Jim always knew how to get me to laugh in front of a potential customer, which amused him more than it did me. So I always tried to avoid being with a customer if he was around. We were door to door salesmen in the 1980s and we frequently worked the same streets as we were in the same sales team. This particular day we were in a small Lanarkshire industrial town and an elderly woman was kind enough to have let me into her home to present the benefits of the book club we were selling. It was raining and she insisted on giving me a cuppa.
Soon I was sipping tea and smiling, thinking of Jim getting soaked outside and hoping he had fewer sales than I had. It was a very competitive business. On the surface you wished each other well but deep down you were petrified of being the team’s lowest scorer for the day. I had no idea if this woman would join. Her kindness mightn’t extend to committing herself to buying four hardback books a year for two years. Then I heard the magic words, as if spoken by an angel.
“I used to read but I can’t get down to the library the way I used to and they stopped the mobile one around here.”
“You know it’s a book club I’m selling?”
“No, son. I wasn’t listening to you when you were speaking at the door. I just wanted to get us both out the rain. A Book club, eh? I suppose you’re going to tell me this is my lucky day?” She smiled.
“Well, if you’d buy four books a year it is.” I’d dispensed with the company presentation, which was considered sacrilege by the high priests of the sales dept. But now and again the circumstances determined that this had to done. She’d already given me two buying signals and I was heading straight for goal.
“Do you have Catherine Cookson? Danielle Steele?”
“Both of them and more like it.”
It was like watching the ball leave my foot and seeing it approaching the net. I was out the rain AND getting a sale! What could possibly go wrong.
Just then the doorbell went. Damn. She went to answer it and shouted back to me. “Do you have a pal out doing the job with you?”
Shit. It was Jim. It was bad manners to interrupt a team mate’s sale. And before you say “But how was he to know”, let me tell you, an old hand like Jim knew exactly what he was doing.
He came in and sat on the settee behind the lady after she’d gotten him some tea. He raised his mug to me sarcastically. The lady asked me to continue. Jim started making faces and obscene gestures out of sight of her but in full view of me, hoping I’d burst out laughing and jeopardise the sale. I just contained myself and stared straight at the membership form I was about to complete, scared to look at whatever contortions Jim’s face was pulling behind her back. “All I need now actually is your name.”
“Dick,” she replied.
I sensed Jim stifling his laughter. I just about stifled mine. Childish I know. I’d just held it together when I heard Jim saying, “Are there many Dicks in the area?”
That was it. After a few seconds of holding it in I let it all out and inadvertently belly laughed. Mrs Dick was taken aback. I looked up and the whole ridiculous scene just made me laugh even more. I was gone. I couldn’t stop. In fact I got worse with every second. Jim had got me. The look on Mrs Dick’s face showed that she was trying to ignore my bizarre behaviour. And that just made me worse. After about 5 minutes I was just getting it together. Then Jim went. No sniggering. Just straight to belly laugh. And now watching him lose it while Mrs Dick continued to stay calmly above it all set me off again. We must have laughed for about ten minutes, Mrs Dick watching patiently, waiting for us to come to our senses.
Eventually we did. Remarkably, all she said was “When does the membership start?” The moment had passed and I completed the consolidation of the sale, with Jim in the background with his eyes closed and his body almost shaking with contained laughter.
We stood up and Mrs Dick paid her two pounds joining fee. We all talked like nothing had happened. On the way out, Mrs Dick said to me after Jim had walked out, “I hope you got that out your system for a while.” I didn’t know what to say. She smiled as she waved bye bye, showing that there are some prospects who are so tailor-made for the product that you’d really have to blow it to stop them buying.
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer & motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.