catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18


The perfect sales pitch

“We’re selling World’s Finest Chocolate Bars to help our school.  How many would you like?”

My cousin and I walk door to door on our rural route in upstate New York.  We take turns every other house, and one of us makes the sales pitch the other holds open the cardboard crate of chocolate goodness to neighbors we barely recognize.  We’re not afraid one bit.  Before claiming our candy bar crate, we sit through a pep rally with the World’s Finest Chocolate sales rep — the guy who taught us our persuasive sales pitch. We’re pretty sure we’ll bag the top prize from the World’s Finest Chocolate prize catalog but can’t figure out how we’ll share the Walkman between the two of us.

Turns out, I think the best prize I ever got was a jump rope or one of those pens that wrote in four different colored inks. 

Fifteen years later, I sign up for the grown-up version of door-to-door sales: I sell photo albums to ladies in their living rooms.  The first prize I earn is a set of steak knives.  We’d been married seven years and didn’t own a set, so I was pretty excited.  At Christmas, I wrap the butcher block stabbed with six black-handled blades in a cooler full of raw steaks and a five-pound bag of potatoes for my husband’s gift.  Turns out this company showers me with the best prizes: tote bags, cash bonuses, jewelry, a trampoline for our kids to vault in the back yard — after 9am so they don’t wake the neighbors.

When I realize I can win trips, I double my sales.  Mind you, I’m barely thirty years old and share my days with our kids who are three, five, seven and nine years old.  As much as I love them, no incentive captures my fancy more than the chance to get away from it all for a few days: Reno, Hilton Head, Scottsdale, the Caribbean.

The Caribbean: the pinnacle of prizes, ten days with my husband on a half-empty cruise ship to San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Barts.  We drive a rented jeep over that little French island like reunited lovers. We find ourselves a private beach, spend hours wading hip-deep in liquid aquamarine, turquoise, cobalt.  We get the worst sunburn of our lives. And the best memories.

Still, as much as I love the prizes, it’s the cold, hard cash that keeps me asking strangers to buy photo albums.  Nothing motivates much better than needing to put food on the table for your kids.  I’m grateful for direct sales — for all the bad (and, often, rightfully-earned) press they get, the opportunity to work my own hours, set my own goals and make my own income keeps our family from bankruptcy and helps us buy our first house, all without me sacrificing my conscience because the product is good and the relationships with my customers are sweet.

But I’d never do it again.  Making a living from sales is exhausting.  Every friend is a potential customer, every smile across the counter at the grocery store a possible lead.  This is the way of it and it wears me out.  And it’s not like the 1950s when Avon ladies could walk the neighborhood ringing doorbells in the middle of the day.  No one is home during the day anymore.  They’re all out at work, too.  This means selling in the evenings after dinner when everyone’s worked twelve hours already at the office, doing laundry, making dinner, going to their kid’s soccer game.  The only time my conscience bothers me selling photo albums is when I try to persuade exhausted women to leave their houses after dinner and then try to keep them entertained enough to not fall asleep on their friend’s couch, glass of wine in their hands.

And me asking “How many would you like?”

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