Thursday, August 03, 2006

Communication: The Importance of Approach

Earlier this week, I was outside tossing the junk mail directly into the trash when one of those door-to-door magazine salesmen approached. Now, it's been a hot, sweaty, no-shower, clean-the-house, icky day, so perhaps it was the expression on my face; but from 10 yards away, he raises his hands and says, "Don't shoot me!"
Coming nearer, he sort-of croons, "Is your father or mother at home?"
I know I looked all of my 39 years and then some. "Funny," I said and went back to my mail.
"There must be a fountain of youth in this neighborhood, because everyone seems so young. I was talking to your neighbor Jason--"
So Jason's looking good to him? I decided to spare us both further embarrassment and didn't let him get past the "Sales training program to get kids like me off the streets"(he looked early 20s) and told him I wasn't interested.

What I really wanted to do was take him inside, offer him a cup of coffee and dissect his approach.
"Don't shoot me?" He was a young Black guy--I'm an old white woman. Was this racial humor of the poorest taste? OR did he decide I was giving him dirty looks? Sorry, my face froze that way as a child.
"Is your mother or father at home?" Twenty years ago, that would have been a good assumption. Ten years ago, looking my best, a half-hearted compliment. Now, especially in my grungy clothes and my dirty hair sticking out of its bun like a bruha's, it was stupidly false. Plastic used-car-salesman/closing-time pick-up line false.
I made it clear the line didn't fly, but instead of abandoning it and getting to business while he had a chance, he pushed it. (Incidentally, all the neighbors home at that time are about a decade younger (and 15 pounds lighter) than I. Of course they look younger.)

I assume that he was taught that such "compliments" will make a person feel good about herself and him; all it did for me was want to go in, get a shower and count my gray hairs. I have a hard time believing he got any sales except out of pity. Jason told me he bought a subscription because he felt sorry for him tramping around in the heat. Was it the heat or the training that made his approach so slimy?

I know I'm not a great communicator verbally--I think a lot of writers turn to the written word because spoken ones fail them. I'll never be a salesman. Still, I'm smart enough to know what doesn't work. Salesmen, especially the door-to-door kind, need to develop an immediate rapport and a sense of trust. Insincere, canned, pick-up lines like these destroy trust--at least for people who aren't gullible.

If this is the kind of training the "up-and-coming sales force of tomorrow" gets, I think they'd be better off getting training at McDonald's.

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