Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I Can Talk About It Now(conclusion)

The funny thing about sales is that people do it all the time, regardless of their jobs or their antipathy towards salesmen. When you convince a friend to watch "the Matrix: Revolutions" instead of "Uhawww" by dint of your reasoning and charm, you've made a sale. When you convince the non-practicing Catholics to join your non-denominational Christian fundamentalist group, by the power of your reasoning, your divinely inspired Bible-quoting (and yes, with divine assistance) you've made a sale.

Side note: Obviously, there is a subtle link between religion, economics and politics. People who claim otherwise can eat my shorts. I once tried to make this a topic for my fine arts thesis: "Advertise the Catholic Church." The commodity being sold to a resistant market being "Salvation/Peace of Mind, " the unit of exchange being not solely money, but obedience to designated Church Authority and mandatory attendance of church gatherings (services). The Mormons, the local Ecclesia of Christ and the 700 Club were advertising their respective churches with the same terms anyway, so there was a precedent. You won't be surprised that my adviser sorta laughed in my face.

Learning from Apple
One of the more telling things I picked up at call center telesales training was "Handling Objections." It's one of the more misunderstood and trying aspects of what Apple called "the Sales Cycle" --Introductions, Asking Probing Questions, Product or Service Presentation, Handling Objections and Closing.

Basically an "objection" is any concern or issue the customer may raise regarding whatever it is you're offering, be it a free magazine subscription or a "free" fancy satellite dish* that "can pick up Playboy Espa�ol." We were taught that objections were "normal" and "expected." That these were "temporary stops to a sale." We had to listen to the customer's concerns to properly address them. Sometimes, those concerns weren't even real, but just an atavistic rejection of the new and untried: better the lousy slimming product you know than the spanking new fruit fiber juice that claims better results.

The training manual notes that salespeople receive, on the average, three to five objections during a phone call. Implied is the idea that you've made a sale after you railroad your script past the fifth objection. I've always found this reminiscent of Goebbels, or at least of someone with an evil Skinnerian bent. But the existence of what Apple calls "unreal concerns" throws new light on the said training manual note and its implications. If you truly believe you can offer the person at the other end of the line something good, then in the name of helping him out, it becomes your solemn duty to get past objection five so you can get his atavistic rejection out of the way and better present your product or service.

Almost makes the selling profession sound noble, doesn't it?

I feel that the manual begins to contradict itself when it spouts lines about "the customer comes first" out of the left side of its mouth, and "your purpose is to make a sale" out of the right. But then that's probably just me. You can steer a woman customer from thoughts of suicide, provide her with companionship and witty conversation-- heck, you can even save the world-- but you'd still be behind quota if you didn't close the sale you were s'posed to be making.

We were admonished to remember our ABC-- "Always Be Closing."

I would be remiss if I did not inform my readers that I currently do NOT work for (call center I will not name). Towards the last day of training, the hounds of PAGCOR, PHILPOST and my own personal Harpies (Mom and her sister-- without whose, er, intercession I would not have been made aware of those job openings in the first place) turned their fetid breath in my direction and demanded I cease my "dallying" in my "low income play-at-having-a-real-job." Worse, typhoon Weng sank any chance of my going to Libis to finish my training: (call center I will not name) has a strict attendance policy. I have thus spent the last coupla weeks getting myself tested at various clinics, with my mother praying that I prove to be medically fit for a job at PAGCOR or at PHILPOST.

(So just when am I s'posed to be playing in the "big leagues," Ma? When it's a job you "recommend"? Mommy still knows best after 30 years, is that it? You're right. PAGCOR or PHILPOST will probably meet my financial needs and allow me the time to paint or do all sorts of "artisty things." But did it ever occur to you that my need for validation is just as big as my need for ready cash? If I cannot make money without your fingerprints on it, I am not a man. I am a mama's boy.

It galls me when people nag me with well-meaning unsolicited job advice. Or any advice for that matter. And it galls me even more when the advice is sound. If I should ask for your counsel, give it ONCE. Mayhaps twice. Then leave me the hell alone to think it over. If I rehash the dilemma, it's only so I can hear myself think. I don't care how long my decision-making takes, I just need to know that the decision is mine. Your nagging only makes me feel that you've made up my mind for me. And if you're proven right, please do not gloat in my face. I get murderous when people do that.)

To this date, I have told, through e-post, only one member of my training batch of my whereabouts and my sitch. Knowing the Filipino and his propensity for gossip, this should be enough to let the rest of them know-- enough for knowledge, though hardly adequate for apology. I'd lost the words best used for the direct, face-to-face conversation my having abandoned them required. They did make me batch leader after all.

At the end of the day, I will say this-- I've misjudged telemarketers and call center agents. They're not all evil and demented. The ones who annoy are just incompetent. And we victims, er, customers, aren't often a great incentive to be nice either. Given time, practice (hopefully not on us), better training with greater customer care emphasis and stiffer competition (from China?), mayhaps the telebusiness experience will be as painless and convenient as it was meant to be.

-*The "dish" itself is free. But you gotta subscribe to the sattelite tv service which costs you some 60-something dollars a month.

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