatest business morals…

“A deal is only good if it’s good for all parties.”

I couldn’t have made a better sale that day.