I never met the guys personally; they may be long dead by now. But every manager I talked to knew the story and swore it was true.
“You never heard about the Magic Question?” I was incredulous.
“Not by that name,” replied my sales partner. “But then again, I’m still not sure what a Pokemon is.”
“This story is true,” I began. “I swear! I’ve heard it too many times for it not to be true. In fact, I tried to track it down years ago. I never met the guys personally; they may be long dead by now. But every manager I talked to knew the story and swore it was true. Everyone knew a guy who tried the experiment himself. It was-it is-true and that’s it. Period.”
The hook was baited and set. My partner waited expectantly.
“Long ago, in the olden days of onion skin ratebooks, there was...”
“Ratebook? What’s a ratebook?” he interrupted.
“Never mind,” I sighed, and continued. “Once upon a time, there was this weather-wizened, thick-skinned, old-school, chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out agency manager. Everyone says his name was Al. He was at his wit’s end trying to get his new recruits up and running. So here’s what happened...”
“YOU CAN’T PROSPECT!” exploded Al. “That’s the problem. Green weenies can’t prospect!”
The green weenies accepted Al’s sobriquet with glazed-eyed equanimity. Actually, only one was truly green. The other was rather khaki.
“Look. I’m going to let you in on a secret.” Al’s tone was slyly conspiratorial as he fixed his two minions in turn with a steely gaze. “This secret technique will solve your prospecting problems forever, but it won’t work unless you do exactly what I tell you. You with me on this?”
Taking this vague nasality as affirmation, and with a heaven-cast “Why me?” sigh of resignation, Al plunged on.
“Listen carefully,” he said, with a sideways glance to spot eavesdroppers. “I want you to stand in front of the building here. Then, to everyone who walks by, you must ask the Magic Question. No more, no less. You paying attention?”
“Un Hunh.” My problem is prospecting too, thought Al ruefully.
The Magic Question is (slowly):
“Want to buy some insurance?”
“Want to buy some insurance?” Green and Khaki repeated doubtfully.
“Riiiight,” breathed Al, brightening at the articulate feedback. Or you can use the alternate: “You don’t want to buy no insurance, do you?”
“That’s it?” exclaimed my friend. “That’s the Magic Question?”
“That’s it,” I confirmed. “But hang on now. There’s more.”
“Uh,” Khaki began tentatively, finally focusing on the task. “How long do we have to do this?”
“Have to!” Al exploded. “There is no HAVE to! There is only do!”
“Oh, yeah. Right. I forgot.”
Al smiled at his own persuasive powers and retreated to his lair, leaving the two to their fate.
“Our heroes did exactly what they were told. They stood steadfastly on the street corner. They terrorized the natives through the heat of the day and the barking dogs and the hail of insults. They held true to their charge and asked everyone who passed by, ’Want to buy some insurance?’”
Only once did their spirit falter.
“Are you sure this is how Ben Feldman got started?” my partner asked.
“I guess you never heard that story, huh?” I replied.
“You’re putting me on.”
“Nope. Honest to golly, That’s the way it happened.”
“Well, then what happened?”
The sun finally dropped below the skyline. Al closed up the agency and went out to field his wards, fully expecting an abandoned post. They were still there, Green and Khaki, and still doggedly asking away under the watchful eye of an apprehensive beat cop.
“OK, boys. How’d it go?”
“I only sold one policy,” said Green dejectedly. Khaki added, “Me too. Here.”
“One!” shouted Al. “That’s wonderful! Great work!”
“How’s that?” Green asked. “I spent all day asking a hundred people to buy and only one did. That’s great?”
“Of course!” Al said, barely containing his excitement. “Do the math. One app a day is five apps a week and twenty apps a month and 240 apps a year. My boys, you’ll make MDRT!”
“Never mind,” Al said. “You boys get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you right here tomorrow!”
Al looked up to see where the echo came from.
“Right,” he said. “You see, it’s not what you say. It’s how many times you say it. The more you say it, the more you sell. That’s all there is to it!”
“But, but...” rebutted Khaki, “Isn’t there an easier way?”
“Oh, yes,” pronounced Al sagely, suddenly intensely serious. “There are many ways. And they are all easier.”
Al let that sink in for a long moment.
“Tell you what.” Al’s tone was slyly conspiratorial as he eye-fixed his two minions in turn. “First thing tomorrow, I’ll show you the Magic Telephone!”
My friend rolled his eyes.
“Well,” I said to him, “It turns out eventually these poor schmucks sold more insurance than they dreamed possible. And certainly much more than Al thought possible.”
“So. You’re telling me to pick up the phone. Right?”
“Right,” I said.