Twice a year, the insurance company I worked for would get all its salespeople together to receive persuasion tricks, kiss the ground where our top performers walked on, and eat carefully measured and mass-produced fillets with steamed-to-cartoonish-depression lonely carrots.
The sessions covered tactics working for other salespeople or allowed veterans to talk of what it was like to sell in the old days when your widgets were a rotary dial phone, a Rolodex, and a phone book.
On one of these “sales summits,” we took our seats for the final keynote presentation of the day, where the motivational speaker had Frankensteined a presentation with inspirational memes, concepts from Psych 101, and jokes that had been very popular in the past but had not been made popular by him.
This presenter had in his repertoire several of Seinfeld’s classic jokes.
I knew because I had listened to Jerry Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You for the Last Time” CD exactly forty-eight and a half times.
This hack didn’t even have the courtesy to say, “You know what? You are laughing here today as a courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld. I’m getting paid for this presentation, but I owe to him seventy-five percent of my material.”
People didn’t seem to know the material was plagiarized, or they didn’t care.
Perhaps they didn’t harbor a secret desire to meet Seinfeld. Maybe that’s it. Maybe my righteousness stemmed from hoping to meet Seinfeld and go on his show ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,’ where I would mention how upsetting it was that somebody used his joke in a sales presentation.
I’m not a comedian or looking to become one. I don’t even like cars.
My car died about two weeks ago, and when the mechanic called me, he talked to me with the soft voice you use when someone’s mother dies.
“Hey, Darrell.”“Heeeeey, buuuddy!” “How are you doing?”“I’m good. But unfortunately, your CRV is not. She has given you everything she had; she lived a full life, 270,000 miles full, and now you need to let her go. Time for a new car, buddy.”
He told me everything wrong with the car, and there were mentions of radiator fluid, a fan, and a gasket. It was all in a cryptic language I was never taught, and he could’ve just as easily told me, “The gnome running the conveyor belt in the distribution center inside one of your three motors died of a heart attack, and they are hard to replace because no one in this generation wants to work. Thanks, Obama!”
I do like coffee. I LOOOOOOVE coffee!!!
So I hope Jerry will knock at my door and walk me to the car he chose for me, a Chevrolet Bel Air Plymouth Lincoln — if that car sounds made up, it is because it is. I told you, I know nothing about cars.
Then, we would drive somewhere where we could order a dark roast drip from Guatemala, and I would regale him with my knowledge of how delicious Salvadoran coffee is. We will laugh at my sales training and how upsetting it is that people can’t come up with their jokes.
The end of the sales workshop was looming close, and the only thing standing between us and our carefully measured eight-ounce filet mignon was the speaker’s closing statements.
Out of the speaker’s pocket comes a $100 bill. He shifts the focus of his talk from belief to how the intrinsic value of things doesn’t change because things look a little banged up.
Then he asked us if we wanted that $100 bill.
We wanted it.
But in a room full of salespeople, there was a general agreement that you must put a facade between the $100 bill and the reason the client is parting with it.
It is, after all, the only thing differentiating thieves from salespeople — the stories we tell so people part happily with their money. It’s also why they don’t return asking for it when they freely give it away.
So we shouted we wanted the bill, but we stayed put machinating ways in which we were going to help this seminar speaker part with his money. The sales veterans were scanning the room, searching for the geographical location to set up the story, the trap, and the grab.
The speaker crumpled the bill. He asked us if we still wanted the money. We all wanted the money, even if taking out the wrinkles would take a few seconds. That was just an inconvenience. The net benefit analysis of the per-hour cost of de-wrinkling the bill against grabbing a hundred dollars, not in our pockets, was positive.
As the speaker went down the list of things he planned to do to the bill, he jolted a memory buried in my brain. I was reminded of a time when I had just moved back to the United States. Of a time when I thought white picket fences were something to aspire to — even though I didn’t get the appeal, mainly since, back then, I lived in a townhouse in a bad area of San Diego, and the only fences I saw were the sound walls separating my neighborhood from the freeway.
A time when I would feel elated and full of hope if somebody told me, “Come to my free seminar, then come to my $500 seminar, then come to my $10,000 masterclass.”
And in that $500 seminar, they would’ve shared the secret door to riches with me: “Let’s do this $100 exercise. If you win the money, it’s proof of great things to come. If you don’t, then clearly, something is wrong with you. And you need this course even more than the person who won the $100 bill. Because hey, that could’ve been you. But it wasn’t.”
The memory of that time reminded me of what I needed to do.
I slowly made my way up from sitting and walked discreetly towards the speaker. If anybody was paying attention, they probably thought I was going up to the speaker to tell him to give the poor bill a rest. “Pocket it, buddy, and let’s go to dinner to eat a salesperson’s favorite dinner: filet mignon and Kool-aid.”
The pink Kool-Aid was served generously throughout the day, but we needed one more heaping serving to ensure we didn’t choke on our dinner.
But you and I know what I was doing.