Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cap'n Ergo: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

It has come to my attention that Cap'n Ergo Jinglebollocks has taken a sales job at Walmart and feels mildly uncomfortable with it. For this, I have some advice.

I always feared sale jobs. I was convinced that I couldn't peddle snow cones in hell. I shuddered at the thought of asking strangers to part with their hard earned money for the p.o.s. that I had to sell. In school, I was the worst candy bar sales fundraiser they ever had. I couldn't get my grandmother to buy them.

Looking back on it now, I know it was because she was a diabetic.

Now I have a part-time job in a local bakery. Do you have any idea how hard it is to sell doughnuts in a tough economy to a nation obsessed with being thin and young?

Not very.

I am not a salesman by nature, but I have learned a few things along the way, and I think that should count for a little in the "expert" qualification department. I also know you pretty well. That is why I am trying to gift you with what I have learned, my dear and loyal friend.

Without further ado, here is what I have to impart:

For starters, don't think of it as a sales job. Or a clerk job, or sales rep job, or whatever title they are handing out. Those titles are demeaning to what you do. You work for a living, and do them an honest days work for the money they offer. Don't accept whatever shit heel title they give it. Take the job in the same vein as you would take an acting part in a play. You have been hired to play a role, while small, it is integral to the outcome of the third act; but you are there to act. Your part is simple, but nuanced.

Stop and think about what if you had oodles of money and wanted to hire a butler? Wouldn't you want to hire the one who could anticipate your every whim? The one who brought you what you wanted before you even knew you wanted it. Someone who would guide and protect you at every opportunity and whose loyalty was unswerving. This is the sort of servant you would hire, and this is the part you must play. T.V. and film are full of stock examples of this character, but if you are looking for a specific example, look no further than Alfred to Bruce Wayne's Batman, but the greatest example would be Mr. Humphreys on "Are You Being Served?". This is the kind of service that people want when they go shopping, but we as Americans have learned to accept the kind of service that we get at McDonald's as the norm. It takes next to nothing to demonstrate excellent service when compared to fast food.

As grossly stupid as this sounds, smile. I am ashamed that I penned that to paper but it is true. How many times have you run into a clerk who looked like they had lost the will to live, but couldn't bring themselves to toss the toaster into the tub? I know, too many times. These people have failed in a fundamental way: they haven't figured out how to have fun at work. Sure, if it was really fun they wouldn't pay you, they would just accept interns. But with your amazing power of imagination, this can be fun. For what it's worth, don't smile like you just got a bj in the back room. Smile like you were recalling a joke from last night. You smile like that and people want to talk to you.

Next, know the stock. You don't need to memorize the ingredients or where it is from, but you need to know what aisle it is in, as you might be the only clerk they have seen in an hour. And never be afraid to admit that you don't know. You have only been here for a short time and you can't be expected to know how much ash is used in this kitty litter if you work in sporting goods, but always volunteer to find someone who does. No matter who helps them, they will mention your name at the front desk because you smiled and found someone to helped them. The other guy was a gloomy chump who couldn't find the toaster to put in the tub.

They will always ask for something you don't have. Know what is close and where, and recommend that. They will always ask for something they can't describe, or insist that two weeks ago they bought this "thing" here and they want another one, even though you know that this store has never before sold anything remotely like the object they describe. Be patient and play it like a game of 20 Questions.

There will always be two customers who will never, ever be satisfied. One is an old man and the other is an old woman. Try and sympathize. Explain that you are doing your very best to get them what they want, and you are going to vote for Ike, but the truck comes in on Thursday. Tough cheese. But remember to smile.

Try and find the "cool" manager. There is one in every store. They are the ones who are doing this until they finish college. They are the ones who count on you to show up, be polite, and as long as you keep the public off their back, they don't give you crap jobs that go to the high school clerks. The other bosses will call you by name, but you are just a place-filler in their day.

Just a word of advice, look out for the malcontents. Befriend them. They will back you up when you need it and warn you first of any shit coming down the line.

Next, fake dog poop is much easier to sell if you call it "Faux Merde". You know as well as I do no sword ever forged was stronger than the word of mouth or the stroke of the pen. Feel free to run with that. I often have to plumb my customer's tastes in order to recommend an 8" Raspberry Torte of which I have never tried and know little about, but the point of the story is that it goes into their cart, the store sells stuff, everyone above you is happy, the customer goes home with a sense of well-being even if he doesn't like the product, and you make a couple of bucks to keep body and soul together.

The point of the story is: you ain't doing this for just you, and it can be fun. Every night is opening night, and you get to eat hot dogs instead of Chinese noodles. I know. I moved up to hot dogs two weeks ago.

Good Luck on your new job and if I can help, ask. If ANYONE has any sales tips, please feel free to offer them in the comments.



  1. Now THAT is some fine, fine writin' there, mah friend. There's so much that I could say that I think I'll make my OWN post about it instead of putting it all here in th' commy-ents.

    Thanks for the heads-up!!

  2. For me, it depends on what you're selling, how much you believe in it, and the methods you use to sell it. I've been burned a lot in sales jobs (devoted a whole chapter of my "Tales of the Midwest" book to the subject), yet wound up as a marketing & business development director for a living -- which is heavily sales-oriented work (often face to face w/ clients). And, of course, in some odd metaphrical sense, we're ALL in sales to some degree or other. But, as careers or jobs go, there's a broad range of sales work -- most of which is respectable (excluding telemarketing and door-to-door vacuum sales -- for which there is no doubt (IMHO) a circle of hell awaiting those who do this for more than a few cumulative hours of their lives). Sounds like the Cap'n isn't exactly "dialing for dollars," though. And I think Wally World could use some lessons from "Are You Being Served?".

  3. Brilliant Doc! My only brush with sales was the 1 out of 500 or so people who came through our ski shop looking to buy instead of rent.

    Being the consummate professional, I always talked them into renting instead of buying because it saved them money.

    What the hell, it wasn't my store...

  4. SkyDad: that is some EXCELLENT, ECELLENT undermining, the sort of which the protagonist of "PopCo" would be proud.

  5. It's called making the most of a shitty situation. Remember, it's the people you work with that will make or break it for you. Working a shitty job with extraordinary people is totally possible.

  6. Actually, I heard he's doing quite well. One of those little old ladies called up management to tell them how helpful he was.

    Not only does he know where all the pet supplies are, but he's also the go-to man for cedar chips, gherkins and crazy glue.

  7. Great advice Doc :)

    I had a job at the local eye doctor. He was greedy, wanted us to push all the extras when selling glasses. I couldnt do it. Naturally, sista #2 was getting a tongue lashing daily about how to sell etc...

    The problem wasnt that I could not sell the extras, the problem was I did not sell them for a reason. If they were old, or if they couldnt afford extras they really didnt need, I didnt push. Im not pushy like that. Esp when I knew what this Doctor really paid for the extras and what he was charging these people...pissed me off.

    So I guess what Im saying is....if you want to hire me as a sales rep....dont. lol



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