I have never been a big fan of the concept of sales or salesmen – my first clear memories of how I perceive most career salespeople can be summed up in the character of Herb Tarlek on the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Inept, laying it on way too thick to mask insecurity and total lack of competence. My experience with salespeople ever since has only reinforced these ideas.
(about 1:20 in)
Metric – “On a Slow Night” “Tell me what did that salesman do to you?”
Of course, it’s one thing when you’re buying a milkshake from a teenager at Baskin-Robbins. It is entirely another thing when dealing with corporate hucksters and peddlers. I once went to the aforementioned Baskin-Robbins with a friend, and one of us ordered a peach smoothie or something similar, and the boy working there chuckled and said something about, “You know what too much fruit can do to you?” implying something about the laxative properties of fiber-rich fruits. He may even have gone to the extreme of spelling it out for us. I don’t remember. Either way, he was a high school kid slinging ice cream – and it did not require a whole lot of salesmanship since his customers were already in the door. (He would have done well, though, to refrain from discussion of bodily functions and excretions.) Same applies to the small-town restaurant where the waiter discouraged my friend from ordering panna cotta because it was, in his words, “an old-person dessert”. I don’t know – if I may borrow a crass page from the Baskin-Robbins ice cream boy – verbal diarrhea does not help your cause if you want to sell. You cannot sell if you are prone to saying every random thought that comes to mind.
All this is well and good – I don’t expect the pinnacle of polish, presentation and salesmanship from high school kids and those who may not even have finished high school. What I do expect is that when someone becomes a professional salesman, they ought to have mastered what to say and not to say in any number of situations. Years ago, my mom went to a Subaru dealership, and was looking at a Forester. The salesman told her she would not want that because “it’s a lesbian car”?!
He had no way of knowing whether my mom was a lesbian or not. What better way to put your foot in your mouth and ensure that you will not get a sale! He had no idea who he was talking to. A lesbian? Someone who is offended by any discussion of sexual orientation (because it has no place in the sale of a car!)? Someone who would be horrified by the idea of being perceived as a lesbian? No matter how you slice it, the guy neutered himself because there was no way that what he said was appropriate or lending itself to a sale or sales lead. My mom was offended that he made any assumptions and decided to discuss inappropriate things with a complete stranger on the sales floor. She never went back. A few years later when she was looking to buy a new car, she went to another dealership (not Subaru) and the same salesman was working there – she decided against buying a car there first and foremost because of his presence.
I won’t even start talking about the professional salespeople I had to work with in a previous job. Maybe there was nothing explicitly wrong with most of them, but I definitely dreaded the annual sales seminar I was forced to attend. Nothing could bring me down faster than that dog and pony show.
And me – I live and work on the periphery of sales in marketing and try to stay on the less shady side of marketing. I remember when I used to meet people and they would tell me they worked in marketing, it set off alarm bells and waved red flags. A guy saying, “I work in marketing” just sounds like a neat way to legitimately say, “I deal in bullshit”. And now, professionally, I am right in the thick of it.