As door-to-door salesmen in the 1980s, we all developed habits both good and bad. Some developed their own mutation of the company presentation, which always made them seem suspect whenever head office people ventured to the ‘sales front’ to see their product and team in action.
Others developed a preference for particular types of territory, ie some liked knocking on the doors of council houses as the tenants were perceived as being easier to chat to, develop a rapport with and, therefore, sell to. If this habit was too deeply formed it became a rut. And soon the doors of people so-called higher up the social ladder appeared daunting, unwelcoming. This was partly owing to most of us coming from council house backgrounds and partly because of unconscious laziness. You certainly had to work harder and have all your listening and presentation skills more keenly honed than if you were simply chatting to a sympathetic listener.
Pat Quinn had real talent, charisma and a strong desire to be the best. This desire was, well, latent at best in his first year but as his competitive instincts were awakened over time, it gradually came to life.
Pat would read sales books, listen to tapes, endure the jibes of those who thought doing such homework was too swotty. But Pat was strong willed, and as he climbed past them on the sales leader board these jibes were silenced. Soon Pat was even confident enough to tackle his Achilles heel – knocking on the doors of “posh people”.
The real test of whether you were good or not was that you could perform in any environment. In other words, you were the determining factor, not the territory, or the weather, or the degree of hangover you had. If you were not in control then something else was. And if you were lucky, then it didn’t matter. But, as commission only sales guys depending on luck for our wages was not sensible.
Sometimes dropping off our lads in a really posh area was like dropping off paratroopers from a great height over enemy territory, such was the intake of breath as some apprehensive young, working class salesman first glimpsed the large stockbroker belt streets in a forest of ercedes, BMWs, Jaguars, etc.
“We’ll never see him again!” The remaining occupants of the car would chortle as the doomed sales-trooper ventured deep until he was out of sight.
But now when dropping of Pat in such environments, the awe would be reserved for him as teammates watched admiringly while he strolled with purpose and steely determination into the unknown. “I’m going to level this place,” Pat would say before he got out the car. It was salesmen chat for doing well.
When we made a sale, our new customer would be given a mini Oxford dictionary as a thank you. Driving round a council estate, looking to pick up the sales team, we’d often see folks walking around with their Mini Dicks, as we childishly called them, in their hands, a sure sign that the team had done well.
One day while approaching the poshest street in Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, we were looking to pick up Pat, who’d been left alone here for four hours.
Had we rushed his development? Was he in too deep? We couldn’t find him. Would we ever see him again?
“Let’s go home, Bob. Pat’s buggered off after a no sales day. Who could sell in this property? No one here would even answer their door, never mind buy things from the likes of us.”
The chat in the back of the car became the usual moaning, consolidating the negative perceptions and pre-judgements. But I hung on, drove a few more streets slowly, really hoping Pat had had a good day. Otherwise it was back to basic training for these guys to batter the Neggies (negative vibes) out of them. Going back to square one would be such a drag. Nor would it enhance my reputation as a trainer.
Just then we saw a very dynamic looking gent in the street ushering his private school-uniformed kids, complete with wee hats, into a large black Mercedes with blacked out windows. He had a pin-striped suit on, bald on top head, a brief case in one hand. He had a very stern expression. To the lads in the car he epitomised the very type they’d run a mile from, never mind approach to make a sale. He looked like a city lawyer, or banker or something. He and his children had come down a great long driveway, which was obscured by a tall hedge and trees. He was clearly in a hurry. The kids were now in the car and he was walking briskly to the driver’s door to get in the car. He opened there door but, instead of getting in, he appeared distracted by something. He looked over at the driveway. I stopped the car, on a hunch. We couldn’t see what or who he was acknowledging in his drive way. He closed the car door without getting in and walked briskly back to the driveway.
“Look!” said one of the lads. What’s that in that guy’s hand?”
We all looked. I smiled. It was a mini Oxford dictionary. As he approached the driveway his stern face broke into a smile and he outstretched his hand. From behind the tall hedge came a figure with his hand outstretched too. It was Pat. The other guy shook his hand warmly and slapped Pat’s back as they both shared a laugh. The guy ran back to his car, got in and drove off smartly.
There was silence in the car. I said nothing. No words at that moment could have consolidated the lesson more than the sight of Pat strolling towards us, having spotted the car. Pat held up his sales folder, the one that held 4 mini Oxford dictionaries. He let it fall open and then he shook it at us. This was our team’s version of a touchdown. If your folder was empty it meant you had at least four new customers.
“Bloody hell,” said a colleague in the back seat. “He really has f*****g levelled the place.”
“Can we come back here tomorrow, Bob?”
The next day I dropped four troopers off. They didn’t care where anymore.
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer and motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.