Why I Am Not Allowed in the City of Richmond VA Anymore
Since a few decades have passed, I may be allowed past the city line, unless the cop who made the suggestion is still in the department, in which case I may need to wait a little bit.
I was working for an extremely aggressive outside sales organization that was a B2B long distance phone service reseller. I told how I got the job HERE:
I worked out of the Washington DC area office and the company was thinking of opening an office in Richmond VA so they sent 3 teams of 2 reps each to go canvas the city and cold call. Since I had been thrown out of most of the office buildings in the Washington DC area, I jumped at the chance to prospect in virgin territory.
I was teamed up with Craig, another young and aggressive sales recruit. He started after I did, and had just returned from his corporate sales training class, so he was eager to try out his new “skills” learned from the trainers in Detroit.
We made the almost 2 hour drive down from DC to Richmond with the 2 other teams in tow. We met in a parking lot when we arrived and made plans to meet back there in 4 hours and head back to our office.
The firm usually had us prospect solo or with a sales manager, but for this cold calling excursion we were teamed up, and like I said, I had the young aggressive kid who still had blood in his mouth from training.
The cold calling started normally enough; we went into a few buildings and went to the top floor in order to work our way down. Depending upon building security, we would just go floor to floor unless we skipped down 2 and up 1 in order to avoid building security (after business gatekeepers called security on us). Sometimes it was a game of cat and mouse.
We’d enter the business, ask the gatekeeper if we could speak to the person in charge of business communication decisions and wait for the reply. If they said “you mean the president?” our trained response was “That’s exactly why we’re here!” or if they said “Do you have an appointment?” we answered “That’s exactly why we’re here!”. The answer was almost always “That’s exactly why we’re here.” It wasn’t a complete lie; we did have a reason to be there, to sell them long distance service, but we couldn’t just SAY that, we were taught to mis-communicate and be very vague to the gatekeepers about what we were doing there. Of course many of them knew, but sometimes we’d get lucky and have a newbie at the front desk who would open the gates to the kingdom where we could just walk in the office and head straight into the president’s office and hammer them to buy our service.
After being escorted out of 4 buildings, we decided to hit a few storefronts. They were usually a little easier to reach the decision maker but more spread out and not as efficient to canvas than office buildings. But we wanted a sale — there was no way Richmond was going to blank us that day. We were going to one-call-close somebody that day whether they liked it or not.
Here’s where things went bad.
Craig, who as I mentioned was just back from training and itching to get a sale, was frustrated from being thrown out of buildings, so when we entered the copy shop to cold call it, he was a little — how you say — on edge.
We asked the first person we saw if we could speak to the owner and he said he was, so Craig started the pitch. The man was not happy. I guess he got cold called a lot from outside salesmen. He cut Craig off and yelled at us to get out of his shop. Craig’s frustration boiled over and he swore at and insulted the shop owner as we walked out.
“What?! What did you say to me?!” the owner shouted and started moving towards us from the back corner of his shop.
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” I said to Craig.
“I’m tired of these *%@&er’s kicking us out!”
“That’s outside sales, dude.”
When we got outside the shop, there was a Richmond motorcycle cop who just happened to be parked. There were no donut shops or eateries around so maybe he was just taking a break. Since we were pretty sure the owner was going to come outside we ducked into the next shop 2 doors down to hide. It turned out to be a ladies dress shop. Some little boutique.
“Can I help you?” the lady inside asked.
“Oh, we’re just looking thanks. Maybe something for his girlfriend.” I said.
We needed to buy time, but Craig couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t stand not pitching the lady. Couldn’t stand not making a sale. This is what overly aggressive sales training does to the new recruit. He HAD to pitch this lady. Common sense goes out the window when you are expected to sell with immediate results.
We were asked to leave the store in about 2.5 seconds flat after he made his pitch.
The mirrored glasses motorcycle cop was waiting for us, and so was the copy store owner.
“What y’all boys up to?” said deputy dawg.
“Just working, sir.”
Now, I am the son of an ex-NYPD homicide detective, and one of the things my dad taught me was to NEVER argue with or mouth off to a cop. Certainly not one in the South (and Richmond was certainly “South” to this suburban New Jersey kid back then). Craig obviously did not come from a law enforcement family.
“Yes, we’re working sir, and right now we have to get back to work because our time is money and right now you’re wasting our time.”
Let’s just stop for a moment, shall we? This was not one of the role plays we did over and over in training. They don’t teach you to deal with this type of encounter, but this is common sense. I started to picture the movie “Cool Hand Luke” and winding up on a chain gang somewhere on the side of I-95 with this mirrored glasses motorcycle cop calling me “boy” and me calling him “boss”.
We were 2 Yankee boys getting thrown out of southern buildings and one of us had just insulted a southern cop.
“Sir, what my colleague is trying to say is that we have limited time to work today in Richmond, so unless you need us for something may we go?” I was not about to get shot.
We had to give him our ID’s and Craig gave him the name and number to the president of our company, telling the officer that our president demanded that we cold call and sell. I just kept telling Craig to shut up.
Since the worst thing we (Craig) did was insult the owner and then the officer, there wasn’t any reason to arrest us or anything but the man could have messed with us. He gave us a harsh talking to, and finished with “I better never ever catch you boys in my city again, don’t you ever come back, and tell your company president to not open an office here.”
That sentence took about 4 minutes for him to complete.
We left, and I told Craig we were lucky that the cop didn’t arrest us for being idiots. He still didn’t get it.
We were taught to be aggressive and hammer away in order to get the sale. Sometimes it went too far. In this case it did. Sales should benefit the client first, and the salesman second. There is no place for insulting a potential client in our business. Frustrated or not, there are going to be long days — frustrating days — days where you don’t hit your numbers, but if you are going to be a pro you can’t take it personally. I know I have had times early in my career where I let it get to me too, but prospective clients are gold and should be treated with respect. Everyone should be treated with respect. That cop walked away with a negative attitude towards our firm, and while he may have never been able to prevent an office opening in Richmond, a successful business is not built on bad PR.
Be professional. Make your calls. Be courteous. Do sales the right way.