Thursday, December 20, 2007

You'd Almost Think She Read My Blog...

Shortly after I posted my holiday rant earlier, I got an IM from Farmmom. She'd just got off the phone.

The hosting aunt canceled Christmas Day for the second year running.

I'd be a lot happier about the reprieve if the warning had come earlier so that we could plan an actual holiday meal. We were planning on having a smaller thing Christmas Eve with the family here because of the big to do up there.

Plus, since Prissy Aunt canceled, Grandpa's plans are shot. So, he'll come be with us on Christmas Eve, but we don't really have anything on Christmas Day because of sister in law's work obligations, and our obligations at Prissy Aunt's house.

Next year, I'm not even planning on going. If Farmmom, Farmdad, Grandpa, and me aren't "worth it" too her (a direct quote, because we would be the only ones there... the rest of the family made their own plans) then she's definitely not worth it to me.

Yay family dynamics!

Insurance Salesmanship- Three Stories in One Post

I think I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog that I was once a traveling insurance salesman. If not, then now you know.

I worked for a company that we'll call Crap Insurance Conglomerate of America. Now, I want to say right now that the product the company sells is good, for what it is. But what it is, is basically a sop.

They sometimes described themselves as Aflac without the duck. I think Aflac pays better benefits, but the premiums are also higher.

Yeah, the accident policy paid for anything that you would say "oops" after, but it didn't pay much. I think the highest benefit was a hundred and seventy five dollars for outpatient surgery. The cancer policy was pretty much along the same lines, the bare minimum, but neither of the policies were expensive. The accident policy you could get a full unit or a half unit, full unit was like twenty bucks a month and the half was eight, I think.

They were designed to help fill in the gap between major medical and your actual financial ability to pay. Unfortunately if you didn't have major medical, it was just a tiny bit of help towards what could be some huge medical bills. Any help is good help, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't the end all be all solution that they wanted people to believe.

And, they did pay my travel to go to their training, and they did train me to pass the Accident and Health Agent exam.

The training itself... well. It was salesmanship training. It wasn't even training to think for yourself and assess the customer as to how to make the product appeal to them, it was basically drilling in scripts. We had scripts for everything. We drilled so hard that I wound up having to sleep in the living room of our suite because I was keeping my roommate up muttering responses in my sleep.

It was pure luck that I had an opportunity over a weekend between the sales training and the training on the actual laws that we had to know to get our licenses to explore Salt Lake City and discover that I'm violently allergic to massive doses of Mormonism.

No, really. We walked into the public area of the tabernacle and I started having stomach cramps. By the time we got back to the hotel I was fine.

Anywho, during the training we went over the Socratic Method. My trainer was Gene, and he was a lot of fun, but he got frustrated with me a lot. This conversation had him ready to pull his hair out:

"With the Socratic Method, you'd lead your customer to the sale using questions. You want to keep them giving you yes answers, because once you say yes, it's easier to say it again, and you want to lead up to your sale. For instance, if I were trying to sell milk and cookies, I might use this set of questions... Farmgirl, are you hungry?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Do you like cookies?"


"Do you like milk?"

"Uh huh."

"Would you like some milk and cookies now?"

"Not really, I'd rather have a ham sandwitch."

Gene hung his head for a second and then looked right at me.

"You're not helping me here,"

"But I really would rather have a sandwitch."

"But milk and cookies would be a valid way of satisfying your hunger, isn't that true?"

"Sugary snacks aren't a good idea for me on an empty stomach. Remember the Krispy Kreme incident? You swore anyone who gave me sugar before the lunch break was getting kicked out after I bounced off the walls for an hour and a half."

"Ok, if you'd had a meal and wanted desert, given your liking for milk and cookies, you would eat them, isn't that true?"

"What kind of cookies?"

"Any kind!"

"Well, if they were my mom's chocolate chip, I'd be all over them, but if they were store bought ginger snaps, I'd probably pass. The details are important, Gene."

Gene finally laughed and gave up on me after that.

The best selling line that I ever used wasn't learned at their training seminar, though. I came up with it when I was discussing the accident policy with a blue collar guy, owned and operated his own company, running those little miniature street sweepers that they use to clean parking lots.

I was leaning against the hood of my car, just talking to the guy, giving him an idea of what we offered and letting him decide if he was interested or not.

"Well, sir, I don't know about you and your guys, but I've worked construction and on a farm and I know that we always hated to have to call a mechanic when things broke."

"Yeah, we do most of our own maintenance."

"Well, I've noticed that when construction guys start working on a piece of equipment, they tend to do stupid things. Take off their hardhat and brain themselves crawling out from underneath something, or cut their hands up using their pocket knife to pry something loose..."

He chuckled and nodded, "Yeah, we get that too."

I tapped my presentation book, which I hadn't even opened yet.

"Well, we pay for stupid."

The guy was ready to hear about the policy but had an appointment right then, so I was going to go back that afternoon. Unfortunately my manager found out I had a possible multiple policy sale and had to butt in. He might miss out on a commission, aside from the large premium collections that he always took for himself. We're talking two and three thousand dollar premium collections, of which the collecting agent got fourteen percent. Any collection over five hundred dollars the manager cherry picked for himself, leaving us to make fifty collections on old nine dollars every six months policies that had absolutely no chance of upselling, in one day.

He lost me the sale. By apologizing to the guy about my lack of professionalism in using "we pay for stupid" when the guy brought it up. The dude was trying to get my manager to back off and let me handle things, because I already had a rapport with the guy, and my manager couldn't take a hint.

I also got my butt chewed for going off script, only to overhear him using the exact same line the next week.

Can anyone guess why I'm no longer an employee of that company?

The Regional Manager (the guy above my immediate manager) spent a week trying to convince me to come back, before I got blunt and explained to him exactly why I'd quit. One incident I mentioned had him really interested.

See, one of my duties was picking up premium from those policy holders that didn't have the payment automatically deducted from their accounts every month. This involved visiting them at home, or at work. All of them expected the visit every six months, so there weren't many disgruntled folks to deal with, but we got all kinds.

This particular premium collection was a man in his fifties. He and his wife both had policies, and I needed to collect both. Should have been an easy call, go in, get the check, give him his receipt, and get out. Knocked on the door, and a filthy, overweight guy in a wifebeater and boxer shorts answers.

Something creeped me out about this guy right from the start, and it didn't take me long to figure out. I told him I was there to collect his premium and make sure there wasn't anything he needed help with, and he said he had a claim he needed help with, so I went with him into his kitchen to make the toll free call to the claim center. We agents had some ways to get some of the tape cut through and get things accomplished, although it was mostly show so that the customer felt well taken care of by the agent that they saw every six months.

I called it in, and the guy on the other end of the agent hotline said he'd call me back on my cell phone in a few minutes, so I had to make small talk.

This dude out of the blue started telling me about how his wife wouldn't let him touch her because her uncle had raped her. Details that I really didn't want to know in the first place, and that I really didn't want to talk about when he started mentioning what a good looking young woman I was.

He would not shut up about it, he leered at me, he touched me at inappropriate moments, and generally made me feel really, really uncomfortable. I got out as fast as I could and immediately called my manager to tell him not to send another female to that house, ever.

I'm pretty strong minded. I can blow off a lot of things, even the slimy ones, if I don't have to put up with them very long. I can deal with just about anything an oversexed man can dish out, one way or another.

But this guy creeped me out. I declined to give him my number in case he had another problem, which I did with every account that I serviced.

My manager laughed at me. I was telling him that I felt sexually threatened and he laughed at me. He got a piece of my mind, and I made a note on the contact card that no woman should be sent there. We could put notes, mostly directions, or what times to call on someone, in a special area on the contact cards we were given for each lead or collection, and when they went back to the main offices some clerk would type them into the file so the next card printed out would have them on it. So I did. Hopefully, it's still there.

I knew women who worked for the company who wouldn't have been able to handle being around that man. I wouldn't have gone back there if it meant a million dollars. I didn't even finish my job, I walked out in the middle, claiming another appointment, and told him that the manager would be back to see him.

When the Regional Manager (who was actually a nice guy and tried his dangdest to figure out how to make it work to get me back with the company) found out about that one, he had a long discussion with me about the manager's practices in general, and in specifics.

I heard later that that manager got busted down from District Manager to Sales Manager, and I laughed long and hard.

Holiday Spirit???

I love my family, and I love having holidays with them. Especially since the Nephews have come into our lives.

But I hate the holiday season. Don't get me wrong it's not the season itself but the way people react to it.

Every time I have to go somewhere in public during this time of year, I feel like I should put on a full set of tactical gear and go in shouting "I don't care about the damn Elmo, I just want some eggs!"

Everyone gets so hyped up on getting the most popular gift, and so stressed out, every store is just a pressure cooker full of stress and anxiety.

I'm normally fine in crowds. I pay attention to my surroundings, but I don't get stressed out about a crowd. Except this time of year.

This time of year everywhere you turn someone is yelling into their cell phone about how the store is out of that special gift that they absolutely had to have and Christmas is ruined! Or kids screaming their heads off because mommy or daddy won't buy them that toy now now now! Or forty seven people all trying to get down the same aisle behind the one person in the county who isn't in a major hurry, and cussing about it.

It makes me want to strangle people.

It doesn't help that I know I'll be spending Christmas day at my aunt's house. My grandpa on Farmmom's side, and one of my uncles and his family, I love to death, they're fantastic.

Unfortunately, Farmmom has two sisters and another brother. Christmas day is a four star show in subtle snark and upscale snobbery.

But I get Farmmom's undying gratitude for going, and I'm usually not required to make conversation. One year I said exactly three words to anyone but Farmmom or Grandpa, and no one seemed to notice. Those words? "Pass the potatoes."

I regretted them, too. Those potatoes were lousy.