Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Career: Further Misadventures in Sales

Anyone who has spent any time on a college campus has doubtless seen one of those fliers advertising work for $15 per hour, with a phone number to call for more information. Back in the late '80's, I saw one of those flyers and made the call. I needed a summer job, and you can buy a lot of Ramen noodles for $15 per hour (or whatever the rate was back then).

The person on the other end of the line identified the business as Vector Marketing, and after a brief conversation invited me to their office for an interview. He raised my suspicions a bit by not revealing anything about the nature of the work, but he did volunteer that it was not telemarketing or door-to-door selling. It should come as no surprise, based on my previous post, that I breathed a sigh of relief at this point. With visions of Ramen noodles and beer money dancing in my head, I agreed to come in for the meeting.

The office itself was unimpressive - a couple of nondescript rooms in a strip shopping center. I was one of a dozen or so college-aged kids there, all equally mystified about what we had gotten ourselves into (this was pre-internet, so we couldn't easily research Vector beforehand). We all sat down in folding chairs that were lined up in rows facing the front of the room, and then the show began. A guy came out and started his spiel about what a great company Vector was, and how selective they were in who they agreed to interview, and so forth. About 20 minutes later, we finally found out what the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was all about: selling Cutco knives. Vector Marketing, it turned out, was simply the sales and marketing arm of Cutco.

Despite the fact that my folks still had the better part of a case of lotion soap remaining at home, I was intrigued. The guy made it sound so easy. By the end of the interview/pep rally, everyone in the room was convinced that the knives really would sell themselves.

A few days later, I found myself back in that same nondescript room for training, along with most of the same kids who had been in the interview/pep rally session (guess their selection process wasn't really that selective). It was then that we began our initiation into all things Cutco.

First we learned the features -

  • the "patented Double-D edge" of the serrated knives (never needs sharpening!)

  • the thermo-resin handle with 3 rivets (not just 2 like most knives!)

  • the full tang construction (once we learned what a tang was, we were impressed)

Then we learned the tricks -

  • how to use the Super Shears to cut a penny into a copper corkscrew

  • how to use the "patented Double-D edge" of the serrated knife to slice through shoe leather

  • how to use the French Chef's knife to chop vegetables without chopping fingers

Next, we all went through an exercise - we were all instructed to write down the names of everyone that we knew - everyone. After we each compiled our lengthy list, the trainer explained that the list represented our "sphere of influence", which was Cutco-speak for people we could try and sell knives to.

Sphere of influence in hand, we were then ready to learn the technique -

  • first, call people on the list to get an appointment for a product demonstration (by calling for an appointment, there was technically no telemarketing, and no door-to-door selling)

  • then, do the demo, explaining that it was "practice" for us and that there was no expectation of them buying anything

  • at the end of the demo, after counting on the magic of the copper corkscrew and cut shoe leather to induce a sale despite the "practice" nature of the visit, we were to obtain from the customer a list of friends and neighbors who might be interested in the product

  • then, telephone the friends and neighbors and explain that "Mrs. so-and-so" had suggested that we call....

After about a week of this, I chucked it and worked construction for the rest of the summer. As far as I'm concerned, Cutco makes a fine knife, and the company is perfectly legitimate (although there is certainly disagreement on both points). The whole thing just made me feel sleazy, and life's too short for that.

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