On why I hate salespeople (and how to outsmart them)

I’m not talking of the nice sales assistants in shops who go check if they have this shoe in an eleven and three fifths when you ask them nicely. I’m talking of those guys who phone or knock on the door at the best of times and the worst of times, who waylay you in shopping malls like bandits of old, who latch on to you like a terrier and don’t let go until they get you to unwittingly exchange your soul for a set of steak knives, or a time share in Timbuktu, or a bottle of Antarctic air.

Dentists? Wonderful people. Lawyers? Salt of the Earth. Loan sharks*? Invite ’em over for tea. But salespeople? No thank you.

I should perhaps explain that I had to spend my weekend in one’s company. The wife and I held my old school’s annual leadership camp this weekend, as we have for the past seven years. The difference was, this year the new teacher responsible for the learner representative council (what we called ‘prefects’ in the good ol’ non-politically-correct days) joined us for much of the camp.

At first I was actually glad for this, as I could hand off certain sessions to him, giving me more time to set up for the next activity. The problem came at those in-between moments when one session is over, setup for the next activity is done, and I have a few minutes to just gather my thoughts and recharge my introvert soul before I have to start facilitating again. At those moments, salesteacher** was there chipping away at my resolve (at least, that’s what he thought he was doing).

See, salesteacher is also a marketer. To be accurate, he describes himself as a guerilla-marketer (yes, that’s a thing) and he’s a disciple of the Rich Dad philosophy that sales is the single most important skill a person can have. (How do I know? He lent me one of the books from the series, without me asking to borrow it.)

He was observing me during the camp and he decided that I needed to do it full time, that I should do corporate team building, even, and he’d help me with the marketing side of things. And for the rest of the camp, whenever he got me or the wife alone he kept repeating that.

Now, he’s a nice enough guy and I think he has good intentions (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – sadly I’ve also encountered people like this who are con-artists extraordinaire who have badly burned people I care about). But I hate his methods.

First, I don’t like someone deciding for me what I should do with my life. You’re welcome to draw my attention to a potential opportunity, but don’t decide for me that that’s the course I should be taking. In fact, ask me what I want to be doing first, before you start pointing out opportunities for me.

Second, I make decisions by carefully considering all aspects. This requires research. This requires reflection. This requires peace and quiet. Constantly repeating what you’ve already said isn’t going to win me over to your side. It’s just robbing me of time to consider what you’ve said. And yes, I tend to err on the side of caution and can do with a kick up the backside to get me moving more often than not, but at least give me time to sleep on it.

But worst of all, I abhor all forms of manipulation. The moment I feel you’re trying to force my hand, you lose me. And try to force my hand he did, asking questions about my financial situation (you earn the right to intimate information like that, you don’t just get to ask it), and even telling me this is what God wants. (I believe in God, I believe he sends people across one’s path and even speaks to us through other people, but I also believe if God want me to do something he’ll tell me, not you.) And if you go behind my back to my wife when you don’t get the reaction you want out of me, you’ve basically just confirmed that I can’t trust you (and you’ve wasted your time as the wife and I are usually of one mind when it comes to these types of things).

I suppose I should give the guy some slack. This is what he was trained to do. And salespeople are a necessary evil – if I ever manage to get a book published I’ll be relying on them to get it into readers’ hands, after all. Besides, most of them are just regular people trying to make a living.

But I still hate their tactics. They don’t care what I need. They don’t even care what I want. They only care about making a sale, and that makes them people I don’t want to be around.

On a related topic, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognise on Monday. I missed it and they didn’t leave a message, so I didn’t think any more of it. Then they called again on Tuesday. I’ve learned that people who call at regular intervals and don’t leave messages are usually salespeople. The dialling code also showed me the call was from Durban, a city on SA’s east coast, and I literally don’t know anyone there who might want to call me, so I let it ring.

Afterwards I punched the number into Google, as there are websites these days where you can report the numbers of call centres so other people can block them pre-emptively, and found that this number was indeed that of a call centre using aggressive marketing tactics.

Why do I mention this? In the past my response to cold callers (when I’m dumb enough to answer) have always been to politely tell them (the moment I get a word in sideways) that I’m not interested and if they persist to terminate the call. Last year someone suggested I should tell them I’m on my way to see my debt counsellor, they should call back later. I’ve never tried this, but I can imagine it would be effective.

But through my Googling I’ve found the ultimate weapon of mass disruption of telesalespeople’s strategies: a counter-script.

Call centre cartoon - stick to the script

As you probably know telesales operators are reading from a script when they call you. The script contains responses for whatever you might say why you’re not interested, keeping the conversation firmly in their control. This counter-script tilts the balance over to you, putting you in control of the conversation.

For the first time I’m anxious for a telesales call. I so want to try this thing out.

* Initially I was going to say politicians, but one has to draw the line somewhere.
** salesteacher could work as a username/blog title. If you want it, you’re welcome to it.

18 thoughts on “On why I hate salespeople (and how to outsmart them)

  1. Your article resonated with me on several levels. There are always going to be people who think they know what’s best for you. As an author, I’m constantly encountering people who want to give me advice on how to do it better. “Have you ever considered doing this… you should do that…” No matter who you are or what the topic at hand, there will always be people out there who think they should advise you on some aspect of your life.

    But on the subject of salespeople (and how I found your post) I find it particularly gross that they always want to touch me. I work a day job in a public desk at a tech company in Silicon Valley where I’m always greeting and announcing visitors. We get tons of cold call salesman through the door, and if they don’t have a contact name, I’m not giving it. I advise them I’m happy to take their line card or brochure. Often they’ll ask me my name, and then they want to shake my hand, as if they’ve just created a business contact. These salesman have gone through how many doors, touched how many nasty door handles, already shaken the hands of how many other people with questionable hygiene, and they want to thrust that germ ridden paw at me? Disgusting. I’m not your new contact, we’re not business associates, you’re not my friend. Don’t touch me. Am I being too picky? Is it really no big deal? Others might think so, but they can shake all the hands they want. When it’s sweaty wet or feels grubby is bad enough, but the worst is when they squeeze too hard, not considering that I might have arthritis, and I spend the rest of the day with an aching hand.

    Salesman are awful for so many reasons.


    1. Do you know how nice it is to get a supportive comment on this post for a change? Mostly I’ve just had snarky comments, and pingbacks to even more snarky posts, from, you guessed it, salespeople taking offence at the fact that I don’t appreciate their methods. Glad to find another kindred spirit.

      My dislike of salespeople actually flared up the other day when I got a new phone. You won’t be able to guess what the very first call was I got on it…

      They do tend to be very physical. I guess it’s supposed to establish intimacy and rapport or something. I’m a very physical person myself, but that just means I can tell if a touch is not sincere – touch when used simply to manipulate is downright creepy.


  2. I just sat here nodding and giggling. I identify with so much. Being a homeschooling mother of one child who just went off to college – everyone seems to know what I should now be doing with my life. Isn’t that so sweet of them?
    I haven’t had a single person ask me what I have planned prior to them launching into their solution for my “free time.” Sadly, it isn’t always just sales people. Sometimes it is friends/family who realize you now have time to help them. I love how they determine that I’m really good at something, and they just happen to need help with that thing.

    Nice site! πŸ™‚


    1. People deciding what you should be doing with your life is the worst. When I was unemployed trying to do my Master’s before joining Automattic I got that a lot.

      But it’s like people deciding you should be married if you’re in a serious relationship, or constantly asking when you’re going to have kids as soon as you’ve been married for more than ten minutes.

      This comes down to a deeper problem that we don’t want to take the time to get to know the other person, or to listen to them. Telling someone what we think they should do is easy, and makes us feel superior, like we’re their saviour, whether they need one or not. Listening asks for humility, it demands that we pay attention, and it costs us our time.

      Goodness! Look how you’ve gone and made me go all serious πŸ˜€ As you can probably tell, I’m somewhat passionate about this…


      1. I’m right there with you – on the passion. So, no worries. πŸ™‚

        Yes, my husband and I always seem to zag when others zig – others don’t know what to make of us most of the time. I’ve learned that often, those who go into deep explanations on why they do things differently (and why we should be doing that), it is actually more about them seeing someone doing something that isn’t whatever they deem to be “normal” makes them question everything they are doing in their own life. That then puts them in this defensive mode of how they need to prove what they are doing is right and they usually have no idea they are doing it – that is where I just kind of giggle.I have noticed that my circle of friends is quite small and I’m becoming more introverted by the day. πŸ˜‰

        You know, listening is a quality skill that few seem to do. I can’t quite figure it out b/c I find other people sooo interesting. The more different they are from me, the more interested I am.

        Anyway, have a great day!


  3. that looks fun … but I still prefer my method – which I don’t get to use much now since we no longer have a landline and one rarely gets telemarketing calls on a cell phone. I answer the phone, cut them off as soon as I realise they’re trying to tell them something, and ask them please to just hold a minute while I finish what I’m doing. I then switch to speaker phone and get on with my life. When they hang up I hear the dial tone, and I hang up. Usually their system will autodial right back, and then I do exactly the same thing.

    The way I see it, a telemarketer is just some schmuck with limited resources trying to make a buck. I don’t want to be rude to them, because they’re doing what they were taught to do. And the longer I keep them on the phone, sitting there NOT selling me anything, the longer I’m (a) clogging up their employer’s lines and (b) causing their employer to pay them for nonproductive time. I consider this a very reasonable response to companies that bug me!


  4. We get far too many junk marketing calls on the landline in our household, all of them via bot-diallers. Sometimes it’s local. It’s illegal, here in New Zealand, to make unsolicited marketing calls to an unlisted number, but these people do it anyway and some of them don’t give up on the sales pitch even when I remind them of the fact. And we get helpful folk from ‘Windows IT’ or similar, all with only minimal command of English, offering to ‘fix’ the computer which has ‘reported’ a virus to them. Last time I said ‘Oh, which of the three computers was it?’ and was told ‘any of them’. The scam only works on Windows and I’ve been known to string them along and then say ‘is that key you want me to push near the Apple key?’ I run an Apple-free household but hey…

    And that’s without the door-knockers, who have included someone representing the power company we actually use, trying to sell us the services we were already buying. Apparently they don’t know who their own customers are, though that hasn’t stopped them sending me a bill every month.


    1. That’s the worst, when they phone me on my contract cell phone to sell me a cell phone contract. Usually this includes the offer of an extra phone. I usually stump them with the question, what am I supposed to do with another phone.

      I actually prefer it when bots call. I don’t feel guilty hanging up on them like I do when it’s a real person on the other end.

      Door-to-door guys are a rarity around here. We don’t even get Jehovah’s Witnesses (though there is a Kingdom Hall in town). I know my father once physically threw an encyclopedia-salesman out the door. He’d made the mistake of lying to my father about his purpose in visiting to get in the door – the old “Will you complete a survey” trick.

      I wonder what would be the purpose of the calls from ‘Windows IT’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The ethics of the ‘Windows IT’ fraud concerns me, in that (a) yes, they’re liars who are trying to initiate a crime by the standards of virtually every nation on Earth (especially the ones they target), and they know it, but (b) they also originate from countries where employment is hard, minimally paid, and maybe they don’t have a choice? Which raises questions on the individual level of the person making the call, although on the other hand, what they are doing is clearly an issue by all cultural standards. That raises questions of corruptibility versus cultural values but also by individual upbringing and choice. And so it gets complex. Humanity is a complex subject, both en masse and individually, and I just wish that people more obviously had a proper sense of true care for each other, including strangers (I mean, that’s a no-brainer…er… isn’t it?).


      2. “I just wish that people more obviously had a proper sense of true care for each other, including strangers”

        You have no idea how often I ponder this issue. Our current situation in SA is precisely because of people not caring – for others, for the environment, for what’s right and wrong… Each one is only in it for him or herself, and tough luck for the rest. But then my country is hardly unique in this.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As I said yesterday to a friend who shared a decidedly negative article about SA on Facebook (okay, it was more a case of chewing her out than saying), as long as there are people willing to work and fight and pray for change, there is still hope.


  5. Ugh! I hate it when I pick up a sales call. I usually check the caller ID first but sometimes I forget. But I sound very young on the phone so they usually think I’m a kid home alone. So I guess kids help to deter them on the phone.


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