Kole McRae is a writer in Toronto who says he worked for two days as a door-to-door salesman for an unnamed company. The sales pitch involved asking people who answered the door whether they were happy with their current service, so I’m guessing the company sold something something related to phone, cable, or utilities.
The following is my account of working as a door to door salesmen last summer. I have changed the names of the supervisor I worked with and removed the name of the company I was selling for. I did this for privacy reasons but if you conclude that the companies name is necessary I will add it. Everything else is true and has not been altered in any way.
I woke up at 9am for my first day. According to the manager who interviewed me, today would be a day long job interview. I would work with one of his employees for a day and then he would make a decision based on what that employee said. I had no idea this was a door to door job. The ad I responded to had called it “marketing”. It was really vague about what exactly you did but a lot of job ads are so I didn’t find it suspicious.
I walked into the office around 11am. It was pretty boring. A couple pieces of art and inspirational quotes. It wasn’t huge but it wasn’t tiny. The kind of office a small business would fit into comfortably. The receptionist told me to sit nearby and the manager would be with me shortly. Everyone that walked in after me was wearing a suit and tie, I didn’t expect this and felt under dressed in my khakis and brown collared shirt. After about ten minutes the manager came out and informed us that he was just in a meeting and would be joining us shortly. All in all there were 4 other people with me in the office.
From a nearby door we heard shouting and banging that almost sounded like dance music. It was obvious there were a lot of people in there. The boss came out of the room with a young employee behind him. He looked at a piece of paper and called out my name. I followed them into the same office I was interviewed in.
“This is Matt, he’ll be showing you the ropes today. Learn what you can and if he likes you, you have the job.”
Matt looked about the same age as me (early 20’s), he was taller and had dark hair. He looked me up and down then shook my hand. We left the office and started walking outside.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the field, you look like you have some spunk in you, we need that. Energy leads to sales.”
That should have been a major red flag but I went with it. I had been unemployed for a while and desperately needed the job. Though I was willing to do anything I still felt something bad in the pit of my stomach. We headed to the bus station and he took out some change. He stood with me at the bus stop. Did he expect me to pay for my own transportation? Luckily I had some bus tickets left over from my last job so I took one out of my wallet and waited with him in silence. It was very awkward.
“So it’s sales, what are we selling?”
“A new service from (deleted). Most people already have one of their services so it should be easy to hook them up with the new one. Trust me, it’s easy money.”
The fact that he felt the need to say that made me uneasy, that feeling stuck with me the entire bus trip. When we arrived at the field which ended up being a small suburban community he pulled out a big piece of paper. He said it was the names of everyone in the area that used (deleted)’s services. That seemed like a major privacy issue but I ignored it and we walked up to the first house. It was obvious at this point that I was about the enter the world of door to door sales.
Before ringing the doorbell he took off his tie and untucked his shirt, mumbling something about not wanting to seem too professional. He then rang it and we waited. This turned out to be a major part of the job. Not many people were home at noon, most people had jobs. So for the first hour we didn’t talk to anyone. We mostly swapped stories about crappy jobs we’ve had in the past.
Finally, about an hour later someone answered the door. Matt jumped into his pitch.
“Hi, I see you have services with (deleted) were going door to door today taking a survey to find out what people think. So have you had any issues with (deleted) recently?”
“Umm, no. Everything is going fine.”
Matt made a mark on the piece of paper he was holding. Matt then went into a sales pitch about the new service and got the door slammed in his face. Afterwards I asked him if anyone got the results of the survey.
“No, we don’t actually do a survey, we just say that so people don’t slam the door in our face right away.”
“So you lie?”
“No, it’s just… It’s not like I’m stealing money out of their hands, Were saving people money here. Were giving them money.”
As I said, I needed the job so I didn’t push it. We continued this way until about 5pm when I started to get hungry. I looked at my watch and assumed we would be finished soon. I asked when.
“Most people are home between 5 and 9 so we work until 9 every day.”
I did the math quickly and I figured that I would be working 10 hour days, 6 days a week. I better make good money doing this.
“We get about 35 dollars per signup, most people get 3 or 4 sign ups a day.”
That means for working 10 hours you get paid 105 bucks. That’s under the national minimum wage. This job was looking worse and worse. It was the middle of summer so I was hot and sweaty, walking for 9 hours straight and only getting paid 9 bucks an hour to do it. At that point I almost gave up but a quick thought about how empty my bank account was cleared my head and I continued to soldier on.
Throughout the day Matt got yelled at three times, got bit by two dogs and had one guy theaten his life. He said it was all part of the job and that the danger made it kind of fun. I kind of agreed with him. He made one sale that night before we packed it in and took a bus back. He said he usually got more but today was a bad day.
We got to the office and Matt got me to sit in reception again. I sat and waited, of the four of us that had the day long interview only me and one other person remained. The manager came out of his office and brought in the other person. They came out about five minutes later and the person walked out of the office, then it was my turn.
With a huge grin on his face the manager told me how Matt had said all these wonderful things about me. He offered me a job on the spot. Thinking about my empty wallet, I accepted.
I woke up that morning feeling a little better about the job. It wasn’t the best in the world but hey, it had to be better than fast food. I put on a suit I had thrown together from a thrift store and headed to my first day of work. I was in a surprisingly good mood.
I had been told the night before to show up about an hour before I did on my “trial” day. This was so I could attend a “morning meeting” that would go over some important information. So around 10am I walked into the office. I followed one of the other employees past the reception area and into the main area of the office. This room was a large empty square with a giant white board on one wall. It had no desks, no cubicles, nothing. People in suits, most of which were in their 20’s, milled around talking about boring stuff. Matt saw me and walked over.
“Hey man, welcome back. Your on my team so I’ll be teaching you. You listen to what I have to say and you’ll be having 300 dollar days in no time.”
Matt started teaching me a bit about sales when the boss walked in and everyone immediately went quiet. The energy of the place was super high, you could feel electricity in the air. The boss started talking about accomplishment. He then went into a story about a giraffe that was just born at a nearby zoo and how it needed to learn and adapt to survive, just like we needed to if we wanted to survive in sales. This guy had more charisma than any human should. He introduced me as the new guy (I guess the other person decided not to show up). Everyone yelled my name and increased the energy ten fold. The way the meeting was run it felt eerily similar to videos I’ve seen of cults.
I would work with Matt again that day and would be paid exactly half of whatever me and Matt sold. This seemed like a lose lose situation for Matt and I. I looked around and realized Matt was only teaching sales to me. I thought I was on his “team”. It seems his team amounted to two people. Matt explained the system to me.
“Once you’ve worked here a while you are promoted to team leader. At this point you build a team. You teach the team sales, help them along and make sure everyone is making money. Once you have a team of 8 people and two of your team members are leaders themselves you can open your own office. At that point the money comes rolling in.”
The meeting ended and we were all given “field sheets”. This was the piece of paper that had all the information the houses we would be hitting. Matt and I hitched a ride with another “team” so we didn’t have to pay for the bus again. The energy in the car was insane, everyone was talking about sales and how they were going to make hundreds of dollars that day.
We made it to the field and the day was similar to my “trial” day. Matt did most of the talking and even let me try pitching once. The words felt strange coming out my mouth, I wasn’t used to lying just to get a sale. I had the door slammed in my face and got slightly depressed. Matt told me not to worry about it, for every bad person you get one good person. I noticed that throughout the day Matt’s pitch got shorter and shorter. It was as if he was giving up. The energy of the morning meeting was starting to ware off as the reality of his job would set in.
At the end of the day we had no sales. I had just worked a grueling 10 hours and would get nothing in exchange for you. Matt had a smile on but I could tell it was fake.
At the end of the day we went back to the office and back into the meeting room. Matt pointed at a gong and bell in the corner. He said that if you make over a hundred dollars you get to ring the bell, if you make over 200 in a day you ring the gong. It took three sales to ring the bell, the amount Matt had told me was average. Of the forty people who walked into the room that night, only five or six rang the bell.
I quit that night and walked home knowing I would still be poor, but at least I wouldn’t be lying for the money I made.
That young salesman standing at your door with a huge smile has probably worked 9 hours that day, makes very little money and knows that the work he does is unappreciated.