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02/22/2004: "Birth of a Salesman"

NFT Feature|AMP|#160;|AMP|#160;During my extended unemployment spell, I applied out of desperate hope to a couple of auto dealers in the area to be an auto salesman. Those were the only time in my life that I seriously considered doing anything sales-related, because I have known for many years that I am just simply not cut out to be a salesman. This fact was hammered home way back in highschool when I got a two-month position at the local mall's Bootlegger, where I barely managed to scrape by most of the time, and on occasion utterly failed to meet their sales goal of $100/hour. Since then, just about all human interaction I've had leads me to believe that my original I'm-not-cut-out-for-sales hypothesis is correct. So why have I suddenly utterly changed my mind?

During the course of researching various alternative methods of house construction, I've run across a number of innovative and interesting building materials that are not typically found in a modern house. Some of these materials are extremely low-tech and have an ancient history of use throughout the ages, and others are about as cutting-edge as you can get in the construction industry. The products that have caught my attention the most are ones that drastically improve the efficiency of a dwelling, are made from renewable resources, are environmentally friendly, or any combination thereof. I've sent away for information on countless number of different building systems and materials, but as my preferred method of construction keeps changing every few months, I've not really acted on most of the information I've received.

That changed recently, when I found a company in the US - it seems that all the companies making innovative construction materials are located in the US - that had a range of products that interested me. As I usually do in such circumstances, I sent and e-mail off asking for more information. Instead of getting a brochure in the mail or brief reply e-mail, I actually got a phone call. It was a nice change. The guy was really nice, and described all sorts of interesting projects that he had his fingers in. We talked for a good 20 minutes, after which he promised to send me more information and hung up. I was quite satisfied, and looked forward to the information he was sending.

A few weeks later, I decided to drop another e-mail his way. Some of the other projects and products we had talked about had been percolating in my mind for a while, and I wanted to send a couple of ideas off his way. Well, this prompted another phone call from him the next day. We talked more again, getting into a bit more detail about some projects. Once again this chat catalyzed some ideas, which I sent him, which again prompted another phone call. This had gone beyond a supplier-customer relationship now, and thus we discussed making our idea sharing more formal.

Of course, now my brain is all fired up with new and exciting information, and it makes a logical but somewhat unexpected leap. These products are currently only available directly through this company in the US. At some point he's going to want to break into the Canadian market, right? That would require someone on the North side of the border doing some legwork. Going against years of personal history, I proposed that I become that person. I just volunteered to be his Canadian salesman.

Hold on, back up. What just happened? All my life experience has told me that I am not cut out to sell anything and that I am not a sales-type personality. Now in the space of a month I totally reverse that? What gives? I think what has happened was exactly what did not happen during my brief spell with Amway back in 1995. Back then, everything sounded OK (even though The Plan was pretty optimistic) but I just couldn't really care about selling cleansers, soaps, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and the like. Yes, if I sold this much and signed up this many people under me to sell this much product again, it would make me money. So what? Money is a motivator, but in that instance, and many more like it before and since, there simply wasn't enough money to motivate me to sell. I did not care one lick about the products themselves.

This is where the difference lies. Be it vitamins, soap, cars, clothing, knives, vacuums, or term life insurance, I really can't bring myself to truly care about them. Yes, you need all of those in one way or another, but do any of them really stand out against the crowd as beneficial? Necessary? Not really. And that's where my lack of motivation to sell just about anything comes from: I don't care about what I'm selling. In this instance, however, the products I'll have tweak me in a couple of ways; they are energy efficient, made from renewable and/or recyclable materials, and used in an application that I truly have a personal interest in. Suddenly I have reason to share with people why these products are good, and I can honestly tell them how they are better than what they are currently using.

Am I quitting my day job? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I fully anticipate a slow start. Not only am I new at sales, but I'm also new to the industry that will likely be my biggest customer. Yes, I've been looking into house design and construction for quite a while, but that doesn't mean I know the industry. I'm in for lots of learning. And along with industry knowledge, I have to intimately acquaint myself with the products I'll be promoting. Nothing kills confidence or perceived authority than an answer of, "Uh, I don't know." So a slow start it will be.

Of course, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have dreams of quitting my day job and doing this full-time at some point in the future. Finding an unfilled niche in the market and filling it would be a great starting point for what I have always assumed would eventually happen to me - starting my own business. Although I'm making a fairly comfortable living working for someone else, I know that real contentment and job satisfaction will come only with working for myself. If I can start down that road by selling and promoting products that I can truly believe in, that's all the better.

The above notwithstanding, nobody better make any "Willy Loman" jokes.


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