Friday, April 19, 2013


In the summer of 1988, for my summer job I was recruited by a fellow student at college to sell books door-to-door.  She had done it the previous summer and made a lot of money.  The books were educational types (though not encyclopedias, if you were wondering).  I don't know why I thought I would be good at this job, but I did.  The training lasted a week in Nashville, TN, which is where the company is headquartered.  They called that week training;  I now call it brainwashing. I still remember repeating things like, "Never go back to your headquarters during the day, " ad nauseum.  It should have been a clue that this job was going to be hard, as in really hard.  Mentally hard.  Physically hard. Okay... hard in every possible way.

About twenty other students from my school, and an equal number from a college in Louisiana and Tennesse combined, road-tripped out to Colorado where we would be selling.  I ended up living with a family in Littleton, Colorado.  Their daughter was selling books for the same company in West Virginia.  Not long after we arrived, it came to me that they moved you as far from home as possible to deter you from quitting.  It was a long ride home alone.  Even so, the number of kids who quit was HIGH.  Heck, I quit four times (at least) that first month.  I about drove my mom crazy.

Anyway, I worked the job pretty much the way they intended for two weeks.  I was exhausted, frustrated, and so many other things.  Then the miracle happened. You won't see this coming... I got diarrhea. Yep, you heard that right.  And I had a reason to go back to my headquarters during the day.  I couldn't work like that.  It was sheer bliss.  I have never been before ~ or will ever be ~ as thrilled to have diarrhea as I was that day.  I got to REST... with the exception of the frequent trips to the bathroom.  I remember Ann, my recruiter and direct supervisor,  giving me grief at the end of the day when we did our nightly phone call reporting our sales. She was VERY ANGRY  that I hadn't taken Immodium and gotten right back out there.  Was she nuts?  I hoped it would last another couple of days. Immodium shmodium.  And that was the end of my relationship with Ann.  I became someone that she simply couldn't deal with and that was fine with me.

After I got over my Quit or Not To Quit and decided to stay, I decided to work the job My Way.  That meant I worked until I reached my Sales Quota for the day and then I knocked off.  Or, I sometimes pressed my luck and didn't even start until after the dinner hour and worked until about 10:00 at night.  It's best to have both adults present, so that you know that you have the Decision Maker in the room.  It's impossible to close a sale if the Decision Maker is not present.  I was actually very successful in this venture working it My Way.  I got to see a lot of Colorado in my spare time AND kept my sanity.  
Important note: another big reason I was successful at this was because I memorized well and could deliver  the presentation conversationally AND when I made my pitch I sold the whole set. I never broke it up because if they were going to buy, they would buy it ALL.  

I am not going to bore you with every sale I made ~ heck I can't remember every sale I made.

I vividly remember going up to this blue house on a cul de sac (would you believe that I can still picture this house but I can't remember some of the names of my good friends ~ egads) and the mother of the household answering. It was a Saturday (prime day). I gave her my get in the door pitch and she responded like this, "I would love to look at your books but my husband is TOO CHEAP (this thrown over the shoulder in a very loud voice for the said husband's benefit)! He is SO CHEAP that he does things like this.." At this precise moment her two children come out the front door carrying their bikes. "He makes our children carry their bikes out the door because he doesn't like the wear and tear on the garage door opener." Again, all of this was not directed to me, but to the invisible husband. I backed up fast and said something like, "Well, this isn't a good time. I will come back later."  I hastily got out of Dodge and made a notation in my notebook.

That isn't the end of this story.   

I was back in this same neighborhood trying to eliminate everyone from my list as either buyers or not.  I found myself back on that same cul de sac, and that blue house was the only one that hadn't gone one way or the other.     I was having a Terrible Day and decided to nail the lid on the coffin by going back to that blue house. The husband answered the door, the wife wasn't home, and I honestly never expected to make it off the porch. Wonder of wonders.... I got in.  Normally, I wouldn't go into a home where just the husband was there, but the kids were in a room that was visible from the kitchen, and I felt okay with it.  He was nice.  However, I was still caught up in the Bike Incident of that Saturday and Intimidated.  I was so convinced that he WASN'T GOING TO BUY that I only showed him three books out of the set.  I departed from my usual pitch, because I made the decision for him about what he would and would not buy.  I was trying to minimize my time investment in the call.  Big mistake.  Huge.  I got done and he never even gave me a closing argument.  All he said was, "Do you take a credit card?"  

 Holy crap.  Yes, I did.  And while he was getting his wallet I was mentally kicking myself down the street.  Never ever assume what your buyer will buy.  In fact, go into every sale assuming that they will buy.  You assume it and more often than not... they do.

It never occurred to me that my theatre background would be excellent preparation for a career in sales.  Only later would I look back on this very successful summer at door-to-door sales and understand that sales is my Ideal Career Path.  If you can make money in door-to-door sales, which is the toughest gig  going, commission sales on consumable goods is a cakewalk .  

Rating: Life Lessons
If you are in sales, you should never have to hard close on anyone.  If you  have done a good job of presenting the product, shown it's value, and it's something they need, they will want it.  Don't ever assume what your customer wants.  Show them everything.  Let them decide what they want.  Don't judge someone based on what another person has said.  Always bring your A-Game when you are working Commission Sales.  Know your presentation so well that it sounds conversational and not memorized.  Always assume the customer will buy if you have a great product; of course they want it.  If you doubt that they will buy your product, then they aren't going to buy your product.  Why would they????  (You have doubts and you're selling it.... yikes.)  Never sell something you don't believe in 100%.

Did you have a job that you thought was just a summer job or short-term job, but ending up pointing you towards your ultimate Career Path?  Have you ever had a job that was just really hard?  Did it burn you out?  Or a job that you learned a lot of Life Lessons from even if you didn't stay in it forever?  Or maybe just a summer job that was really bizarre that you wanted to quit?

 image found at


  1. I enjoyed the peek into your door-to-door sales experience. These days, I rarely give the sales guys knocking at the door a chance. They're usually rude and pushy or bored and complacent from the start. But, reading what your training was like, I'll be a bit more kinder when I close the door on them. :-)

    Don't be a Hippie
    Take 25 to Hollister

  2. As much as I hate people trying to 'sell' me something, I can always appreciate what they're going through in trying to do so.

    That really sounds like a job from Hell, which I why I've never taken a job where I was expected to sell anything.

    To me, if someone says "No"...that's it. When I say "No"...I mean "No"...and I assume that's how everyone else is, as well.

    Who would think you'd cheer for diarrhea?? :)

  3. I did political party calls one summer. Yeah, that really sucked.
    Funny that guy bought the books. You're right, we shouldn't assume. I learned that when my first book came out and people I never thought would want to read it purchased it.

  4. I am severely crap at sales, because I just don't want to try to sell people anything. haha. I prefer to sit back and let them browse & come to their own conclusions. Which, you know, doesn't always work out too well. I worked at a place around 19/20 where my "manager" was a HARD seller. She did really well but there was just no way I could ever live up to that. I didn't have the stomach for it.

  5. I have a total mental image of all the occupants of the blue house in the cul-de-sac. Great story.

  6. Su-Sieee! ~ Selling books door to door is a lonely job. Even if you don't buy anything from them, you can always be nice to them. As someone who has been there/done that, kindness is always appreciated.

    Mark ~ Believe it or not, the job that I got the next summer as a waitress was SO MUCH WORSE. I didn't make nearly the money and I worked so much HARDER. I tell you what, though, I appreciate my servers now ever so much more because of that summer. And I am so thankful for that summer in CO... if not for that job, I might never have gotten of the career rut I was in and found a Career that I LOVED. Like I said in Life Lessons: I don't believe in Hard Selling someone. A good salesperson will have built the quality of their product into their demonstration. Not saying I didn't ever get a "No" but I got a lot more "Yes" when I was actually in the Door in front of the Decision Maker.

    Alex ~ I think that we all learn this lesson about assuming one way or the other. At least I hope we do...

    Trisha ~ Sales is not for everyone. And Hardcore Selling is akin to Bullying. Sounds like you needed another Top Seller with a different approach that you could have modeled after who would have been more YOUR style.

    Carol ~ Thank you, Carol. It happened a LONG TIME AGO now and I can still see it like it was YESTERDAY. When those bikes came through the front door, my mouth nearly hit the sidewalk. That was new territory for me.

  7. Wow. This is just so darn interesting. I can't imagine having a job like that. Sales is most definitely NOT my thing. I am so impressed by people who are able to do this.
    Your ability to remember fine details is wonderful and I totally understand how strange that can be. I can do that as well, in a similar way. I think it does help with lots of different life skill sets. I also think that we remember things in great detail for reasons we don't always get to know.
    Your advice is sound about never assuming who will or won't respond to you- be it with a sales pitch or otherwise. Assumptions are rarely safe or worthwhile.
    Most of the jobs I have had were/are pretty good and enjoyable in some way. I love learning new things and having no two days be the same. However, I did have one really crappy job that I took purely for the money. I needed a down payment for a house. It was at a real estate management firm and I had previously been working at a daycare center. I swear those people were the most immature, cut throat and nasty people I had ever encountered. They brought out the worst in each other. I made it 7 months there and learned that no recent hire had made it past the 3 month mark, shortly before I left.
    That job helped me to learn that I am not really capable of doing things 'just for the money'. And it also helped me to realize that high powered corporate type jobs don't guarantee that people won't act like preschoolers so I might as well just work with preschoolers. It's a lot easier!

    1. My mother was just commenting about my memory and my ability to connect dots just the other day. I don't think a whole about it, but I guess I do remember some things rather vividly and that does allow me to see patterns.

      Anyway, you are right that not everyone is made for sales. Of course, not everyone is made for any given job. It is just that sales is one of those jobs that a person knows it pretty well straight away if it is for them or not. hahaha. Of course, some people base their like/dislike of sales on how much they hated selling candy bars for band and stuff like that, and I am not sure that is actually accurate, but anywhoo. That is another assumption thing.

      One thing that we have both figured out: it is not worth trading your life for a crappy, hateful job. No amount of money is worth it.


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