Depth of a Salesman 4: What we need, not what we want

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Depth of a Salesman
its a wonderful life bank run with george bailey and a crowd (1)

George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, faces an angry crowd of his neighbors in a Great Depression panic at the Bedford Falls Building & Loan in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

From Dr. Wayne Baker: Teacher and author Benjamin Pratt shares a true story of his encounter with a used-car salesman. This is Part 4 of his unusual OurValues series. Here’s Ben Pratt …

Abe told me something else about his approach to selling cars—something I’ve heard before but hadn’t thought about as a key to effective sales.

“Some buyers show up knowing exactly what they want,” Abe told me, “but many are foundering in a sea of choices. So, I ask people to describe how they plan to use the car. Then, I can make specific suggestions.

“The key is to understand what customers need. That’s more important than what they say they want.”

I thought: Smart man. I worked for many years as a pastoral counselor and I know the value of uncovering the true “needs” in a person’s life.

As Abe talked, I thought of George Bailey’s crisis in It’s a Wonderful Life. Do you know the scene?

Its a Wonderful Life bank run with George Bailey and Mrs Davis played by Ellen Corby (1)

The sure sign Bedford Falls will survive the panic is when Mrs. Davis, played by Ellen Corby, tells George she only needs $17.50 to get by.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the powerful Mr. Potter at Bedford Falls’ main bank had an opportunity to close his evil grasp on nearly everything else he doesn’t already own. George Bailey’s tiny Building & Loan is threatened with a “run” by its nervous customers. Potter hopes that the Building & Loan will collapse—so he can buy up the assets at pennies on the dollar.

George Bailey is about to leave on his honeymoon as he wades into a turbulent sea of customers. He finally decides to use his own honeymoon savings to survive this panic. Unfortunately some hot heads—including a tough-talking man named Tom—insist on taking all of their money out of the Building & Loan.

Bailey complies and his fistful of cash is dwindling by the minute as he settles account-holders’ demands.

What saves George? And the Building & Loan? And ultimately Bedford Falls itself?

Bailey keeps repeating the message: “What do you need?”

And finally, the message gains traction in this little community. A man named Ed turns the tide.

“What’ll it take? What do you need?” George asks Ed.

“Well, I supposed $20,” Ed says.

“Now you’re talking! Fine! Thanks, Ed!”

Then, Mrs. Thompson admits that she can make do with $20, too.

And the sure sign that the community is getting George’s message comes when Mrs. Davis, played by the delightful Ellen Corby, comes to the teller’s window. She tentatively asks, “Could I have $17.50?”

George grins! “Bless your heart! Of course you can have it!”

And the town survives the panic.

What do you think of Abe’s insight about sales: The “needs” matter more than the “wants”?

What do you think of that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? Is it pure Hollywood fantasy or could that scene really unfold today in your community?

Care to read more?

Benjamin Pratt is the author of three books published by ReadTheSpirit Books. His occasional columns appear in ReadTheSpirit online magazine, the website of the Day1 radio network and in other online clergy networks as well.

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