Peter Lynch and the “Napkin Test”

napkinIn the investment world, Peter Lynch is renowned for turning a once-obscure $18 million mutual fund into a $14 billion juggernaut in just 13 years. Under Lynch’s watch, the Magellan Fund—now one of the best-known mutual funds in the world—averaged a whopping 29 percent annual return.

Not too shabby.

But the gaudy growth of the Magellan Fund only tells part of the Peter Lynch story. Since resigning as fund manager in 1990, he’s gained a reputation for demystifying the stock market for individual investors, and for encouraging everyday investors to leverage “local” market knowledge, which he believes can actually make them better investors than professional fund managers.

Lynch popularized that idea in a now-famous investment mantra: “Invest in what you know.”

That same deference to simplicity underpins two other things Lynch is known to have said:

  • “Never buy anything that you can’t illustrate on the back of a napkin.”*
  • “Never invest in any idea you can’t illustrate with a crayon.”**

That’s also sage advice for sellers in the B2B world trying to show their prospects a pathway to making a buying decision.

“Show” is the operative word here. We all know change can seem daunting and complex, and complexity breeds indecision, which can further entrench the status quo. Applying Lynch’s “napkin rule” to your sales conversations—in the form of simple, concrete, hand-drawn visuals—can counter this complexity and dispel prospect fear about doing something different. Visuals can make change seem like a more doable journey.

It’s hard to believe that deals involving several decision makers, multiple solutions and sometimes millions of dollars can be furthered thanks to simple visual storytelling techniques. But, as Lynch suggests, people are more inclined to buy what they know and understand. With concrete visuals, you can distill for prospects the journey they’re going to take from their status quo to the “new safe” with your solution. And by telling that story visually, you can better accentuate the contrast between the pain of their current situation and the value of doing something different with you. Simply put, visual storytelling techniques can compel your prospects rethink their assumptions about the status quo and change.

Just as Peter Lynch sought to elucidate the stock market for individual investors, it’s your job to clarify the change management process for your prospects and customers. Simple, hand-drawn visuals that adhere to the “three C’s”—providing context, contrast and a concrete narrative—can help you do just that.


Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer

Chief Strategy Officer

Tim Riesterer has dedicated his career to improving the conversations marketers and salespeople have with prospects and customers. His books, “Customer Message Management”, “Conversations that Win the Complex Sale”, “Three Value Conversations”, and "The Expansion Sale", focus on improving market-ready messages and tools that marketers and salespeople can use to win more deals. As chief strategy and research officer for Corporate Visions, he sets the direction and develops products for this leading marketing and sales messaging, content and training company.

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