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Franklin’s rule as a car salesman’s tactic?

Filed in Books ,Ideas
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In response to last week’s post about Franklin’s rule, your loyal Editor’s mother sends along this passage from the story “Can I Just Sit Here for a While?” from Ron Hansen’s Nebraska: Stories (also published in the Atlantic Monthly).

In the story, the salesman is telling an acquaintance that he “discovered a gimmick, a tool which handn’t failed him yet. It was called the Benjamin Franklin close.”

Say you get a couple who’re wavering over the purchase of a car. You take them into your office and close the door and say, ‘Do you know what Benjamin Franklin would do in situations like this?’ That’s a toughie for them so you let them off the hook. You take out a tablet and draw a line down the center of the page, top to bottom. ‘Benjamin Franklin,’ you say, ‘would list all the points in favor of buying this car and then he’d list whatever he could against it. Then he’d total things up.’ The salesman handles all the benefits. You begin by saying, “So okay, you’ve said your old car needs an overhaul. That’s point one. You’ve said you want a station wagon for the kids; that’s point two. You’ve told me that a particular shade of brown is your favorite.’ And so on. Once you’ve tabulated your pitches, you flip the tablet around and hand across the pen. ‘Okay,’ you tell them. ‘Now Benjamin Franklin would write down whatever he had against buying that car.’ And you’re silent. As noiseless as you can be. You don’t say boo to them. They stare at that blank side of the paper and they get flustered. They weren’t expecting this at all. Maybe the wife will say, ‘We can’t afford it,’ and the husband will hurry up and scribble that down. Maybe he’ll say, “It’s really more than we need for city driving.’ He’ll glance at you for approval but you won’t even nod your head. You’ve suddenly turned to stone. Now they’re struggling. They see two reasons against and twelve reasons for. You decide to help them. You say, ‘Was it the color you didn’t like?’ Of course not, you dope. You put that down as point three in favor. But the wife will say, ‘Oh no, I like that shade of brown a lot.’ You sit back in your chair and wait. You wait four or five minutes if you have to, until they’re really uncomfortable, until you’ve got them feeling like bozos. Then you take the tablet from them and make a big show of making the tally. They think you’re an idiot anyway; counting out loud won’t surprise them. And when you’ve told them they have twelve points in favor, two points against, you sit back in your chair and let that sink in. You say, ‘What do you think Benjamin Franklin would do in this situation?; You’ve got them cornered and they know it and they can’t think of any way out because there’s only one way and they never consider it. Pressed against the wall like that the only solution is for the man or woman to say, I-Just-Don’t-Feel-Like-It-Now.’ All the salesman can do is recapitulate. If they want to wait, if the vibes don’t feel right, if they don’t sense it’s the appropriate thing to do, they’ve got him. I just don’t feel like it now. There’s no way to sell against that.

Mom writes “I hope you found this an interesting use (misuse?) of old Ben Franklin’s technique!”.

Despite all our decision science researching, we’ve never come across the idea of using a (unit) weighted rule as a sales tactic. You’d think it wouldn’t really work, as the customer could always generate reasons against buying. We wonder if this works because of social pressure against listing things like “I don’t trust: this guy / this dealership / the stuff he’s telling me / that quoted price as all-inclusive”. If such things aren’t listed, the tally will favor buying over not buying.


  1. Jeff says:

    I think this tactic only works in the absence of any alternatives. It’s really the wrong model for the buyers to use if they are considering other cars at other dealerships. This model favor the decision to buy, but only if the scope of the decision is limited to “buy this car” vs. “do not buy this car”. I don’t believe that this really works at all.

    August 22, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  2. Matt Fox says:

    Wow. I remember learning that from an old Tom Hopkins training about 20 years ago. I hated it. Never used it. And, like many of the “closing techniques” these old trainers taught, thought it was a poor way to treat your customers. Funny to see it again all these years later.

    August 22, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  3. michael webster says:

    I think that this might work, if the buyer was in a genuine fog.

    They actually wanted to buy the car, but didn’t know so.

    Going through this analytics which just make clear to the mind what the heart already knows.

    It will also work as simply a hard close, but I agree with the other posters that it is probably not worth it.

    August 23, 2012 @ 9:34 am

  4. Jeanja says:

    I believe the tactic works because the salesperson fills out the “pro” side, which gets a lot of points because the salesperson has prepared. If the salesperson handed over a sheet of paper with both “pro” and “con” columns blank, the buyers might have a fair shot at discerning their real preferences.

    August 23, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

  5. Peter says:

    Didn’t Franklin also mention weights? I guess the “we can’t afford it” should be a pretty heavy item on that board.

    August 25, 2012 @ 6:08 am

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