When I was 25, I had to take any job since I was in the middle of my maternity leave and my job at a junior high school was filled by another. Why did I seek employment? My husband and I were in the midst of a divorce. I’d taken our 4-month-old baby and a few personal articles, driving out in my car that had 200,000 miles on it. I had no money which meant my parents mainly supported us. To help out, I took interim jobs wherever I could.
Oh, I’d had some experience in sales. At 21 years of age, I worked in a boiler room scenario for Sears, Roebuck where a team of us called people on a rolodex, as member of Sears’ telephone shopping department. We’d work out of the Sears Catalogue, chat them up, then sell items we described to them during that call.
A few of us were top sales people whose calls almost always turned into sales. Our office manager Kate was a kindly woman of about 60 who liked me a lot. Along with her penchant for running an efficient department, Kate wanted to fix me up with her son. But it wasn’t going to happen; I was already going with another.
Our department of about 20 laughed our way through whole days, tallying our successes on an oversized sales chart hanging on the office wall. And we had contests—lots of them. If we were on a campaign to sell scissors, Sears offered: “If you sell 50, you get one free.” That summer, I walked away with 5 top-shelf cutters, attesting to my ability, converting calls into sales.
It wasn’t cold-calling (where you call a customer who’d never bought something from Sears,) so there’d been a bond established in that the customer knew the company or product and ostensibly liked ‘us.’ But my talent on the phones impressed even me at times.
My biggest sales coup? When I sold a carburetor to a man…That’s right—a carburetor. I didn’t even know where it was on a car, but I sold it. The conversation probably began with “Hello, sir…Today Sears is offering a 280-count percale sheet for 29.99…Are you interested?” Then we’d talk….I’d go through a series of items and if he weren’t interested in any, I’d ask: “Is there anything you need at the moment?”
When he laughingly said “a carburetor,” I went in for the kill.
I say it was a Boiler Room scenario (you know, like the movie where young stockbrokers pump each other up for phone sales, each trying to beat the other) because competition was a key factor. We’d high-five one another, whoop it up, and jump around when we got another sale, and our antics served as catalyst for others.
When lunchtime came, we all went out to local restaurants for cocktails (along with our food.) When we came back, the phone conversations were even more interesting, for there’s nothing like a martini or two to loosen the tongue. It was the Mad Men era, not the slick reproduction seen on TV. We were acting it out in real time.
Some years later, in life, I went into sales again, but this time, the prize was far greater. Yes, at the age of 55, I began selling houses as a professional realtor. I just did what I’d done in my earlier years…engaged my clients, built up trust, and represented them as buyer or selling agent, educating them throughout the process. And I was most successful at that career.
But what’s been my most stellar achievement in sales to date? My 30-year career as teacher. There, I was selling the concept to young people that education matters, that what you do in life depends on your education…your preparedness… and how you come across to others.
But in that 3-decade career there was far more at stake than a pair of scissors, a bed sheet, a carburetor or a house. Peoples’ lives and happiness hung in the balance. They just didn’t know it at the time.
When people ask me today “What have you done in life?” I chuckle because I think: “However one dices it, all of my former careers can be defined as Sales.” Now that I think of it– maybe that’s true of any career or profession.