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The Mason Jar Parable

3 min read

Isn’t it interesting to hear colleagues talk about memorable sales experiences they’ve been through? Here at The Baron Group, it’s one of our favorite parts of our training courses. Our participants always seem to have at least one story to tell about their experiences as sales professionals, and we never get tired of hearing them.

One of our favorite stories was told by a course participant who worked in the packaged good industry and called on a major retail chain. He shared with us an experience that impacted his approach in managing his customer relationships. Read on: we can all learn from his experience.

He had just taken over an account and was meeting with the head buyer for the first time. The meeting started and went very well. But as he went on, he noticed something strange behind the head buyer’s desk – a Mason jar that was half-filled with dollar bills. He was curious to know more about it, but it was his first visit and he didn’t say anything.

His next visit was three weeks later. Again, it was a productive meeting. And again he noticed the Mason jar. But this time it was about ¾ filled with dollar bills. His curiosity increased, but he still said nothing.

Another three weeks passed and there he was again. But now the mason jar was just about full. And now his curiosity was off the charts.

He made a few reasonable guesses. Perhaps it was a football pool. Or a weight-loss contest. Or even some kind of internal competition between teams. Finally, he asked about it.

The buyer smiled—“I am glad you asked… because your grace period is about up.” When he asked what she meant, she enthusiastically explained, “After 60 days, every salesperson I work with is asked to bring me new ideas. If you show up and don’t have a new idea, it costs you a dollar. The money goes in the Mason jar. And when the Mason jar is filled, the money is given to charity.”

What a statement that the buyer was making! And today that might not be allowed. But her point was clear: “Bring me your ideas. I want you to do more than just bring me products and services. You are out there in the marketplace. You see lots of customers. You have significant perspective. I want you to share your ideas.”

Now, what she did with a very specific approach is something that we believe clients think about all the time. They want more from us than just our products; they want our ideas. And as you know, offering unsolicited ideas help move you up the value pyramid.

That is why, as part of your pre-call planning, we encourage you to brainstorm any unsolicited ideas you could bring to the meeting. Once you have something in mind, know how to offer it appropriately with the following criteria:

  1. Get permission.
  2. Relate the idea to a need the client has.
  3. Explain the benefits.

Even if they don’t like the idea you offer, the message you send is very clear: you bring more to the table than just your products and services.

We talk about innovation and collaboration all the time. It applies externally as well as internally. A great way to enhance that image is to bring our clients ideas, preferably ones that we developed as a team. It is a marvelous way to differentiate ourselves.

No, our clients don’t always have mason jars on their desks. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want our ideas. They do–let’s not disappoint them.

Think of a time that you offered a client an idea that they loved, that you still look back on and smile with pride. What idea did you offer them? Comment below and let us know.


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