The condensed version of today: it started out horribly, and then got worse
Am I being subjected to some sort of cosmic punishment? Does reincarnation exist, and was I evil in a prior life or something? Days like today bring these questions to the forefront. It started out with a lengthy trip to a part of Suffolk County outside my usual sales territory. As I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, a lapsed customer in Opossum Hollow named Chauncey said that he would mention my products to his workers. He also said that his brother Farnsworth ran another branch of the company and was more involved in insurance matters. Chauncey said that I should speak to Farnsworth, and see about making a presentation to Farnsworth’s workers. This sounded pretty good to me, referrals are an ideal way of getting business, and few things are more effective than making a group presentation.
I eagerly made the long trek to Farnsworth’s location, not really minding the fact that I could practically see my car’s fuel gauge dropping. When I arrived, I introduced myself to Farnsworth and said that his brother Chauncey in Opossum Hollow had referred me to him. Just the way we’re supposed to do. Imagine my dismay when Farnsworth snarled “I’m not interested!” Somewhat taken aback, I asked for permission to speak to his workers, and got an immediate and distinctly non-courteous rejection. Chauncey had been a very likable guy, could this schmuck actually be his brother? My fuel-consuming trip had been a complete waste. As I was well outside my normal territory I couldn’t even try to cut my losses by canvassing nearby businesses.
My woes were just beginning. Last week I had stopped by another business in Opossum Hollow and spoke to the owner, Fenwick, whose policies had lapsed just in the last few months. He had been too tied up to speak with me at the time, but asked me to call Clarabelle, his office manager, and set up a time to come back. In the parking lot of a 7-11, where I stopped to drown by Farnsworth-induced sorrows with a Diet Pepsi, I called Fenwick’s business and asked for Clarabelle … and ran straight into one of the most evil gatekeepers imaginable. After I identified myself and my company, she demanded – in a most unpleasant manner – to know what business I had in wanting to talk to Clarabelle. When I told her that Fenwick had suggested I call, she did not appear to believe me. It was really, really hard for me not to get angry. She never did tell me whether Clarabelle was available, just that she’d let her know that I called. It’s now more than 48 hours after this encounter, and Clarabelle has not called. I would be most surprised if she ever does. Count this as yet another lost sales opportunity.
Even after these two miserable encounters, I was still holding out hope that today would turn out well. I had a 6pm sales call out in Chipmunk Junction, the customer had expressed interest in a high-commission disability policy, and I had called him yesterday to confirm. Once I began my presentation every sign pointed to a sale. The customer was pleasant but not overly friendly (if a customer acts like you’re his very best buddy it’s a guarantee that there’ll be no sale), he expressed concern about his lack of disability coverage, he asked a number of questions indicative of serious interest, and last but not least the Notepad of Doom was nowhere to be seen. I spent some time showing the various coverage options and the associated premiums, and when prompted he selected the option that would best serve his needs.
My hopes came to a shattering end the moment I took out an application form. Back when I was in training with my manager, a customer had acted downright frightened when faced with the prospect of filling out an application. It was the very same story today. The customer acted as if applying for an insurance policy would be an irretrievable, life-changing commitment that would separate his life into before and after phases. I told him that it would take only one month’s premium to get started, and if he changed his mind within 30 days we’d return that payment no questions asked. When this reassurance got me nowhere, I brought up a last-ditch response for saving a failing sale: I told the customer that there was no long-term binding commitment on his part, that his billing would be on a month-to-month basis, and that if at any time in the future he decided he no longer wanted or needed the policy he could just stop paying with no liability whatsoever. This response is not to be used lightly because it can lead to more canceled policies and more commission reversals, but I figured it was my only chance of saving the deal. It didn’t work. The customer muttered the typical lines – Let me think about it, Let me talk it over with my wife – and when I asked him when I could check back, he gave the “I’ll call you” response that makes it certain that he won’t call.
It was a long drive back from Chipmunk Junction, especially now that it was dark and had begun to snow, but had I made a nice sale I wouldn’t have minded. As I had failed miserably, however, the drive seemed even longer than usual. I called my manager and told him what had happened, and got a small measure of comfort when he said that based on my description even a highly experienced agent probably wouldn’t have done any better. Something obviously had spooked this customer, and when people are in thrall to fear, they are not receptive to logic.
So that was my day. An in-person encounter with a thoroughly unpleasant man, a telephone encounter with a vile harridan of a gatekeeper, and a promising-looking sales call derailed by a customer’s fears. Oh, did I also mention that I must have used up at least $30 of gasoline? If there was any saving grace, it’s that I was able to set up a couple of things for next week in Chipmunk Junction, a sales call with a hard-to-pin-down customer and a group presentation to the employees of a small service business. These don’t make up for my setbacks, however.