Thursday, December 15, 2005

Marketing and Sales

I live in a little neighborhood in Toronto. Unlike the urban sprawl of suburbia and the subdivisions, my neighborhood is near the downtown core. It's old and has character. It's a neighborhood similar to the one I grew up in.

In my neighborhood you can actually see people in the streets going about their way, if it's children walking to school (you heard me right, I said walking), moms strolling with their babies, or people hurrying to work.
In my neighborhood we know are neighbors by name. On hot summer evenings we meet outside, on our porches and have a beer (or two).
The children in my neighborhood don't need their parents to drive them to their friends, they can just walk, and on Saturday evenings the teenagers, too young to go clubbing, hang out in the streets and alleys, making a little noise when they pass under your window. I love that noise.
In my neighborhood we have a few corner stores, mom and pop shops and even a little cafe.
There are two supermarkets I can walk to, one outside, surrounded by other stores, another in a dingy malls.
I can also walk from my neighborhood to one of the trendiest places in town, a street full of restaurants (mostly Greek) and shops.
I love my neighborhood.

Occasionally, and it flows naturally from the makeup of our neighborhood, kids ring my doorbell for donations. Sometimes I ignore the ring, sometimes I go ready with some money to the door. Of course, we have salespeople too. But I can usually tell by the ring or the sound they make as they climb the four stairs leading to my front door.

Well, and this is where my story really begins, I was all alone at home the other day when I heard the door bell ring followed the screeches from the screen door hinges as someone opened it, followed by such bangs on my door I would only expect the Gestapo or KGB to use when coming in the middle of the night to haul people out, people who are never seen again.

I was certain something happened. No one, but no one would knock like that unless they had a good reason. Perhaps there was an accident and someone needed my help, perhaps the police were in search of a fugitive criminal. The thoughts ran wild in my head while I climbed the stairs to reach the door.

I did not open it.

"Yes?" I said from behind the door. I have a clear glass window on the door that allows me to see the person outside. He was no policeman but he wore a kind of uniform.

"Ma'am, I'm from the utility company," he said showing me a fancy name tag.

There's a gas leak, I thought.

"I wanted to make sure you are protected---" for sure a gas leak "---in your bill from gas price increases."

"What?" I said, confused. It didn't sound like a gas leak. In fact, he didn't really sound concerned at all, only very aggressive.

"I wanted to make sure it says on your bill---"

I looked more closely at his name tag. It belonged to a utility company, not my utility company as he alluded to. "No, thank you," I said.

"---you're protected from price increases---"

Remember that I didn't open the door? Well, that was his lucky day because if the door was open I'd probably have given him quite a beating using one of the shoes always near the door, or at least a good shouting right there. But I'm such a wimpy wuss. Instead, I said, "I'm protected," which seemed to be the only thing I could say that would make him disappear and then I walked away.

He, in turn, shouted at me something like 'are you sure?' before finally leaving.

I'm only sorry I didn't take a better look at his name or the gas company he represents. I would have complained, but not to them. They couldn't care less, I'm sure. In fact, I'm certain they teach this scare tactic to their sales people. I have no doubt.

Which brings me to today's topic - sales and marketing. It seems that sales and marketing people have lost all scruples. Unethical conduct, dehumanizing ads, subversive practices, not to mention privacy intrusions with telemarketing or door-to-door sales.

Since I don't usually rant here, I will leave the rest of my opinions on the subject to the political blog I share with a few others. I did come to the conclusion, though, that I prefer junk mail to door to door sales people, believe it or not.

Oh, and compliments of Ryan, here's a list of things you can say/do when a telemarketer calls you.



Carter said...

1.) Oh, how different life is in Canada! Door-to-door salesmen vanished years ago in America. There were these problems with dogs and guns and such.

2.) Did sales and marketing ever have scruples to begin with? I have my doubts.

3.) My favorite response to telemarketers: hang up. Sometimes I cuss first. I'm not going to waste my time with them.

Sounds like a wonderful neighborhood. I'm envious.

Melly said...

1)Carter, that's funny. I didn't even think about that.
2)Maybe they never had any scruples, but don't you feel it's all becoming more and more invasive?
3)Yeah, I'm a total b*tch and hang up too.

Indeed, I think it's one of the only neighborhoods left like that in TO.

Jean said...

Maybe I'm too skeptical, but I'd be willing to bet he didn't represent a real gas company. That sounded like a scam to get into your house and either rob you or worse. Continue to be cautious.

Melly said...

Oh, he was legit alright. I saw him going from house to house in our block.
And I already had guys like that coming from "a" gas company so they do do that around here.
But yes, caution should always be exercised (even if I do leave the doors wide open in the summer time :)

Deborah said...

I grew up in a neighborhood like yours. It's too bad we can't allow our kids to walk to school anymore or keep our windows open on those really hot days. I'm envious.

Deborah said...

P.S. We get the occasional door-to-door salesman, but most of the time they like to annoy us with the phone. My husband calls them Salesholes.

Paul Darcy said...

And did you know that if this person had gotten your account number (this is their little game) - they can change you over to their service on your behalf without you even knowing - until you get your next gas bill of course.

Never, ever, ever give somebody your hydro, phone, gas, anything, account number for that very reason.

melly said...

Dalesholes, I love that Deborah, LOL!

What changed that you cannot allow your kids to walk to school? Distance, your own fear or people?

melly said...

Paul, yes sir!
I will never ever give anyone my account number ;)

But no, I din't know that. I knew that the phone company can charge me for all kinds of services I didn't ask for simply by putting a negative option, which was now outlawed, but I didn't know about that.

rdl said...

I love the sound of your neighborhood and I'm just glad you didn't open the door. Times like these I'm glad I have my ferocious sounding dog.

Pat Kirby said...

Ew. Creepy. Here in the Alb area, there have been people using that sort of scam to get in houses and rob them.

I never answer the door. My opinion of door-to-door salesmen and telemarketers is the same. I didn't ask you to call me, trespass on my property; I don't have to be polite or even acknowledge you.

OTOH, I'm very nice to salespeople when I actually got to a store.

Deborah said...

"What changed that you cannot allow your kids to walk to school? Distance, your own fear or people?"

We have about 25,000 registered sex offenders in our county alone. Kids have been followed home by strange guys. Then there is the traffic issue. People drive so crazy around the schools that I'm surprised nobody has been run over.

Melly said...

rdl, oh, I wasn't afraid he was going to rob me, I was just mad at myself for getting dupped into his scare tactics.
Thanks for worrying :)

Melly said...

Pat, I'm 100% ceratin it wasn't a scam to get into my home. That's what so annoying about this. It was a low-level strategy for sales, very low-level - scare tactic.

It was only when I heard the knocks that I was startled, but even then I wasn't scared for me. I was afraid something had happened.

And I would like to think that as long as people are nice to me, I'm nice back :)

Melly said...

Wow, Deborah. Okay, I totally understand you now.

What was most interesting until now in this discussion though was that I found how different Canadians and Americans are. While Paul (Canadian) never doubted what I was telling, the rest of you (Americans) were sure I was naive to think the guy was an actual salesperson. Interesting, don't you think?

redchurch said...


One of the things I enjoy about studying business is that the biz world seems to fall into two categories:

The people who don't care about anyone and will do or say anything to make a buck. And...

The people who care, and actually make business thrive out of appealing to people or helping them, instead of invading their privacy or hassling them.

There are entire categories of biz books dedicated to that marked difference between the two biz worlds. I find that the brute force people also usually are poor at marketing strategy or innovation. "Just beat people over the head til they buy." is their motto.

If you're at all interested, there are some good books on the topic like Seth Godin's Permission Marketing, or Al Ries The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR.

There are many, many others. It seems the only people breaking down doors these days are the ones that don't read these books. ;)

Melly said...

redchurch, it's nice to hear that there's another side to marketing and sales because, alas, this is not the side the public usually sees.
But if there is a nicer side I'm very to hear it.

By the way, I hope you didn't take it as a personal attack on _all_ sales and marketing people. Then I would pretty much have to divorce myself having worked so much in sales and all... :)

dog1net said...

I think opening the door to a sales person has gone the way of the hitchhiker. From a few interesting experiences I've had, I don't stop or open unless I get a real strong sense that it's okay. I'm not one who likes to be cynical in that way, but society today is not what it was when I was growing up. The neighborhood you describe reminds me of the city I grew up in when I was a child. I think that's what I like about where I live now. It's a small city, but with lots of hustle and bustle downtown.

Melly said...

Scot, I love smaller cities too. Toronto, being one of the larger cities in N.America, is far too big for me. But even big cities have smaller neighborhoods, so that's my saving grace.

It's funny but after all that talk about opening the door, yesterday I was expecting friends and I was busy cooking when I heard knocks on the door. I shouted 'it's open' but the knocks continued so I ran to the door and opened it without checking. It was just a neighbour bringing me mail that was accidentally put in her mail box, but I was so startled to see her I nearly screamed.

Diddums said...

I had a similar experience here in Scotland. It was an electricity or gas salesman who wanted me to switch from my current provider. He said he wanted to see my bills so he could tell me how much I could save. I said if he left me an application form and some information, I could work it out for myself and apply in my own time (if I decided to). He wouldn't allow it, and insisted on coming in, seeing my bills so he could write out an application for me pronto. I could cancel it if I changed my mind. "Goodbye" I said. Even as I was closing the door, he shouted at me "you will lose a lot of money, you know." I shrugged, as though to say "maybe so - but that's my lookout, not yours." There was an aura of desperation from that guy - really hoped to make his sale.

Melly said...

Diddums, sounds pretty much like the same salesperson. Did he have a Canadian slurred accent??? :)

Diddums said...

They say there are strong links between Canada and Scotland :-).

Melly said...

Indeed they do, don't they? :)

Steven Sweet said...

I want to live where you live! It sounded like the neighborhood I lived in when I was growing up. Door to door sales do not happen where I live now. Grass does not grow. Traffic flows. Door locks click. People pass each other with downcast eyes. The person with the biggest house surrounded by concrete wins. That is the silent competition that happens here. It is not one I want to be a part of, but I'm here. I had to go to the "big city" to get a job. Everything costs something and help is given only if there will be a good return.

I might be a tad cyncial. Your salesman definitely made me think thief. My words to him would have been less kind. My fingers would have dialed 91 and the last 1 would be soon to follow as I asked for the last time for him to leave. I would have memorized his company and called the police as soon as he left. If he was from the utility company, I'd have a great story and this practice would end (for a moment anyway).

Marketing doesn't have to be deceptive . Seth Godin is a great source for smart and effective marketing.

Melly said...

You're right, Steven, I should have definitely paid closer attention as to what utility company he represents and complain, but I was too... don't know what... nice? Perhaps.
I'll try to remember your way of handling it for next time though, thanks :)

Oh, and don't get me wrong. Toronto can be everything. It has these old type neighborhoods like the one I live in, really bustling neighborhoods, regualr suburbia too, as well as slums, projects, and raunchy parts. Just like any other metropolitan I guess.