Selling life insurance door to door was the second most humiliating job in the world. And it was riddled with problems, not the least of which was people who didn’t want to buy.
One Spring evening, at the beginning of my career, I set out on a personal sales call. I had just completed an entire week of training so my confidence level was high. And it needed to be because I was going solo this time.
I spun my tires all the way to the top of the gravel driveway and parked next to the trailer. As far as I was concerned, this sale was in the bag. A nice young couple with two small kids were inside anxiously waiting for me to show them the plan and have them write a check to the company after they signed on the dotted line.
I may have been overdressed. I didn’t see anyone else in the park wearing a black suit with a bow tie. But to me it was a statement. Plus it went well with my leather project folder that held all the numbers I would share over the next forty five minutes. Just a few steps across the mud and I was safely onto the porch.
I offered a quick knock on the door as I put on my most knowledgeable expression. A friendly look with a slight frown to convey the seriousness of the matter. I was ready for the grand entrance.
Maybe they didn’t hear me? I waited a full minute, then knocked again as a courtesy.
I didn’t want to be obnoxious but in a 12×60 space, the sound of knuckles against a hollow door eked into every crook and cranny. It’s a metal box for heavens sake, where else would it go?
A full two minutes passed and reality sank in.
How could they do this? We spoke on the phone. We have an appointment. The nerve of these people not to be here. One more pointless rap on the door only this time it was less courteous. What did it matter?
I turned to walk away.
But wait, what is that I hear? Do I seriously hear the whispering sounds of insurance evaders on the other side of the wall?
“Be perfectly still and he’ll go away,” they were surely saying. What they did to keep the kids quiet I will never know. They must have spent more on duct tape than a policy.
Their plan could only work for a short period of time. How long would a reasonable salesman wait on your porch? Three minutes? Five if he was desperate. Seven if he was obstinate. Their big mistake, as I see it, was to leave a chair on the porch. For that gave me a place to sit.
Have you ever noticed how as the sun begins to set, the shadows move ever so slowly to the east? Or how bugs fly around like they have somewhere to go but then they land for a second or two and start all over? These are the kinds of thoughts that ran through my mind as I observed life from the porch that evening. Serious thoughts, some silly, interrupted only by the occasional whimper and a “shhh.”
When the chair was too uncomfortable to manage and I had exhausted all the crisscross leg positions, I left. But not for long. I drove to the bottom of the hill, made a u-turn and spun my way back up just in time to catch the family exiting the driveway.
As I pulled up beside their station-wagon, the man rolled his window down and said, “We ain’t gonna be able to buy that inshorance.”
I knew that.
I learned a very important lesson that evening which was made clearer in later years as I became a serious student of relationship building. Our job, whether in business, friendships, or family, is never to convince people to buy things they don’t want or do things they don’t want to do.
We serve others best buy helping them get the products or services that benefit them the most. Our objective is to serve and help and when we do that, it always comes back to us somehow. When they win, we win.
Always win. Never sell.
Hopefully the young couple learned something as well. If an offer is not in your best interest or not the right time, find a way to politely say so. Be straight up and honest. That saves a lot of time and heartache.
And so good was delivered from the clutches of a very awkward situation, both for me and the couple. These are simple lessons of life that can only be learned by experience and we’re better for it.
The kids are probably still in therapy.