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.
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.