In 1969, my parents moved from Missouri where my dad had been stationed in the Army, to our first house in Penfield, NY. It was a cute little house on a circular, dead-end street where kids could play without any fear of speeding cars.
One summer evening my father returned home from a full day at his pediatric practice. After hugging his almost three-year-old, and six-month-old sons, he asked my mother about her day. My mother described the details of a normal day and then added “oh, and this nice young man stopped by selling magazines.”
“Did you buy any?” asked my father. “In fact I did,” replied mom. “I got a great deal on a subscription to Parents Magazine.”
“Parents Magazine?!?” my father exclaimed in disbelief. “You do know that I’m a board certified pediatrician, right?”
My mother stood quietly. My father continued, “I guess one year of Parents Magazine won’t be too bad.” Sheepishly my mother added “um, maybe more like five years.”
“FIVE YEARS?!?!” my dad shrieked. “Let me guess, he was selling magazines to put himself through college?”
With surprise in her voice my mother said, “actually yes, how did you know that?”
My mother had fallen victim to one of the oldest sales ploys known to man. The magazine salesman had so convinced my mother of his noble intentions that she, not only purchased something from him, but a large volume of something that she in fact did not need at all.
Several years ago I was driving home from a full Thursday as the Director of Sales and Marketing for a CD & DVD manufacturer. Our street is called Hillrise Drive, and as the name suggests, there is a substantial hill involved in the geography.
As I slowly drove up the hill, I saw the telltale sign of a door-to-door salesman walking down the hill towards me. From his white oxford shirt and red tie to his sensible shoes and clipboard, this guy was selling something.
The little voice inside my head said, “I sure hope Emily didn’t buy whatever that guy was selling.”
This, by the way, is a common sight in our neighborhood in all but the snowiest months. So common it is, that more than once I’ve driven right past my own house and wasted fifteen minutes just “driving around” to avoid a direct encounter with such a person. As you will soon learn, that fifteen minutes is not at all wasted.
Two minutes after passing “captain clipboard” I walked into our kitchen. Emily was doing something at the sink with her right hand while holding our youngest Lawrence on her left hip. She look right at me and said, “you’re going to kill me.”
“I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the guy in the white shirt and red tie I saw walking down the street, right? What did you buy?”
Well, she hadn’t actually purchased anything. What she had done was make an appointment to “just get an estimate” for replacement windows.
Now, in her defense, we had been talking about replacing the original 1971, drafty windows in the house, but I really don’t think she had any idea what she’d just done.
For anyone who has seen the 1987 movie “Tin Men,” you know what I’m talking about.
I immediately proclaimed that she had just given away at least an hour and a half of my life that I will never get back. She laughed, telling me that I was being ridiculous and that she had only made an appointment with an estimator who was coming the following Tuesday. “It will probably only take fifteen minutes” she said, “you’re overreacting.” Only I knew that I wasn’t.
The next Tuesday was hot. Not Africa hot nor Arizona hot, but plenty hot for Rochester, NY… it was probably ninety-five degrees with humidity to match.
As promised, at exactly 7:00pm, “Quentin” rang the doorbell.
He was a large man, and by large I mean both tall and, well; let’s just say that Quentin wasn’t missing too many meals. He was dressed in two-thirds of a gray three-piece suit, a dress shirt but no tie. In one hand he held a briefcase and in the other a sample window.
I opened the door, welcoming him into our home. As I did so, I heard the fading sound of Emily’s voice cry out “I’m taking the kids upstairs for a bath.” Remember when she said, “you’re going to kill me?” Well, I was seriously starting to consider it.
From the sweat on his brow and patchy appearance of his shirt, it was clear that Quentin was feeling the heat. I was however grateful that the missing third of the suit was the jacket.
He opened with two classic sales moves. First he asked to use our phone so he could “check in” with his sales manager. I motioned towards the phone, and as he walked across the kitchen, he asked for a glass of water.
Both of these things are meant to establish that he is a person just like me, with a micro-managing boss and basic human needs like water. On the surface it looks innocent enough, but this is stuff straight out “Psychological Selling 101.”
He made his call, dialing seven numbers and talking into the phone. I can’t say if there was anyone at the other end, but it didn’t really matter, I was on to this guy. He drank the entire glass of water in two gulps and then suggested we sit in the living room for a “chat.” Just an estimate, she said – if only!
I sat down on the couch and Quentin, wasted no time getting to phase two – establishing trust. He asked about my work. He asked about our kids. He asked about Emily’s work. Now when somebody does that I typically answer, “she works at the children’s hospital.” Most people assume she is a nurse and that is the end of the conversation. But not Quentin, he pressed on asking follow up questions until I really had no choice to disclose that my wife is a doctor.
If you can avoid it, never admit to a salesperson that one of you is a doctor.
Of course this is a piece of information that I suspect Quentin already had, but it is part of the game we were playing. All this talk about our family, our lives, and the attached details was foundation for the phase three I was about to endure.
Quentin pulled a pad of estimating sheets out of his briefcase along with a tape measure. We walked from room to room, measuring windows. As we did this, Quentin posed seemingly innocent questions about gas and electric bills, safety, comfort, the environment and a whole host of other topics. He asked them in such a way that you couldn’t help but say yes to just about every one.
He may as well have asked me “so, how do you feel about wife-beating and child abuse?” Not a lot of wiggle room there.
This phase of the psychological sales process is designed to establish that Quentin and I are two smart people who agree on a wide variety of topics. We finished measuring all nineteen windows in the house and now it was technical demo time.
He showed me his sample window, first by operating it and then disassembling it. He tied all the features of the window back to the many topics he had raised earlier, making statements like, “see this triple weather-stripping here, it will prevent those uncomfortable drafts we were talking about.”
From his briefcase he produced a small heat lamp, which he used to demonstrate how micro-film coatings on the windows would keep the heat of the sun outside. He made me put my hand right next to the lamp (which felt hot) then he put the window between my hand and the lamp. As you might suspect, it wasn’t as hot, though I’m betting if we did the same experiment with one of the windows I was looking to replace the result would have been about the same.
At this point I should tell you that Quentin was not representing any famous window manufacturer like Andersen, Pella or Jeld-Wen, nor was he representing one of the many well-respected local manufacturers of replacement windows…no sir. Quentin was here to sell me windows made by Schüco, which according to him was, “the largest window manufacturer in Europe.” What, you haven’t heard of them? I’m shocked.
By now more than an hour had gone by and Emily was running out of things to do to stay hidden. She stood at the sink washing dishes, as slowly as humanly possible, as the two window warriors entered the kitchen.
Quentin and I sat down at the kitchen table so he could calculate our window estimate. He suggested that I get some water for both of us. Why the hell not I thought.
I sat patiently as he worked through the estimating worksheet that resembled an IRS 1040 form. After about ten minutes, Quentin asked if he could borrow a calculator to “double check his math.” Since we were now buddies I obliged, but doesn’t it seem a bit odd that he managed to bring a heat lamp while forgetting something as simple as a dollar store calculator. Trust me, this was no mistake, it was all part of the routine.
Before Quentin would give me the magic number, he pulled out a white, one-inch, three-ring binder. He opened it up and turned it around so I could see each sheet-protector clad page face-up. Point by point, he basically recounted the previous eighty minutes of my life saying things like:
“So you would agree with me that safety is important, and that it would be good to reduce the chance of any of your four children falling out of a second story window.”
“So, you wouldn’t disagree that the windows you currently have in your home are costing you money and are at odds with both the comfort and safety of your family?”
Seriously? What kind of monster would disagree with statements like this? I swear I am not making any of this up. It was like I was in a Saturday Night Live sketch, but with an audience of one, my wife, who was still at the kitchen sink, on the edge of an aneurysm trying to hold back her laughter. I was in door-to-door salesman hell, and she thought it was hilarious.
When Quentin finished his well-polished medicine-show presentation, he revealed the “special pricing” he was able to offer us to replace the nineteen windows in our average suburban box. $35,000!
As this figure crossed his lips and permeated the room, I looked over at Emily, only to see her start making that motion that dogs do just before vomiting.
Now, as someone who has spent a good chunk of his career in sales, I have a better than average poker face when the negotiations get underway, but his number was so far off what I was expecting that I burst out laughing before I even had a chance to think about it.
I looked right at Quentin and said, “if that deal comes with a free Toyota Camry, it’s still too expensive.”
Without pausing I grabbed my calculator, punched in the numbers and continued, “Quentin, that’s more than $1,800 a window, does that sound reasonable to you?”
He truly looked shocked at my reaction, but after a moment he went right back to the binder trying to salvage the situation by reminding me of all the very important items on which we couldn’t help but agree. Emily ran out of the kitchen to hide.
Quentin then asked to use my phone again, so he could call his manager to see of there was anything they could do. After a few minutes he hung up the phone saying, “I have good news.” With a large smile on his face he said, “if you’re willing to sign the contract today, I can do the deal for $29,900!”
I thanked Quentin for his time and rather sternly wrapped up the evening by telling him pointedly, “we don’t have anywhere near that kind of money for new windows.”
As he was leaving, he did warn me that we would likely receive follow-up calls from his manager’s office. As his large frame lumbered down our driveway and into the sunset, I found Emily sitting halfway up the staircase giggling uncontrollably. I politely informed her that it in fact had been an hour and a half I would never get back, and that she must agree to answer any phone calls from the effing Schüco window company.
Two years later we did have our windows replaced, by a local contractor. Total price: $5,300.
Schüco Windows eventually shut down their US operation, leaving thousands of angry customers with nowhere to turn for warranty repairs or parts. You can read all about it right here.
Here’s the thing. Every person trying to sell you something will use tricks to push you in the direction of a “yes.” In most cases you won’t even notice it happening. Just like most states require a “waiting period” between expressing interest in, and the actual purchase of, a handgun; we should all voluntarily impose a personal waiting period when making anything but a routine purchase. This is a great thing to teach your kids; now.
No matter how clever a salesperson’s approach, in the end it is your money and your decision. Always be willing to walk away from a deal, you’ll be shocked at how fast numbers start dropping when you actually stand up and head for the door.
A while back, I wrote about The Power Of The Clipboard. This power is real and when used for good can change the world. So with that in mind, I leave you with one final question…
So, you would you agree with me that answering the door for a well-dressed man holding a clipboard on a warm summer evening is a bad idea?
Yeah, I thought you might.
Copyright © 2015 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (The Power Is Real)