If you have never heard of Henry Rowan before, don’t worry most of us haven’t. I hadn’t until I listened to an old podcast from the great author Malcolm Gladwell, on his podcast titled “Revisionist History” from July 2016. Gladwell’s podcast is one of my favorites to listen to.
The episode titled “My Little Hundred Million”, was the third episode, in a three-part series Gladwell did around education, and primarily the irony in education and how access to it is still very limited for some of the poorest children of America.
Mr. Rowan, who was a the founder and president of Inductotherm Industries. Was an engineer by trade. He was an inventor who created the metal-melting furnace. His company opened its doors in 1953. Mr. Rowan was a graduate of MIT with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, he was also a veteran of the Air Force.
In 1992, Mr. Rowan and his wife, gifted 100 million dollars to Glassboro State College in New Jersey. At that time it was the largest one time cash gift ever given to a public college or university.
How did the Rowan family decide to give that amount to the college. Was it because the school needed it? Was it because they decided they wanted to? Or was it because some great fundraiser asked him for it?
It would be a combination of all of the above. But here are the lessons we can learn as sales people.
The Rowans’ gift to Glassboro began with a fund-raising request by the college in 1990: $1,500 for two tickets to the Autumn Nocturne gala. They bought them.
Later on Mr. Rowan was solicited for help to fund the gap of four million dollars for a library they were building at the college for seventeen million dollars.
Mr. Rowan told the solicitor from the college that he wasn’t interested in funding their library.
Here is the first lesson for all of us. Never try to sell something until you know exactly what it is your prospect is interested in buying.
Mr. Rowan suggested at that time that he would be willing to gift Twenty Million dollars for the business school.
As you can already tell Mr. Rowan was a guy that was interested in value. He was interested in making a difference. A little back story here.
That is why Gladwell did this story to begin with. Mr. Rowan, at the time he was being asked to contribute to Glassboro State, he wasn’t also being solicited by his alma mater MIT for a donation as well. They were looking to fund a project of 850 million dollars.
Gladwell, in an interview with Mr. Rowan asked why he chose to give his money to Glassboro instead of his alma mater MIT. Mr. Rowan said “My little 100 Million wouldn’t have made a difference in the 850 million they were trying to raise.” But 100 million at Glassboro State College would make a huge difference.
So often sales people never spend enough time trying to learn what it is the buyer wants to do. If you understand what it is the buyer wants, you will always find a way to earn their business if you have what they need.
The second lesson you can learn here is “It is never the Cost of something, it is the value”.
I can’t find the specifics, but I assume the fundraiser was attempting to get Mr. Rowan to donate some part of the four million dollar gap for the library. Most sales people would have walked away from this situation after being told no and said that the buyer (Mr. Rowan in this case), didn’t have the money or didn’t want to spend the money.
Which is not true. He was willing to spend the money, he suggested twenty million, and then ultimately donated 100 million. It had nothing to do with the amount. It had everything to do with the value he saw in the money he was donating.
Again, Mr. Rowan wanted to make a difference, and in his mind covering the gap of the library or donating twenty million to a business school wouldn’t have made a big enough difference in his mind to bring the value he wanted to bring.
By donating 100 million dollars Mr. Rowan learned that he would impact the school forever. They could build an engineering school that would teach engineering to bright young kids that couldn’t get into the elite schools such as MIT or Harvard to name a few.
Glassboro State College was ultimately named Rowan University named after Henry Rowan.
If you are in sales remember these two lessons. Always get to know and learn what it is your prospect wants. Not what you want to sell or what you think they want.
And secondly, it is never the amount of money. It is the value that they are getting for the money.
Most often, it is not less money, it is more money. If you provide more in services and in products, and charge for them accordingly the prospect will be willing to pay more, because they can see how the services will solve their problems. Dont provide less, provide more, and charge more. More often than not, when we don’t think a solution will solve our problems, it isn’t the amount of money, it is the details of the solution. The better the solution, the more we are willing to pay for it if we think it will solve our problems.
To your success and your future.