The Porcupine

My grandfather Al, was a salesman in Texas for the American Seating Company some seventy years ago. Al was a wise and gentle soul, qualities I’m sure he also had when he was a younger man. (I remember him quietly telling my uncle that putting 7-Up in scotch was a good way to ruin it.)

He once told me about the air conditioning system in his company car. There were a series of pipes that fit around the driver’s seat. Every evening the pipes would be disengaged and stored in a freezer, then re-installed in the car in the morning. My image of my grandfather, clad in spacious 40′s era trousers, canvassing the small towns of Texas, meeting the owner of the local cinema to discuss renovations, removing his wide brimmed homburg to mop his brow with a handkerchief, showing off his car’s air conditioner to the cinema owner as they drove down Main Street to get lunch at the drugstore counter.

I can also imagine the colorful sales techniques that he could have used during his lifelong tenure in sales. Many of these old techniques are transparently manipulative, but you can’t beat the names. And, in fairness there is a wrinkle of wisdom in each.

If your client says, “Can I have it delivered in two weeks?” You respond, “Do you need it delivered in two weeks?” That’s the porcupine. So named because it’s as if the question is a spiny critter who’s landed in your lap and you quickly, but gently, lob it back from whence it came.

The sense in the porcupine? You find the need behind the question. And occasionally, people will ask a question that they don’t need, like “Do you next day deliver?” “Why? Do you need it in one day?” says the porcupine. “No, and I don’t want to pay for expensive express delivery.”

Here’s another flowery appellation: the inverted tie-down.

The tie-down is simply responding with “Isn’t it?” to any statement your client makes. The idea is that you induce a series of small affirmations or tie-downs that build momentum for the big yes. The inverted tie-down is just putting the tie-down at the beginning of the sentence.

“Isn’t quality important these days?” or “Doesn’t that feel good in your hands?”

I can see my grandfather in a dusty Texas saloon late on a hot afternoon drinking a scotch with an enthusiastic colleague, exchanging stories about their day.

“Al, you should have porcupined him there. And then used a tie-down. That’s a perfect spot for a tie-down.”

And my grandfather responding with something like, “Oh, I don’t pay attention to those things. I just try to help people if they want to be helped. Now, what have you put in your scotch?”

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