We have imported many things from the United States – some good and some not so good. One of the most popular American business activities which we seemed to embrace in the 1950s and which is only now dying out, is “cold-calling”. That is to say, knocking on someone’s door and then attempting to sell whilst at the same time not quite hearing the word “No!”. Ask the “God sellers” – the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons – they’re the real experts.
Remember the old encyclopaedia and vacuum cleaner salesman of the fifties and sixties? Then of course, we had the Life Assurance salesman of the seventies and eighties, followed more recently by the double-glazing salesman of the eighties and nineties. Now we have the door-to-door “energy” salespeople who want to save you money by showing how to switch your gas and electricity bill.
“Foot-in-the-door” selling used to be great fun if you were a good professional salesman – and a nightmare if you were not. The more advanced “foot in the door” technique was the “head in the door” – which meant that when the door was slammed, you could carry on talking until you passed out.
Our real problem though, is that Brits are lousy salespeople and our natural shyness and inability to close a sale made cold-calling excruciating – both to the salesman and to the prospective customer. We are not genetically programmed for sales. We do not possess the “good” bullshit gene – only the pretend one.
Sadly, direct salesmen are a dying breed and nowadays, most initial contacts with clients are made either by telephone or possibly email. Nevertheless, it is still tempting for some amateurs to try their hand at the old art of door-knocking………..
If you have ever been a door-to-door salesman, what is written below may rekindle some old memories. If you are not yet a Direct Salesman but are thinking about it and have been promised unimaginable riches – don’t you wish that you’d paid more attention at school?
The rust-encrusted Vauxhall Nova with a very old “Tax in Post” sticker rattled past the seemingly endless handkerchief-sized front gardens. The single remaining wiper blade was having difficulty in coping with the solid sheet of sleet that appeared horizontally reflected in the dim headlights.
He tapped the petrol gauge nervously. He’d become used to the gauge reading ‘empty’ and he could now read it to the nearest half-millimetre. Almost instinctively, he knew that he had enough fuel for another 8.6 miles , as long as he did not drive above 45 mph in third gear. The Manager had made him promise that he would knock on fifty doors tonight and then meet him at a pub just round the corner at 9 o’clock.
Unfortunately he had been late starting because he could not find a friendly-looking door. (Only those who have “done it” will understand that reference).
Eventually, after driving up and down six more streets, he saw the door! Its porchlight beckoned to him! This was the one! He was drawn to the light like a moth to a flame. He could smell a deal! He would show them back at the office. At next Monday’s sales meeting, he would be the star. He would be the one who would be handed the bottle of cheap red wine. He would bask in the warm applause of his peers and tell them how he had pulled the deal off! They would look up to him and then it was just a matter of time before he was the top salesman. As he parked the Nova, he dreamed of drunken sales conventions in the sun and paid-for weekend breaks in country hotels…..and sex. Lots of it!
He parked the car on a slight incline away from the house – just in case the starter motor jammed again and wedged the front wheel against the kerb because the handbrake was not working properly.
As he stepped out of the car into the rain, his mouth felt dry, although his bladder felt strangely full. He needed the money! That commission cheque was his! Tomorrow there would be a sale against his name! He was a superstar!
As he stepped into the road, he turned up the collar of his cheap Topman suit jacket. He clutched the already soggy business card in a trembling hand. The combination of the streetlight and the warm glow from the porchlight cast a macabre shadow behind his shambling frame as he bent against the sleet on the short trip to the front door.
He paused at the door, straightened the business card and with a short intake of steaming breath, lifted the heavy brass knocker and smashed it on the peeling door. There was a loud silence immediately followed by a commotion and some shouting. He imagined that he heard something about a “ King Salesman”. Well, he was certainly one of those!
The light in the hallway lit a bit suddenly and the startled Salesman twitched in anticipation. SHOWTIME!
The door swung open and It stood before him.
“It” appeared to be a large biped clad only in a grey vest plus what had once been boxer shorts and It appeared not to have the full complement of chromosomes. It did not speak. It only looked.
“GOODEVENINGIREPRESENTCRAPENERGYCANIINTERSETYOUINCHEAPERFUEL..! choked the Salesman as he tried to control his bowels and wave his business card about.
The man looked him up and down, smiled, said “No thanks. Fuck off” and slammed the door in his face.
Ten minutes later, the merriment and banter in the Dog and Duck were briefly interrupted by the entrance of a young man with crazed-looking eyes and wearing what appeared to have once been a cheap Top Man suit. It now looked like a dishcloth with the collar turned up. It and the pathetic figure it contained slipped and slid up to the bar and stood very close to a man in an Yves St Laurent suit who was wearing a chunky gold bracelet on one wrist and a fake Rolex on the other. He spoke too loudly, having just consumed his fifth Scotch.
“ How did you get on then? How many sales did you get then? Bet you didn’t manage fifty doors.”
The Salesman faced his Manager, melting sleet running down his face and back. He moved one more step forward. He was now so close that he could smell the stale Paco Rabanne on his Manager’s quizzically quivering jowls.
Swiftly he brought his knee up.