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hawker with attitude

I hope you house burns down…

As far as parting comments go, I would not recommend you use that next time you leave a sales meeting without the order. A recent run in with an overly aggressive hawker (door to door salesman) supports my belief that oftentimes people buy people not products.

I was busy with work when the doorbell rang, I thought it might be my elderly neighbour who occasionally pops over when she needs my help so was surprised to see a burly young guy in a tracksuit with a backpack clutching a crumpled piece of laminated card.

He proceeded to tell me that he was from [name of northern town] had previously been in prison and had been given a chance to get back on his feet selling door to door.

I was prepared to give him the time of day and so he showed me what he had in his bag, I mentioned that someone had been around a while ago and that I had bought something from them in the past. When he opened the bag I spotted the style of cleaning mitt that I had bought on the previous occasion and remembered that I had never actually used it…

Did I want a kneeling mat for gardening? No thanks.

Did I want an ironing board cover? No thanks the ironing board cover is still good.

Did I want a long handled windscreen cleaner for the car? No thanks my mother-in-law gave me one for Christmas last year (no, really she did).

It was getting awkward and he was getting tetchy…

I’m not sure I really need anything…

How about a radiator/venetian blind cleaner?

Err how much is that?  £9.99

I didn’t have a lot of cash on me and was not inclined to spend £10 it on something I didn’t really need that I had been unaware of up until 2 minutes ago.

So I told him that and mentioned that I didn’t really need the cleaning mitt that I bought from the last guy but I bought it any way because I thought it might be useful.

This was probably a mistake because the conversation took a bit of a nose dive…

He got aggressive.

If you bought something you didn’t need from the other guy why won’t you buy something from me?

I told you I don’t have the cash.

I’ll take a cheque.

I don’t want to give you a cheque.

He launched in to a diatribe about society and prejudice. Asking why I felt that he didn’t deserve a second chance and how arrogant everybody was around here because most people hadn’t even opened the door to him.

Surely it’s better than robbing houses or stealing cars?

The fact that I had actually given him the time of day and stopped whatever I was doing to talk to him was not any solace. He repeated the question: Why wouldn’t I buy something I didn’t need from him when I had bought something I didn’t need from someone else in the same situation?

I thought better of breaking down exactly what he had done wrong and offering him some selling tips but he didn’t seem to be in a particularly receptive mood by that point.

Fortunately he realised that the conversation was going nowhere, so when I suggested that he should leave it was quite clear that he was pretty pissed off when he fired off his parting shot:

I hope your house burns down.

Unsurprisingly I was pretty rattled by that. I consider myself to be quite non-confrontational but if I am at home with my children and someone starts threatening me – the chimp brain kicks it and adrenaline starts to flow. After quick mental “coin toss” I decided that the best course of action was to close the door and move on (the alternative would not have worked out well I am sure).

The encounter took be by surprise, as I had only yesterday delivered a training seminar to a group of small business owners discussing the importance of developing trust and goodwill before you can sell. This was a seminar on branding not sales techniques by the way but there are some universal truths that apply in every situations from the doorstep hawker to the boardroom pitch:

  1. Get to the point
    Leading with where he was from and what he had done was not the most important thing. I needed to know very quickly why he was here and what did he want.
  2. Empathy NOT sympathy
    One of my first jobs as a 20-something graduate just back from travelling was working as a field agent for a marketing promotions company. I can make it sound important but I was just going door to door selling so I immediately empathised with him but that empathy dried up pretty quickly because all he wanted was pity.
  3. You can’t get out of a hole by digging
    You can’t force someone to like you so insulting them and their intelligence is a very difficult place to recover from. If it isn’t going well the best thing to do is to walk away.
  4. I don’t have to buy it just because you want to sell it to me
    His priority was to sell stuff, my priority was to get my work finished so that I could make dinner for the children. There is already a conflict that needs to be resolved but this cannot happen unless you disconnect yourself from the outcome of the transaction. This is the big difference between creating and opportunity to buy as opposed to being desperate to sell.
  5. You are not selling the product you are selling the benefit
    Below is a link to a masterclass in instant rapport building from an exceptionally charismatic salesman who skilfully mixes wit and humour with classic sales techniques.
    It is a truism but people buy from people and if they can pick up on the “what’s in it for me” the product sells itself.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

I’m off to buy a fire extinguisher..