How not to sell

Today a guy knocked on my door and offered to clean one of my carpets for me. No obligation to buy anything – he just wanted to show me how good a job he could do so I would recommend it to my friends. I thought that sounded nice. So I invited him in.

A few minutes later he brought his friend Petey over – another nice young fellow in coveralls who would do the actual dirty work of taking out those tough stains left by the previous owner. I figured I would go do some writing, and then have a look at the carpet when he was done, and then send him merrily on his way. If it was good, I would post it on facebook and my blog, giving Danny what he asked for.

Danny then clarified that they were not promoting a carpet cleaning service, but rather a carpet-cleaning product. What kind of “product” that was did not become clear until later. He was playing his cards carefully.

My lie detector went off when Danny asked me, “Have you heard of Bill Gates?”

Questions like that usually launch into a convoluted explanation of how I will become as rich as Bill Gates, or of how this company is not evil like Bill Gates, or some other wild stretch. In this case, he talked about how Bill Gates got sued for cornering the market, and how they do not want to be sued for cornering the market, so they can’t sell their product in stores because then they would automatically corner the market (because it’s so good) so they can only sell it to me today, and that’s it.

Obviously a complicated lie, but I let it slide. I just wanted the stains out.

After Danny left, Petey explained to me how this chance to clean my carpet would get him one step closer to a fabulous vacation in Hawaii. (Wow, sales organizations still use that tired old tactic?) I hope he wins it. He looked like he could use a vacation.

Petey then began unpacking the equipment. I noticed the KIRBY(tm) label on all the stuff. They hadn’t mentioned Kirby before. Probably for the same reason that nobody mentions Amway any more. I had a feeling that this was not going to end positively, but I could not figure out why. My efficient brain had simply filed the KIRBY name in the Amway file without any supporting documents. Must have been from a conversation I had 20 years ago.

He took some time to put a vacuum cleaner together. He wanted to be sure I could see how simple it was to do. I didn’t really care. I couldn’t see how a vacuum cleaner would get the stains out.

I listened to Petey as he struggled to remember the words and phrases they had taught him in Kirby school. I don’t think they had trained him very long. He later admitted he was pretty new to this. (I then remembered that the last guy who had demo’d a vacuum cleaner to me was also brand new. These guys sure don’t last long in the industry. Churn and burn.)

The trouble with learning lines is, it can come across as dishonest and manipulative. Those tactics may have worked back in 1960, but they don’t work today. Today we’re a bit smarter. We still want our carpets cleaned, but we’re smarter. The only thing canned speeches are good for is mocking them on comedy shows.

(Mmmm… canned peaches… ahhhh…) Sorry, where was I?

Ah yes. Petey did an excellent job of showing me how much dirt and dust the Kirby vacuum could suck out of my tired old carpet. Tons. I agreed with him that it was a great machine, and I would surely buy one if I could afford one. He asked me how much value I would put on the machine. I said about $500. He wrote the number down.

As we got through the first hour, I realized that he would not be working unsupervised. He needed me there to watch everything. This was (contrary to Danny’s assertions) a product demonstration. I then spent another hour as his audience. The prospect of getting a couple stains removed from my carpet receded into the distant future.

Petey continued on through his marathon of demonstrations of all the attachments. He talked about it as if I was the owner already (another great 80’s tactic). Did you know that a Kirby vacuum can also be used to wash your car and fertilize your lawn? It’s true. Petey showed me the attachments.

As we finished up Hour #2, I felt the need to come clean with the Kirby man. I needed him to understand that I was definitely not going to buy this product, and I did not have time for another hour or two of demonstrations. My understanding, when we started, was that this was going to be quick, and that the expectation was not for me to buy something, but to tell my friends about it. That’s what Danny had said. Danny’s soft-sell approach set me up to become confused and frustrated when the truth came out.

After I opened up to Petey, he called his boss, Mark, who came over a few minutes later. Mark was obviously more experienced in the Kirby culture. He didn’t struggle for lines to say. He was polite and professional.

I asked whether they could get a stain out for me, to see if it really worked the way Danny had said. When I mentioned that I had already used a steam cleaner on the carpet, Mark explained that the cleaner had set the stain, and that the Kirby product would not be able to get the stain out. Sorry. (At least he was honest… I think…)

I talked with Mark about my experience this afternoon: being led to believe that it was not a demonstration, and then finding myself standing around for a 3-hour demonstration. Being led to believe that they would be happy with recommendations to friends, and finding out they expected a sale. Being honest with them up front that there was no way I could afford anything right now, and having them waste their time on a demonstration that would not result in a sale.

We talked for a couple minutes. Mark made it clear then that the entire presentation was important – to build an emotional high more and more with each part of the presentation, ending with the carpet shampoo at the end as a reward for getting all the way through. And then, of course, the prospect’s unbridled enthusiasm culminating in a sale.

Mark was actually open about the methodology here. I credit him for that. He must have sensed that I could see right through the sales tactics. He didn’t even have to explain them, because it was fairly obvious what was going on.

It just didn’t work.

None of that works any more.

The 1980’s-style of emotional manipulation and carefully crafted phrases are getting tired. We have seen them all before. Instead of responding the way our grandparents did, we hear the words and think, “Not this again.”

When we got clear that I didn’t want to see the rest of the presentation, Mark and Petey did a meticulous job of cleaning up after themselves, and were very polite. Mark thanked me for my time. I felt bad for Petey, actually, in kind of the same way I felt bad for the last vacuum demonstrator. It wasn’t his fault that his company trained him to ignore prospect feedback. He was trained to push his product on everyone, even if the prospect is unqualified. He was trained to demonstrate the value of the product, separate from my needs and values, rather than meeting my specific needs.

The culprit here is not Petey or Mark. I have no hard feelings about those guys. Danny… well, he tried to hide the truth long enough for me to agree to a presentation for a product that I would never buy. And myself, I agreed to the presentation after I figured out that there was some dishonesty going on. So, yes, I manifested this.

What I saw today was not a demonstration of a carpet-cleaning machine. I saw a demonstration of why yesterday’s sales tactics no longer work. I watched as these guys tried very hard to make the tried and true methods from 1980 work for us today. I watched them struggle and fail.

What we need today is authenticity. We need people who have real solutions, and the passion to serve clients fully with those solutions. We don’t need stock phrases. We need genuine communication of the truth. We don’t need to try and sell everything to everyone. We need to find someone that really needs what we have to offer, and give them an opportunity to get it if they want it.

Overall, after all the standing around, this was a productive day. I got to watch a sales demonstration in action. I got a topic for my blog. I got some dirt taken out of my carpet. And I hope that Petey, Danny and Mark learned something today as well.



About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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6 Responses to How not to sell

  1. Cynthia says:

    As always, you can turn an ordinary situation into a humorous learning situation!

    I worked at a “promotions” company the summer between year 1 and 2 of my interior design program and their first scam was getting me through the door with a misleading advertement about needing promotions assistants – no experience necessary. (willing to train!) When I arrived they asked me all sorts of questions and tried to get me hyped to make money. They talked about all their “clients” like the Winnipeg Jets, Midas, etc. which turned out to not really be their clients per se but the clients of the marketing firm who hired them to sell these coupon books. But I”m getting ahead of myself. Two “team leaders” took me along on a day where I got to watch some of their sales people make business calls. What that really meant was going door to door selling coupon books. Although I felt deceived and irritated that this wasn’t the type of job that I had applied for, I also knew that I had no other job offers to fill 2 months of my life so I went along with the program.

    I also learned some of those 80’s sales techniques like putting the coupon book in someone’s hands and talking about it like they owned it. By the end of the summer, I had fared ok but not as well as some of the superstars since I didn’t like dealing with people’s apprehension when I came to the door and I wasn’t a smooth enough talker to get past all of the objections.

    In any case, I think people get lured in to these “get rich/make money daily” types of jobs because other jobs aren’t available and someone like Mark has convinced Petey that anyone can do this job. However, people like Mark are really good at their jobs and not everyone can earn an income like he does. Probably Petey won’t be around for too much longer after a few more house visits like yours and Danny will be introducing you to a new guy who can take your carpet stains out!

    • Craig says:

      Thanks for sharing that story, Cynthia.

      You know, sales really is the oldest profession, and although we aren’t all “in sales,” we all have to deal with sales and do some form of selling in our careers (whether or not it’s called “sales”). So, while I’m committed to promoting my services to the public while remaining absolutely honest and in integrity, part of me still struggles with “salesman” stereotypes and the desire not to be a manipulator. I just want to find ways of helping people – and getting the message out to people that they can get help – without trying to make anyone spend money that they don’t need to spend.

  2. Tanya says:

    Did you know that each showing the Kirby kids do does accomplishes a goal of 62 shows in a month (30 days). Supposedly kirby says it will pay a base salary of $2500 (even if they do not get a sale) if they show that many, so really, you did something nice for some kid trying to make a living in these lovely economic times. Good for you.
    It’s a tough job and they walk for 12 hours a day by the way. =)

  3. Astrid says:

    Wow, I had Kirby men work on a mattress for me once, it was amazing! the sales pitch was short and sweet and I got a mattress cleaned for free, it was so worth the time to watch it…

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