Life of a Salesman

I haven’t talked about my new job yet, in part because I thought I wouldn’t be there long. But things got interesting the last couple of days, and I figured it was worth talking about.

I work for a company selling tickets for some of Vancouver’s theatres, season tickets and the like. It’s not cold calling, per se, since we’re calling people who have actually been to our shows or have had season tickets in the past.

But the fact is I’ve never been a fan of the “hard sell,” trying to work every possible angle, looking for a chink in the armour to penetrate and get a sale. I’m perfectly fine in telling people about the upcoming season, telling them about what we have to offer, and so on, but that’s about it. Bottom line, I don’t want to sell refrigerators to Inuit.

In short, I’m not a very good salesperson.

I’ve made a few sales since I’ve started. No season tickets, though, which is what we’re supposed to be pushing. A guy who started up a day or two after me is far ahead of me in terms of sales, including season tickets. He’s a natural, I think. Feels comfortable on the phone, whereas I always get a knot in my stomach.

It’s not that I’m not sociable, I am. It’s not that I don’t believe in the product, I love theatre. It’s not that I don’t enjoy telling people about the upcoming season, I do. Heck, I like getting people interested about what’s coming up, because it legitimately IS a good lineup.

But there is always that other little part of me that sees where this is going and doesn’t like it. I just don’t like telemarketing. I used to work for a market research company doing surveys and polls. We never sold anything, but it still had that same vibe. That same vibe that annoyed enough people to force the government to introduce a Do Not Call list people could join so they could get some peace and quiet between 5 and 9.

Most of the time it’s not a problem. Everyone we call has been to our shows so they enjoy the theatre and are usually happy to listen to our lineup or talk about what they’ve seen. But at the end of the day it’s still about sales. You don’t make the sales, you won’t have the job for long.

I overheard a conversation between two employees recently. One woman was told that if she didn’t make a thousand dollars in sales by the next day they would have to let her go. This came from higher up, I think, not from the manager. They cited her as not having the right attitude, and so on. The kicker is, this woman only needed a couple of more weeks on board. She has a major project on the go in August, making documentaries, but the timing of this couldn’t be worse. Things are going to be tight for her because, quite frankly, a thousand dollars in one day is a tall order, based more on luck than salesmanship.

It also reminded me that the feeling in my stomach was in fact justified, and not to get too comfortable where I am.

The problem nagged me, though. I thought about how I’d feel in her position and quite frankly it sucks.

The week before, one of our long time staff left to move to Ontario. When she did, she gave me a bunch of her call-backs of people who were interested in tickets but for one reason or another couldn’t buy then and there. One of them was for the next day, and it was a guaranteed sale, and I had been waiting to use this to prop up my lacklustre sales numbers for days. Up to 500 dollars worth.

Thing is, I figured it wasn’t really mine to have, since it was given to me wrapped up like a present. So the next day I asked the girl with her head on the chopping block if things were going to be rough if she lost this job, or if she’d be okay until the end of the month. She said it would be very rough.

I gave her the call-back.

This is where things get weird.

My intention was that this would at least give her a fighting chance. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out for as much as I had hoped. What should have been a 500 dollar sale turned into about 140 instead.

Then, about four calls later, I ring up a man who loved the last show he’d seen and wanted to make a donation. Now, it’s rarely a case of “Oh, I’m glad you called, I’ve been meaning to get something from you…” so that was a surprise in itself. Donations are even rarer. I ask him for how much.

Five thousand dollars.

I can feel my heart racing faster. Five. Thousand? He wanted to buy season tickets as well, but for a donation of that size (the highest tier we have, in fact) he gets tickets to any show at any time anyway. I tried not to stutter too much and blow the donation, getting down his information and closing the deal. When I put down the receiver I still couldn’t believe what just happened. It was the biggest donation I had heard about since I got there. My last donation was for $25.

There is a bell we ring when a big sale is made. For the first time I got to ring it. But rather than let that ding echo in the room I almost instantly muffled it with my hand. It felt immodest, undeserved. The whole thing was pure luck and it didn’t feel right to take credit for it. The man was falling over himself to give me the money, I hadn’t haggled him up to $5000 at all, that was the price he set. All I did was not screw it up. Now suddenly in one sale I’m promoted to Senior Rep, with a higher commission and pay rate.

But that wasn’t the only reason it didn’t feel right. Remember the girl with her head on the chopping block? She got another sale on her own for $300, but at the end of the day she still came up short of the ultimatum. She was called into the managers office for a long talk after the shift ended. As far as I knew, she still got fired.

So I give up what I thought was $500 in sales to someone who needed it more than me, only for it to turn out to be far less when she got it and still ending up fired. Yet I’m rewarded with a $5000 donation that instantly promotes me to the next level in the company?

This didn’t feel like a reward to me. It felt more like the novel Catch-22, and I had gotten promoted to Major because their computer had a glitch due to my first, middle and last name being Major Major Major. And much like Major Major Major Major, I found myself now in a position I neither earned or was prepared for, and felt as if a lot was going to be expected of me from this point on, and very much wanted to hide in a corner of the office so my mediocre telephone skills can go unnoticed.

It didn’t feel like security, it felt like the sword of Damocles dangling over my head.

It didn’t feel like karma, either. I did something nice, sure, but I got rewarded and she got punished despite my intervention… so what was the point? If karma wanted to reward me, my actions should have helped her reach the ultimatum. I’d have felt a million times better about that than the donation I got.

And the superstitious/religious side of me wonders if it was a cosmic test that I failed. We all talk about helping others, but how many of us walk the talk? I gave up $500, sure, but would I give up $5000? The thing is, it all happened so fast I hadn’t even considered if I could have passed that over to her in the other room somehow. Not to mention the manager was there the whole time watching me. But as we all know when it comes to these spiritual “tests” those kind of explanations are irrelevant. I’m sure from a “What Would Jesus Do?” standpoint, I scored a C-.


… the next day I show up at work and lo and behold the doomed damsel was back at her desk. She smiled and signalled that things had been smoothed over. I have yet to find out the details, but I suspect she was given a short reprieve, which for her will be long enough to get her to August.

So, did I help, or not? Would she have gotten that reprieve regardless? I dunno. Really, does it matter? It’s just nice to know things worked out, that’s all.