Your Name in Rice

I’d like to share with you the story of how I proposed to my wife. I want to tell this true story partly because it makes me look like a much better salesman than I actually am but mostly because it has a lot to do with making the sale through memorable customer service.

To understand the story, you must first realize that my then-girlfriend worked one weekend a month. There just happened to be a big outdoor arts and crafts fair going on the weekend she was scheduled to work. She was interested in seeing it so I met her at work with a change of clothes and we went to the fair directly from her workplace.

It was a typical arts and crafts fair with many vendors offering creative and beautiful items. Strictly speaking, none of the items were necessities so we were really just browsing.

We passed a tent with a sign out front that said:


I was familiar with these people who will write your name on a grain of rice then put the rice into cheap jewelry. My girlfriend had never seen such a thing and was curious. So we went in.

Then she became fascinated.

The woman inside the tent was a master at sales. She was warm and genuine. She loved what she did. She had created many display pieces including Bart Simpson’s entire family tree written on grains of rice and mounted to a cardboard tree.

She demonstrated her craft by making a grain of rice (sans the cheap jewelry) for us for free. We spent at least 20 minutes in the tent and even sold some other visitors on getting their names on rice. Then we left without buying anything.

And that’s where our real story begins…

The next day, while my girlfriend was back at work, I snuck back over to the fair and went back to the rice tent.

I asked the woman if she would write “MARRY ME” on a grain of rice.

The woman broke out in tears.

Not just tears. I think she was going into hysterics. A friend of hers plus several would-be customers who were in the tent at the time also all started crying. Apparently I was on to something here.

It took the woman several tries and nearly half an hour to create my grain of rice. She couldn’t see clearly through her tears and her hand was shaking almost violently. During this time, a crowd began to gather. She told every browser who came into the tent what I was doing and most of them stayed to watch.

Finally I had my grain of rice. But I wasn’t done yet. Not a single one of her acrylic vials that holds the rice was small enough to make a decent ring so my Plan A was out the window. Time to move on to Plan B. I chose the least objectionable necklace vial that she had but declined the cheap silver chain that came with it.

Instead I went to a real jewelry store and bought a very nice sterling silver chain.

Then, because it was rice, I went to a Chinese restaurant and got a take-out container and had them fill it with fortune cookies. I draped the necklace over the cookies and sealed it up.

I sent a text message to my girlfriend, telling her I had something for her and asking her to stop by after she got off work.

When she arrived, I handed her the take-out container.

“You got me leftovers?” she asked. “Good. I’m starving.”

She opened the container and saw the necklace. Once she recognized the vial, but before she’d read what was on the rice, she stopped and asked me, “You went back to the rice lady?” And then she held it up to the light and read what was on the rice.

And she cried.

So how does this tie back to marketing?

You have to understand that there were two sales made that weekend. The rice lady sold us on buying a grain of rice and I sold my girlfriend on marrying me.

Both the rice lady and I worked hard at creating an unforgettable experience for the “buyer”.

Neither of us spent much money. The rice lady gave us a free grain of rice; costing her far less than $0.01. All told, I spent a little less than $150; dirt cheap compared to a diamond engagement ring.

Yet in both cases, the imagination and the specialness that went into creating a memorable experience all but guaranteed a sale.

Not just a sale, in both cases the experience was special enough to make us want to tell others about it. That’s word of mouth advertising at its best.

What are you doing to guarantee a sale — and an endorsement — from your prospects?


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