Bob oozed confidence as he bounded out of his gleaming white '58 Cadillac convertible, accompanied by a stunning platinum blonde "companion" named Celeste. Bob was a sales manager ... a Titan of Selling ... I had agreed to meet at a restaurant to discuss a sales job with his fine, reputable Japanese company, Goushe Electronics.
A college junior, I was not-eatin' broke and hungry for productive employment. I'd answered an ad that sought "self-starter" types who wanted to make lots of money with sure-fire leads and a great product ... stereo hi-fi sets. "Come on down," the ad proclaimed. "We'll train you how to sell."
Tall and tan, Bob sported razor-cut, receding hair that looked like it was brushed with buttered toast. His "power outfit" was a plum-colored Edwardian-style velvet suit, a flashy yellow tie, and yellow alligator shoes. Impressive.
Bob wore wrap-around sunglasses with the mirrors on the inside ... he called them "shades" ... insisting that you should never let your prospects see your eyes ... the window of the soul. His soul was a snake pit.
Bob was one of those hard-charging, steely-eyed, tub-thumping sales managers who could turn anyone who could fog a mirror into a super salesman. As soon as he spotted me, seated near the restaurant's front window, Bob started exuding about Goushe Electronics, maker of Japan's finest combination cocktail table-record player.
My job would be to sell to young couples, single working girls, and nurses - excellent prospects. Since I was single, lacking social life, and cash-poor, his pitch excited me.
Bob launched into his description of the easy canned sales pitch that would reduce hesitant prospects to quivering lumps and make them claw in my pocket for my fountain pen. "It's simple," he insisted. "After some small talk to build some trust, you get right to the business of price. Since it's a beautiful cocktail table, and since our recessed turntable produces such great sounds, they're going to be concerned - right up front - about affordability."
"So we tell 'em - right off - that the retail price is $795. But you mention that once only, mind you, and then drop the price to $495. Tell 'em we've eliminated the middleman and want them to have real value at a bargain price. Okay? Mention the $495 price just once and then hit 'em with the $5-a-week bit. Here's how that works."
"You ask them if they've ever squandered $5 a week on something. Of course they have! Then you insist that by investing a mere $5 a week, they can enjoy our beautiful cocktail table-record player, instead. Then, to sweeten the pot, you throw in our starter selection of ten free records of their choice. By that time, they can't resist and will beg you to sign."
Bob's enthusiastic spiel convinced me I could make big money. Never mind that the product was way over-priced, made of cheap pressed wood, and incapable of producing quality stereophonic sound. And forget the fact that the ten free records we threw in were always low-demand, out-of-print losers that nobody was buying.
Armed with Wildroot Creme Oil and a pair of cheap plastic shades, I imitated Bob and started my summer sales job. Some telemarketers landed me some appointments and I contacted everyone I knew about other prospects. Newspaper ads attracted other appointments.
I earned $75 for every signed contract I gave Bob. Soon the money started rolling in. After just two weeks ... impressed by my zeal and success ... Bob made me Sales Manager. Now I would earn a $75 over-ride for each contract my six-member sales team delivered - plus my usual $75 for each personal sale. By the end of the summer, I was "rich" ... earning over $6,000.
Thanks to Bob, I'd received some practical education in the "fine art" of selling. He'd really impressed me.
Lesson learned? What you see isn't necessarily what you get - especially when you believe the scintillating spiels of hard-sell gurus like Bob.
For many years, I felt guilty about how much money I'd earned selling that trashy product to so many trusting customers. But I also learned what not to do later in life, when I became a sales manager for other, more socially responsible companies.
I also learned that when you detect something new, spotless, and perfect seeming - you should always "look behind the paint." And if it's rotten, show it up for what it really is.
Repentant former Goushe Electronics salesman Robert Brake invites other "victims" of sleazy salesmen to reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.