Before I made my pivot to the sales desk, before I knew that people on the marketing side of the newspaper business are capable of acting with just as much integrity and passion as those in the editorial department, I thought sales was a liar’s game.
I came by this impression early, back when I helmed the taps at Igor’s 24-hour bar and laundromat on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.
Among the colorful locals, drunken tourists and service-industry soldiers that filled the barstools during my shift was a separate class of customer: the timeshare salesmen — they were always men — who worked for the hotel next door. It was their job to convince the casual New Orleans tourist to make a more permanent relationship with the city, often using the phrase “vacation ownership” and making sure to keep the cocktails coming.
These guys were basically carnies: hard-drinking, fast-talking sharpies with questionable dental hygiene and a predatory instinct for the close. Their wrists and fingers dripped with jewels, their hair shiny with product and spit, the inauthenticity in their voices barely detectable behind genuine good cheer. And there was always at least a couple of them sitting around the bar.
There was Jerry, a fatuous New Jersian who spoke in raspy bullhorn blasts, who often came to Igor’s at the end of the workday and wouldn’t leave until it was time to get back to the sales desk in the morning. There was Marco, who once went on a binge so profound that on the fourth day he quite literally turned green. And there was Sammy, whose name wasn’t actually Sammy but everybody called him that because he looked so much like Sammy Davis Jr., and also because it meant that no one could remember his real name, which I myself never learned even after five years.
Sammy probably made as much money hustling on the pool tables at the back of Igor’s as he did at the timeshare desk, and he also kept his slender fingers in a few other businesses of dubious legitimacy but undeniable profitability.
But still he kept at the timeshare grift, poaching lubricated suckers off my barstools and selling them the promise of an endless vacation, as easy as slipping a flashy ring off someone else’s finger and placing it on his own.
As much as I loved those guys, I never wanted any part of a job like that. And now, after a couple years on the sales desk, I recognize the flaw to their approach.
Selling is about the buyer, not the seller. The worst thing a sales rep can do is try to get people to buy something that they don’t need.
And it’s never a good idea to out yourself in a position where you can’t use your real name.