We stood, about 150 of us – adults, children, and the odd dog, in a big semi-circle, our faces lit orange by dancing flames of burning aromatic hardwood chips clumped in black grated baskets about seven feet above ground, the darkness around us pin-point punctuated by window candle lights in the Colonial Williamsburg village houses – much as others may have stood a few nights before Christmas in the same place, singing carols.
With a hearty “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” we dispersed into the darker surrounds, treading brick sidewalks and gravel paths past the Bruton Parish Church, illuminated and ready for an evening Christmas concert.
And, none of this would have been possible without what may be one of the greatest sales, ever.
The parish dates to 1674 and the Bruton Parish church from the early 1700s, restored in the early 1900s through the fund-raising and leadership of its rector, Reverend Dr. W.A. R. Goodwin. After serving in a Rochester, New York parish for a few years, he returned to Williamsburg in 1923 to teach at the College of William and Mary. Inspired by the historic importance of the surviving colonial buildings and shocked at their continued deterioration and the intrusions of gasoline stations and other accompaniments of modern life, Goodwin committed himself to preserve buildings in the historic district.
Rebuffed by the Ford family and other potential benefactors, Goodwin continued his enthusiastic efforts to find funding for the project. In 1924, while speaking to the New York City chapter of Phi Beta Kappa about a proposed memorial hall to be built at William and Mary, he met John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (patriarch of the wealthiest family in America at that point). Goodwin invited him to Williamsburg and, during their visit, shared his vision for restoration of the town.
Rockefeller returned to Williamsburg two years later, in 1926, for the dedication of the Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. After reviewing recent renovations funded by others and walking in the woods nearby, “…Rockefeller asked to be left alone to study the town by himself. At dinner that evening, he said that the opportunity to restore an entire colonial community and keep it free from incongruous surroundings was irresistible.” (1)
Over a period of years, the Rockefeller family invested roughly $68 million (roughly $1 billion in 2013 dollars) and considerable commitments of personal time in the pursuit of that grand purpose.
The evolution of Goodwin’s masterful restoration sale to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, is more complex than these few paragraphs portray. Suffice it to say, Goodwin’s vision and stories of a restored and preserved Colonial Williamsburg captivated Rockefeller while Goodwin’s early conservation successes demonstrated his ability to deliver.
Examination of “before and after” pictures and my brief moments of flickering orange light, risen caroling voices, and window candles – a fleeting experience of an earlier time, brought clear the magnitude of Goodwin’s sale, Rockefeller’s and Goodwin’s accomplishments, and the importance of enrolling prospects or clients in “a vision.”
Whether we are selling products that address obvious needs or concepts for change on grand scales, our job, like Goodwin’s, is to understand our clients’ values and aspirations, help them see possibilities to achieve them, and “carry the torch” with them – help them sustain, even amplify, their visions and desires for the future as they purchase our products and services and we work through the changes with them.
No sale is about “the thing,” only. It’s “visions of sugar plums” dancing through heads that seal the deals.
(1) From “Williamsburg, Before and After,” George Humphrey Yetter
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