Sucking Up the Dirt

“Close the deal!  Don’t take no for an answer!  If they didn’t want what you’re selling, they wouldn’t let you in the door.”  I sat and listened to Bob Q trying to teach me his selling techniques and determined that I was going to sell those Kirby vacuum cleaners if it killed me.  When I answered the newspaper ad for a position with his company, Mr. Q promised me huge paydays if I would follow his instructions, so I hung onto every word.  The other trainee and I practiced on each other, perfecting our skills, answering objections with ease and impressing ourselves beyond our wildest expectations.  We were ready!

I have a fair assortment of memories in my head of which I am not proud.  Some, you will never read about here, others will come to light as I can face the chagrin they evoke, mostly from myself.  My stint as a vacuum cleaner salesman is one of those depressing recollections I would rather leave buried in the past.  In some ways, however, it informs who I am today, so I’ll drag it out of the storage bin and air it out for a little while this evening, if you will indulge me.

I have asserted many times that I am not a salesman, even though I’ve spent my entire adult career (with a few short detours) in sales.  I approach sales a bit differently than the training I had with the vacuum cleaner concern.  I would rather suggest to a customer that he or she come back later to buy a product than to force the sale today.  I have actually talked customers out of purchases because I believed that they had no need of the product they were considering.  Bob Q would not be proud at all.

I actually sold one Kirby vacuum cleaner during my stint as a rep for that company.  Okay, to be truthful, Bob sold it, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  When we were ready to start selling, we made “cold calls”, finding names and numbers in the phone book and calling people out of the blue to set up demonstrations.  I set up my first call and made my way to the home one afternoon.  The lady of the house listened patiently to my pitch, allowing me to run her vacuum and then mine to show how much more it picked up.  The photos of ruined carpet were shown, advantages touted, warranties explained, payment plans offered, and then the door was closed behind me.  No sale! 

To say that Bob was unhappy with me would be an understatement.  He was livid!  “Don’t you know she wanted to buy that vacuum?  She didn’t want to say no!  She wanted you to help her say yes!”  Then he gave me the fateful instructions, “Don’t you ever leave a prospect who says no without calling me first!”  I listened to him and determined to do better on the next call.  The opportunity came within a day or two.

The older man and woman were both on Social Security, living in a small frame house with peeling paint and a rickety front porch.  Their furniture was aging and threadbare and most of the flooring in the house was scarred-up hardwood, with just a faded area rug in the living room and a fraying runner down the hall.  As with my first presentation, these nice folks listened attentively to my spiel, watched my demonstration, and said no.  After talking with them for a few moments, I knew they didn’t need the vacuum (they had just two old rugs in the entire house!) and they certainly didn’t have the money to purchase this pricey model.  I wasn’t interested in trying to get them to buy any longer, but I had to call the office.  I couldn’t face Bob’s anger again.  With their permission, I called to let the man know that it wasn’t going to happen.  “Let me talk with them,” he demanded.  Twenty minutes later, I walked out of that house with a check in my hand.  When I got back to the sales office, we celebrated.  Well, Bob and the other trainee celebrated.  I was ashamed.  Those folks had no money and would be doing without things they needed because I had walked into their house.  Never mind that it was Bob’s persuasive personality and words that convinced them.  I had taken their money.

I did face Bob’s anger one last time, because I started looking for another job the next day.  When I was supposed to be out on sales calls, I went to employment offices.  A couple of days later Bob confronted me as I walked in the front door.  “What have you been doing this afternoon?”  “Looking for a real job!” I retorted.  He fired me on the spot.  It was the only job I was ever fired from and I was relieved beyond belief. 

I have thought of that couple many times in the thirty-four years since that day.  They have provided an incentive to honesty and integrity that no sermon ever could.  I’ve dissected the situation many times, to determine why I was so ashamed and I believe I know the answer.  You see, Bob Q’s world-view told him that he was the most important person in his circle of influence and he was acting on that creed.  Try as I might, I can’t get away from the principles I learned as a child and have had reinforced time and time again as an adult.  “You cannot serve God and money.”  (Bob Dylan said it clearly when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)  Many of the other precepts I learned as a child flood my thoughts as I write this: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  “Consider others better than yourselves.”  “Where your treasure is…”  The list goes on and on, all reminding me that I don’t come first.

I haven’t always been able to live with integrity.  As I said, I’ve got a lifetime of missteps and failures hidden away beyond your view.  That’s the depressing part.  The thing I celebrate is that each day is a chance to do better; each encounter an opportunity to redeem the evil times.  I’m enjoying God’s gift of more days and new opportunities to get it right.

But, don’t bring back that guitar you bought from me last week.  You wanted it or you wouldn’t have come into my store in the first place…

“A little integrity is more valuable than any career.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet and essayist~1803-1882)

“There are worse things in life than death.  Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”
(Woody Allen~American actor and movie director)

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