Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eavesdropping Respectfully

... if they will not sign the repurchase agreement ...

... your mother knows where we are and ...

...if we stick with our travel plan and just keep ...

...a lovely day and I thought we could ...

A writer only knows how to do one thing thoroughly in a public dining room - eavesdrop.  I do it respectfully (huh?  respectful eavesdropping - oxymoron??) and, one hopes, inconspicuously.  But I do it - and I must admit, I do it with a certain amount of relish.

To a writer, good listening is like good reading; it expands your horizons in unexpected ways.

Yesterday, I was in the business center printing out a coupon (I do have my laptop, but no printer with me) to get a discount at the Firestone Auto Center.  My husband is of the type and stripe that he doesn't care where you are, if you are going to spend good money, at least get a decent discount on whatever you are spending it on.  He told me on the phone the evening before, "Marsha, it is ten dollars, after all."

You would have thought that ten-spot was the key to financing our retirement; but I digress.  The coupon/printer requirement was what occasioned my being just out of sight of the two businessmen who were having a quick breakfast before hitting the road to Xanadu for the day.  I was around the corner from them where I was unseen but could hear them - one of my favorite spots in life, unseen but listening intently.

Traveling salesmen.  The jokes are too numerous to even begin, so I won't.  The eager beaver, high energy (or too much caffeine, hard to tell) cliches fit these two to a T.  Bulging cases, not really what you would call a briefcase, more of a sample case/carrying case/ trundle-bucket affair blockaded them into their space in the dining room.

Territory is always important to a salesperson, and they had staked out theirs.  Newspapers were folded as though to be read later, although the client call list was clearly what had their undivided attention.  One, whom the second called B.,  whipped out his cell phone and dialed.

I have always been amazed at the chutzpah, temerity, the sheer grit and gall it must take to do cold calling.  Many years ago, during one of my early jobs managing a private medical practice, it was my unfortunate duty to have to make collection calls two days per month.  Granted collection calls are not quite the same as cold calls, but they are close enough to leave a similar yucky taste in my mouth.

I hated those days with a passion and established an elaborate set of rituals and rigid structure through which I would drag myself to this most unwelcome task.  It did not just require self-discipline, it cried out for silver bullets, wooden stakes, and titanium underwear.  In other words, it was tough sledding.

But this guy, old B., he just flips open his phone, hits speed dial and he is off like a filly at a derby.

"Hi, this is B. We spoke briefly last Tuesday.  You were really busy at the time, but suggested that we might be able to talk further this week.  Just touching bases to see when might be a convenient time to have that follow up conversation."

All this was delivered in a cheerful cadence as though he were stopping by an old friend's place for a cuppa' Joe.  It was only when he abruptly said good bye and hung up that I realized he didn't even have the live person on the phone.  He had summoned up all that bonhomie for a voice-mail message! 

Undeterred, B. hits the next number with lightening speed, and once again launches into his spiel.  "L.  good to talk to you.  S. referred me to you, said you might have some thoughts on our new product launch."
... B. listens to the other party .... "You do?  Great!  What day works best for you?" ... brief listening ... "Next Thursday at two would be perfect.  I'll look forward to meeting you then."

Snap!  B. turns to his road dog and says with what can only be described as an air of triumph, "Told you I would get one of them!"

Cold calling, telemarketing, all those irksome interruptions in our lives, who could do that for a living?  I'll tell you who does it.  During the years when, as the ruling compensation czarina at a mid-sized technology company, I refereed disputes between sales people over territories, lead generation logs, commission structures, etc., the men and women who engaged in this kind of activity were just like you and me, with various kids, cats, mortgages and car payments:  people depending upon them to bring home the bacon.

They just brought more chips to the dip, more life to the party, more energy to the job than about anyone I've ever run into.  Granted, some of them were smarmy weasels who required my best restrained efforts to not smack their humongous egos into the middle of next year.

But all in all, they were folks who liked the hunt, the thrill of the chase, the chance to land the big one.  Incomprehensible to me.  Of course, I just hunt and peck for my bacon now.  My smoked hams are securely, we hope, in the smokehouse for whatever duration the Lord sees fit to allow me to continue to cook them.

But today, as I gaze out my hotel window, and see two more road warriors holding steaming cups of coffee, unlock their company car doors, I am moved with something almost like compassion.

If no one sold anything to anyone, how would any of the rest of us have a bed to sleep on, a cup of anything to drink, a paper to read or pretty much anything else with which to function on this pot-holed journey called life?  Sales folks may irritate me, or arouse my suspicion upon occasion; but this morning they command my respect as they head out on the road, ready - and mostly able - to deliver the goods.

I hope I am half so competent in my endeavors today.  Travel safely - Marsha

Question:  Have you ever had a job selling anything?  If so, did you love it or hate it? 

No comments:

Post a Comment