Tips for Entrepreneurs: Napoleon’s marketing secret

When you can really feel the pain of your clients you will have an easy time selling your products and services.

December 3, 2012 23:44
4 minute read.
'The coronation of Napoleon,' 1807

'The coronation of Napoleon,' 1807 521 . (photo credit: Courtesy)

Napoleon’s enemies had put a bounty on his head. On the run, fleeing capture, he came across a village. He urgently knocked on the door of a house and begged, “Please, I beg you – have mercy and hide me! People are running after me, and if discovered I will surely be killed!” The resident, a Jewish tailor, was compassionate and instructed Napoleon to hide under his bed, which was quite thick and stuffed with goose feathers.

Not a moment had passed from when Napoleon had hidden when some scary looking men burst into the house.

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“Is anyone hiding here, Jew?” “No,” the Jew replied.

“Is there something wrong?” The soldiers went through the house of the poor tailor, searching every nook and cranny and ransacking everything, to see if in fact their prey was hiding there.

After searching though the kitchen, they went into the tailor’s bedroom.

All the clothes were dumped on the floor, as were all the clothes the tailor was in the middle of sewing. For good measure, they punctured the featherbeds and pillows several times with their bayonets to make sure no one was hiding underneath.

Fortunately for Napoleon, the beds were quite thick, and he stayed quiet without making a sound, and was unharmed. Grousing at losing their catch and their bounty, they moved onto the next house.

After the men left, Napoleon, drenched in sweat from his close encounter with death, came out from his hiding place. He told the Jew: “I am the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and I thank you for saving my life. As a reward for saving me, you can ask me anything, and if it is in my power, I will grant it to you.”

The tailor thought and said, “Glorious emperor, I’m an old man. I make a decent living and have a roof over my head. My children all live happily and I have no need for money... so with your permission I’d like to ask you something strange.”

“As you wish,” Napoleon said. “Ask what’s on your mind.”

“OK,” the tailor said, in an unsure and shaky voice.

“I would like to know how you felt laying under the featherbed as they stabbed the mattress with their bayonets...”

“You fool!” Napoleon shouted. “How dare you ask such a question of the emperor? You have just rebelled against the crown. You will be shot by a firing squad tomorrow morning!” Distressed at this strange and sudden turn of events, the tailor repented all that night, knowing it was his last night on earth. At six o’clock the next morning, he was taken to the place of execution.

He was blindfolded and his hands were tied. A three-soldier firing squad pointed their rifles at him, and an officer instructed the soldiers, “Fire on the count of three.”

The officer began his count. “One!” he yelled. “Two!” ...just as he was about to reach three, a rider on horseback galloped up toward the execution site, yelling “upon order of the emperor! HALT!” The rider then handed the trembling tailor a note. It said, “You wanted to know exactly how I felt lying there under the bed. Now you know. Signed, Napoleon.”

My dear readers: That is the secret to sales. When you can really feel the pain of your clients and understand what they are going though – as if it was yourself˜– you will have an easy time selling your products and services, because you truly understand them.

I have a client in New York who sells kitchen supplies.

While schmoozing, he told me he had been a professional chef for years. Those years gave him contacts and insights into commercial kitchens, how they worked and what products were needed (and what kind of profits there was in connecting people with the equipment they need.) Once I heard this, my vision for his marketing materials became crystal clear.

“The reason chefs and restaurateurs need to be using your company is not because your prices are a bit cheaper. That won’t make them leave a supplier they know just to save a few nickels.

“The reason they will leave a supplier to use you is because you aren’t just a salesperson hawking kitchen supplies. They’ll use you because they know you understand how they feel, and what they’re going through. Because you have an industry background and understand what gives specific dishes their secret, you have their best interests in mind.”

People do business with people they like, who have experienced the same problems they have, and overcome them. Identifying with your client’s experiences is a positioning you can build nicely on! When your clients truly feel that you understand their problems as if they were your own, then there’s almost no selling needed at all. It’s merely two people sharing a problem and trying to overcome it for their mutual satisfaction.

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Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50 business publications

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