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How do you treat the salesman at the door?

April 14, 2009

One came knocking at my office door and I ended up having coffee with him.

My operation is a small 4-man show (8 including non full-time associates), tucked in a corner of a busy business center. Every now and then, we’d get a salesman come over to try and sell us something. It could be printing services one day, cellphone deals the next. I’ve gotten used to it.

More often than not, these salesmen are treated as pests. They’d get shouted at or be completely ignored. Some would throw their brochures on the floor in front of them, scattering the carefully arranged contents. Still these salesmen would turn around with a smile and knock on the next prospective office as if nothing happened.

I’m not so sure about how they actually feel underneath that smile but I can imagine.

And its for that reason that I have 4 simple rules for my associates to follow when salespeople come knocking.

  1. Don’t ignore them. Open the glass door, invite them in. They won’t bite.
  2. Give them their 2 minutes and tell them you only have 2 minutes. You don’t have to buy. Just listen. If it doesn’t interest you, don’t lead them on. Just tell them politely you’re sorry but you’re not interested.
  3. Smile and be courteous when you deal with them. Smiles cost nothing.
  4. Say thank you when they leave.

Anyway, back to the salesman. When he knocked, I gave him my standard 2-minute treatment after which he left. An hour later I took the elevator down to get myself a capuccino. As I looked for a table to sit with drink in hand, I spotted the salesman sitting alone at a corner having his drink. So I came over and asked if I could join him. He looked surprised but said ok.

So we sat and talked about business. Actually I did most of the talking and got him to talk about himself. My office was the 12th office he had covered for the day, he says. Total sold: zero. To him it was another half day gone without any money coming in.

He’s about my age and says he’s new to this. After leaving college he became a trainee in a company for a year before it abruptly shut down. After that he tried a couple of things with his friends, including becoming a tuition teacher but it didn’t work out. This sales job was the only thing that keeps him going. Though he’s single, he is contributing to the support of his parents and younger sister. I could sense he was uncertain about his chances.

Its a tough line, he says. He gets abused everyday just trying to put food on the table but he’s getting used to it. There’s no other choice, he says.

I don’t know if what he told me was the truth but he sounded sincere enough. It did affirm what I’ve been saying all along. If you set aside your prejudices about the pest, underneath it all you might actually find a human. Someone who’s doing his best to feed himself or his family. Someone who goes home, like you do, to his or her loved ones. Some might even call him daddy, or mommy if its a her.

I don’t know about you but as irritating as it may be, I see no reason to put your foot down on someone’s head for just trying to make a living and for having you get up from a comfortable chair to answer the door. If you do, then I’d love to see how you handle it if you set up something of your own when the shoe goes on the other foot.

Perhaps I am a minority but I do believe in goodwill. I believe if you are kind to strangers, strangers will be kind to you. Judging from the freebies I keep getting at my doorstep at home and how total strangers have generally been nice to me, I’m convinced I’m not that far wrong.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if I ever bought anything from a wandering salesman, the answer is yes – once. I bought a laser ponter which became useful for my presentations. I still use it to this day.

Note: Some salesmen are clever and deceptive, I agree. And so are some of your friends and colleagues. But as a consumer, if you had bought something that made you regret, IMHO the fault is more yours than his because you made the decision to buy without checking the facts. But then its always easier to blame someone else for our own carelessness…

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2009 9:51 am

    It’s the same with those fresh graduates trying to make a living by selling credit cards 7 days a week. Some people will just walk pass them, totally ignoring their existence. For me, that’s very rude. Even if you’re not interested, you should just said sorry, I already have one, smile and walk away. The smile, to me, is very important. That simple smile of yours, might actually brighten up some of them who have been facing rude people all day long.

    My dad who used to be a banker, would talk to these people when he’s free. And these fresh grads would tell him the suffering they have to go thru just to sell a card. My dad’s advice – better go find something which is not in banking sector.

    To me, people are just trying to do their job. There’s no point treating them like dogs even if some of them are pretty annoying. Just respect them because similarly, when we are facing the clients, we also hope that the clients will respect us and treat us as human beings.

    Yeah, I run into these card salesmen at the mall all the time. If you are walking and having a conversation with someone, they can just cut in and break up your conversation (that happens when ppl are trained to go by the numbers). But not all are like that and as cheesed off as I am, I don’t blame the salesmen. I blame the company that trains them to dehumanize an otherwise noble profession.

  2. LC Teh permalink
    April 15, 2009 8:58 am

    Fresh from school after my MCE (now SPM) I had to get some work experience. That was almost 40 years ago. The only jobs readily available were in sales. (Looks like the situation hasn’t changed much.) I had to promote an encyclopedia called Caxton. 3 months later, without closing a single sale to my record, I quit with a good sun tan, and something they called job experience.

    I learned what it’s like pounding the streets knocking on doors only to have it slammed in your face. No, they don’t do that actually. They just wave you away without looking. That’s about the same thing as slamming the door in your face. After a while you get numbed to it or you just circle the town without knocking on any door. Then you look for another job.

    Actually I don’t show sale-persons the door unless they use lies or other tricks to get into my house. Most people would chase these folks away or slam the door on them out of ignorance or fear. Fear caused by the numerous crimes committed by hoods disguised as sales-persons.

    Gosh you were a salesman? Haha, you’re well rounded then. Actually I don’t think people can ever stop becoming salesmen. We’re still getting people to “buy” our arguments, right? šŸ™‚

    If I live in a house, I’d just speak to them over intercom or the gate. If I’m not in a mood to deal with them, I’ll just say firmly and politely that I’m busy. I think salesmen also need to learn when to get a hint. If they failed to grab attention in the first 5 seconds, move on. Don’t plead.

  3. April 15, 2009 10:42 am

    I tried outdoor sales after my A levels and was told to sell “fake” leather goods with the brand name “Gianni Valentino”. So you can imagine, in office attire, with a tie, selling fake leather goods, sweating like a pig in the sun…and the only place you can make a sale is in the hawker centre/market/pasar malam to old retired uncles whom you managed to humour or middle-aged housewives who want some attention.

    Although I didn’t sell alot of goods, the lessons I learnt on the way are invaluable! Outdoor sales is truly one of the fastest way to “thicken” your skin!

    I think sales is a great training ground to interact with people. Professional sales I mean, which is a lot like consulting.

    Fake leather? I could have given you a tip. Sell to the vegetarian community and to animal rights people. It is a thriving business in the US. šŸ™‚

  4. April 15, 2009 1:24 pm

    Some of the card salesmen r so desperate, they would follow you around the shopping complex just to get you sign up! those r really annoying =_=

    @boringest – eh, i didn’t know you did that :O

    Your dad’s right. The job sucks. Wonder if the banks could actually get enough signups to cover the expenses of the booth, etc.

  5. LC Teh permalink
    April 16, 2009 1:37 pm

    In life, everyone of us have to do a little bit of selling every now and then. The kid who may think he doesn’t need school. The wife who refuses to let you buy the big 3-door fridge while you need it for extra space to stock your beer. Etc. We all need to communicate well in whatever we do. I knew very well my 3 months wasn’t a waste of time. It opened my eyes. And if in talking, you can’t convince some people, you try to confuse them. lol.

    Oh yeah, and the latest one is the art of confabulation. Mixing false memory with real memory. I see that in Capitol Hill all the time. šŸ™‚

  6. April 17, 2009 9:01 am

    well, trully agree.. i was a salesman for 2 years many years ago, its tough.. thats y i would never turn them down..

    Its tough but its also one of the most rewarding, if you work for the right company. Most MNCs reward their salespeople very well I hear. šŸ™‚

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