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September 18, 2002

Every Time A Salesman Quits, An Angel Gets His Wings

My neighborhood has been overrun by pedlars. It's gotten to the the point where a ring on the front door is is by default someone selling something or other rather than friends or relatives dropping over unexpectedly, not that I can even remember the last time we had anybody do that. Everyone has cell phones--the closest we ever get to an unexpected visit is a phone call checking to see if we're in, before they drive over. My aged parents, who still have a rotary phone in the kitchen, to whom I had to explain the mechanics behind cut-n-paste, have a cell phone, for god's sake. My sister, who has a large nest of clothes in the middle of the floor in lieu of furniture, has a cell phone....not that she calls us with it. Whatever other effects cell phones will wreak, they've pretty much killed any reason for a person to just show up on your doorstep, saying "I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I'd drop by." Pretty odd excuse for a development like ours anyway. What the hell were you doing in the neighborhood if it wasn't to drop by? There's nothing but cookie cutter houses here, so unless you're stalking someone, not much point in just happening to be here.

Of course, anyone who actually does show up without the two-minute electronic warning is in all likelihood stalking you, not some other benighted soul. In any case, I've decided it's rude not to call. Do you have any idea how much a house can be tidied up by two motivated adults in two minutes, especially if the toddler is already imprisoned in the booster seat at the kitchen table?

The doorbell ring isn't likely to be my neighbors, either. If they have anything to say, they'll e-mail our Yahoo group, and a quick glance at that shows we don't have a great deal to say to each other anyway. The nice thing about technology is that it is constantly removing the need for non-essential human contact. Some people might decry this new condition. Not me. Most people just piss me off, and I'm pretty sure I have a similar effect on them, if the finger of the guy I cut off in traffic this morning is to be believed. Sure, the world's getting more crowded, but since I actually see less and less of humanity during the day, it doesn't have much of an effect. Those people whom I do see are seen more and more because I choose to see them, not because I am unable to avoid them. Yes, I still run into masses of people during the day, the electronic net hasn't removed me from all involuntary contact with the maddening throng, but I'm exposed to the throng less than I was say, seven years ago, when I was a book clerk, or ten years ago, when I was a shudder, vacuum cleaner salesman.

Now looky there, I'm right back where I started from! And people say free writing is aimless and rambling--a lot they know.

I must point out that I was not a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman per-se, that I was instead one of the handlers whose job was to take normal, happy people, and browbeat them into becoming salesmen, as if that was something not quite as horrid. Vacuum cleaner sales depend almost entirely on one thing, a constant stream of new recruits. They're almost always people with a crappy job, or who have just been laid off, or are the type that will send random Nigerians money so they can obtain a significant portion of the hidden bank account of the late General Sani Abacha. In other words, they're either poor or desperate or gullible. The industry has a phrase that encapsulates their entire vacuum sales experience; Hire them in masses, train them in classes, and fire their asses. A normal career lasts about two weeks. The recruits are dazzled by promises of easy money, given enough training to operate a machine and turned loose to "practice their demo" on their friends and family, which is where they end up making most of their sales, which is what their new bosses expected all along. After that, there's usually nowhere else for them to go, so they turn in their equipment, get a couple hundred bucks in commission and are never seen again. Those that haven't learned their lesson get to take the next step on the train to Humiliation Station, cold-calling, which is what the lady who rang my doorbell Saturday was doing.

"Good morning sir! How are you today? My name is Tijuana and I'm with Completely Undescriptive Name Marketing!" That was out of her mouth before I even got the door all the way open. No one in the entire door to door vacuum sales industry works for a company with the either the word "vacuum" or the word "sales" in their corporate name. It's always "So and So Distributors" or "Two Initial Marketing". She waved a 52 use gallon plastic container at me. "We're out in your area today giving away vaulable gifts just for you looking at a great new home cleaning product and you don't have to buy a thing!" Behind her, in the cul-de-sac, was a maroon minivan with the engine running. On the front steps of damn near every house in the cul-de-sac was one of her co-workers, each expectantly holding a bottle of detergent. These people were selling Kirbys. Kirby salespeople hit one area all at once, try to sign you up for an appointment later in the afternoon, and move on to the next cul-de-sac, like locusts. Rainbow salespeople get dropped off at the entrance to a neighborhood and and walk the streets singly or in pairs. Filter Queen sales people are too weak to walk around, as they don't make enough money to put food on the table. They all have the same pitch, which boils down to "I'll give you something if you look at this".

Do them a favor and crush them. Yes, there are successful, rich vacuum cleaner sales people, but they are all higher up in the sales strata, and they spend their days exhorting the peons to sell. If you know anyone that ever sold Amway or Melaleuca, then that person has probably told you how much money there is to be made, and all the expensive crap that his boss's boss has. The frontline grunts are the sales cannon fodder, and the quicker they get out the better off they'll be. Crush them, crush their dreams of riches through door-knocking, and let them move on to something else. There are lots of good sales jobs, but they don't involve getting housewives to answer the door at eleven on a Saturday morning..

Remember the whole technology removing the need for non-essential human contact? It's cutting off direct home sales at its knees. The people who got rich in that business got rich in the Eighties, or they've got a new market, like Poland. The definition of success now is if a region maintains its sales from year to year. The poor lady standing on my front porch didn't have a chance in hell of achieving anything.

"Good god, honey. Look at the houses out here. Did the dumbass driving that van really tell you that you could get into houses like these with laundry detergent?" I know, I know, I sound like the biggest snob in Snobbington. Give me a second. "Did he write that pathetic script? How long did it take you to memorize it?" She goggled at me for a second, then silently turned and trudged back to the car.

Every salesperson that shows up at you door, every telemarketer that calls you on the phone, is trained to do one thing. Stay on message, stay on the script. They're quoted all sorts of numbers about how well the script works. If you make N number of sales calls, then you will make X number of sales, if you use the magic script. Without fail, insulting the script throws them for a loop. They're trained to deal with the word "No." "No" to a salesman is nothing but static; they'll talk right through it. Telling them the script is bad, or that their delivery of it sucks, turns you from a mark into a critic or their performance, and gets them off message. At that point, you've taken back the power in the relationship, and you can do what you please, at least until they recover. Many won't.

In most cases, the person in front of you has been sold on doing what they are doing by a better salesman. He or she is the person driving the van, or walking the calling floor. As long as they believe in what that person is telling them, they'll keep ringing doorbells or making calls. Get them to doubt that person, and they're well on their way to a promising new career. That's the whole point of being Mr. Snob, and insulting the leader by calling him a dumbass. The guy driving the van, no matter what neighborhood they happen to be in, will talk about what a good neighborhood it was, how he made some sales here and got some good leads. It's cheerleading, some rah-rah to get the troops up and moving. It helps them get through the chorus of negativity they're about to experience. You're going to tell them "No" anyway, so you might as well make it harsh and memorable. Think of it as free-lance deprogramming.

Think of it as practice for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Update: Sometimes, of course, they don't go on to bigger and brighter things. Sometimes they get worse. See if you can spot the former vacuum cleaner salesman in this list of spammers.

Posted by Bigwig at September 18, 2002 10:03 PM | TrackBack
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