Have we forgotten how to sell to each other?
I sometimes wonder that as I refuse to answer robocalls, mark email as spam, and post no solicitations on the front door. I don’t like to be interrupted when “working”.
I don’t need more auto warranties (they’re more dependable from your dealer), and I don’t need sudden travel deals (although I could imagine that some week I might). I don’t need SEO services, and I don’t need Windows drivers from third parties advertising on YouTube. I don’t need to replace my Medicare (and AARP supplemental) with Medicare Advantage, although I do wonder if TrumpCare or RyanCare could change that.
Yet, for 14 months while living in Minneapolis, after my career had its cardiac arrest at the end o 2001, I worked for the Minnesota Orchestra, calling for contributions to the Young People’s Concerts. This was slightly post 9/11, but people would answer the phone then, do pledges, and even “blue money on credit”. The non-profit word for this activity was “development”.
After coming back to DC, I worked for a company selling National Symphony subscriptions, but suddenly quit when a call recipient threatened me with arrest for calling after the 9:00 PM statutory curfew. I will not tolerate employers’ expecting me to break the law. I could afford to enforce that then and now.
It was eye-opening to me, that someone could major in music, and then come down from Toronto to teach us how to sell music subscriptions to the masses. I feel it’s a great honor to be recognized as a content creator. I feel “peddling” is second-class citizenship.
From 1972-1973, living in northern New Jersey, I worked for Sperry Univac, when it was trying to compete with IBM. My job was “site support”, providing technical interface for processors (FORTRAN, COBOL, etc) and I made beaucoup trips to St. Paul MN for benchmarks. The whole idea was to sell more computers. I did get the feedback that I “didn’t have a marketing profile” and would be better off in “real” development.
Indeed I spent probably twenty-six years or so largely as an individual contributor in developing, implementing, and supporting business applications, batch and online, mostly mainframe. I was not a life that encouraged a lot of socialization for its own sake, or being part of other people’s social capital. After I “retired”, I found out how the real world of “Lotsa Helping Hands” can work.
My father was a salesman, of sorts – actually, a “manufacturer’s agent”, for Imperial Glass, until 1971. I remember his travel to glass shows all over the East Coast, his filling orders manually and doing the accounting with adding machines. Mother helped him. But he worked wholesale. Selling for him was mostly about customer service. It was never about cold calling or pimping.
But when I “retired” (I was well provided for by ING with the final layoff and forced retirement), I was rather shocked at the corporate culture I found with some interviews. One of the sessions occurred in 2002 and would have involved contacting people to get them to convert whole life policies to term. Later, I would be approached by two companies (unsolicited) to become a life insurance agent or financial planner. Getting “leads” in that business means trolling people on the Internet to find out who to make cold calls to. I would also be approached to become a tax preparer (unsolicited), and a non-profit mall canvasser.
One of the more provocative screening questions (in 2005 at New York Life) was, “do you every buy anything from a salesman?” I answered yes, because I wanted to continue the interview. But I flashed a mental image of encyclopedia salesmen (we had bought a World Book set with its great state relief maps in 1950), and even music course salesmen (Sherwood Music courses for piano, from Chicago) – again, musicians need real incomes from selling.
The term life interviewer even said “We give you the words”, and yet became defensive in front of me as a I probed whether this idea really works or is best for consumers. (Whole life conversion will be a good idea for many people, probably.) He (who seemed to run a franchise office with his wife) exerted the authoritarian attitude that we now recognize with Donald Trump – that you can “create facts” (or use “alternative facts”) and convince people of your vision mainly by believing it and getting others to believe it –which makes it come true (whether that’s getting a casino to make money or living forever in a hallow heaven). That sounds like ministry, proselytizing. Some of the tall tales about Trump University (getting people to max out heir credit cards against future real estate income) remind me of the 2008 crisis (which drove Stephen Bannon’s ideology). I did get a couple calls about jobs selling subprime mortgages when I already realized they would crash together when then introductory (ARM) rates went up.
I’m reminded of how LDS missions work – young adults (as in the movie “God’s Army” and then “Latter Days”) are supposed to recruit others to their faith (Mitt Romney even did this) and they even pay for the opportunity.
I’m also recalling the comedy movie “100 Mile Rule” (let alone Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”), where the salesman mantra was “Always Be Closing.” I see those YouTube ads, “Become a marketer” and just laugh.
When I was working, “coders” thought of management as not smart enough to deal with the nitty-gritty of tracing registers in assembler language. But we really thought of salesmen as not smart enough to code. It was an attitude that we could hardly afford.
And now days, I get hounded as to why I don’t sell more hardcopies of my own books, and do more to support bookstores, or kids’ reading programs. I get it. Salesmanship (sometimes even hucksterism) is important to other people’s jobs. But now we have an “It’s free” culture, and a “do it yourself” world of taking care of yourself online. Donald Trump himself said he doesn’t like computers much, because the online world (including his favorite Twitter) dilutes the importance of social capital that does help people sell. Oh, yes, remember the good old days of being invited to Amway presentations.
People (like me) have good reasons not to want to be bothered by hucksters. But we’ve also created a world where it’s very hard for many people to make a living doing anything else. Donald Trump is right in saying we have to do a lot more of our manufacturing at home again (“Make America Great Again”, or “MAGA”) but not just for the parochial needs of his specialized voting base. National security would say we ought to make more of our own transformers, batteries, communications hardware components. We need to have a reasonable percentage of working-age adults actually making goods to remain economically and socially healthy — and safe.
(Posted: March 22, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)