Death of The Salesman

This morning, I read a news story about how Starbucks has been implementing a contactless way to get your coffee, so that you never really have any meaningful interaction with the barista.

Today, I’d like to write about my experiences with sales people, and with being one of them, as an Autistic person. I’d also like to talk about how I feel about the idea that the salesman is going away.

This one is so burned into my head that I will never forget it. I was maybe 5 years old and dad took us to the Burger Chef in Edgewood [Indiana].

We sat down to eat, and it wasn’t long before I was out of ketchup. I asked my dad to get me some more. He replies, “The counter is over there. Go ask them yourself.”

So I did. Sort of. I walked over and stood to the side, hoping that someone would notice me. After a few minutes of this stress, I went back to the table empty-handed.

I told dad that I changed my mind. I lied, sort of. I did want the ketchup, but I wasn’t willing to go through what it took to get it. I couldn’t do it.

Flash forward about 3 decades, and I’m with my five-year-old son at Del Taco. He says that he wants more ketchup, so I pull out the exact same line that my father used on me.

“The counter is over there. Go ask them yourself.”

He walks over, gets someone’s attention, gets his ketchup, and is back at the table within 20 seconds.

To say that I was amazed and impressed with his abilities and bravery would be an understatement.

As an adult, I can still go up and place an order. This has never been a problem. But I won’t go back to ask for napkins or ketchup. I still can’t.

This section would be the size of a dictionary if I included every failure of sales that I’ve ever had. To be really clear, I’ve never had any true successes at sales, ever.

My biggest failures in sales involve selling myself. Be it as a musician, or as a worker, I just can’t bring myself to lick my own butt. That’s not a healthy way of saying it, but patting my own back just sounds so ugly and wrong.

I prefer that my abilities speak for themselves. Unfortunately, this is NOT how the world works, because The Meritocracy is a lie. But my failure at being able to sell myself is why I’m not either a known musician or a person who is successful at his job.

While there are so many examples, I want to get back to my first.

In 1986, when I worked at McDonald’s, I did enjoy being in the back cooking, even though the abuse we all had to endure from management made life sometimes unbearable.

The job would have been great, if they could find a way to get rid of the boss and customers. That was my thought, and it was the first sign that I had some problems dealing with people.

One day my boss tells me that I need to have “well-rounded experience” in working in the store. What that meant was that they were going to put me on…

…a cash register!

I almost quit right then and there. They showed me how the computerized cash register worked. If someone wanted a cheeseburger, then press the cheeseburger button once. But if they want no pickles, then you have to press another button — I think it was “grill” — and then push a specific button for pickles, then the grill button again, then back to another button.

I was following along with the instruction, all the while worrying that I’d not be able to remember it.

Finally, the moment of truth was at hand. I was given a cash register and had my first customer, an older man who was about 6′-5″ and in a hurry.

We ended up in a situation from hell. Below is a rough transcript, with his words in italics, and mine in standard.

Welcome to McDonald’s. What can I get for you today?

Yeah, I’ll have a cheeseburger and some fries and a large coke and a shake and…

While he’s rattling this off, I’m in a panic, running my finger across the board looking for the cheeseburger button. Not only am I NOT finding it, but I am forgetting the rest of his order.

He finishes his order and looks at me, still scanning for the button. He yells, “Really? REALLY?”

This does absolutely NOTHING to make any of this better. I’m looking around, desperately trying to find a manager, or ANYONE to step in and take over. When I can’t find anyone, I run screaming into the basement, to hide in the freezer.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed, and was very upset with myself. What was wrong with me?

It would take another 31 years for me to find out.

After I went through my horrible episodes with the cancer scammer and the studio scammer — two people who destroyed my life as I knew it, as well as who I was as a person inside — I was afraid of people. I was afraid to be outdoors.

I was afraid of everything.

My girlfriend at the time would encourage me to get out, by taking me to a guitar shop. Every weekend, we would get in the car and drive 5 miles or so to get to the shop.

I ended up befriending a salesman there named Rogerio. As I write this, I consider Rogerio to be one of my good friends. He encouraged me, even though it was difficult at times. I know how difficult I can be, and that knowledge does nothing to help me make things easier for others.

Over the course of two years, he sold me roughly two dozen guitars and maybe half a dozen basses.

With Rogerio [R] after buying this EBMM PDN Limited Edition JP6 Starry Night. It was not only my favorite guitar, but it’s the only one I didn’t want to buy at first.

And he’s an ethical salesman, too. I’d want to spend $3,000 on a new guitar, and he probably could have used the commission. But he would tell me that he was not going to sell the guitar to me, explaining how it would be a redundancy based on other guitars in my collection.

He had very intimate knowledge of my guitar collection, because he sold all of them to me. He’s that salesman who sold over two dozen guitars to a drummer.

Getting out and talking to Rogerio every weekend helped me to do other things, like going to the grocery store.

Most people take it for granted, that they can just walk in, get what they want, and walk out. For me, it was an exercise in coping with the terror that is… other people.

I would make it a point to talk to the cashier for a second or two.

In working through my discomfort, I’d later start going to Best Buy a few times per week to talk to the sales people.

At Best Buy, it seems that I always know more about what I am looking for than they do. I would go into the store when things were slow, so that I’d not be taking sales away from the people I’d be talking with.

I was going in with no intention of buying anything. This was all social practice for me. And it was safe, because they wouldn’t be following me outside or otherwise bugging me if I left.

So I’d go online and read up on digital cameras or something before going in. I’d find the section and wait for a salesperson to approach.

Very often, I’d find myself in a weird situation. When I wanted to buy something, I could never find help. And when I did NOT want to buy something, sales people would always congregate around me.

Since I wasn’t in need of anything, a salesperson would be with me immediately. They’d ask what I wanted to do with the equipment, if I had any current equipment or experience, and so on. We would talk about cameras for a half hour or so, and then I would leave.

And it would not be lost on me that even though I knew more about the products than the salespeople there, I would always fail miserably if I were to try to out-sell any of them.

Because of my fear of being a salesperson, I go out of my way to make the experience a pleasant one. Knowing MY luck, I’d be the first man to experience The Reverse-Karen, where the salesperson goes nuts on the customer.

The mostly-American phenomenon of The Karen is something I’ve written about in the past. It’s basically grown adults acting like spoiled-rotten babies in public, without feeling any sense of personal embarrassment.

It’s why people are quitting service jobs and leaving customer service.

The phrase I imagine them experiencing in their heads, over and over, is, “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this bullshit.”

And I agree.

With all of my negative sales experiences, you’d think that I would be the first champion of the idea that these positions should die out.

But I am not.

There were some days, before the pandemic, when I’d not be feeling all that perky or peppy. More often than not, this was my mood. So I’d go over to the little coffee shop in town and get a coffee. My brief and business-only interactions with the lady working there always helped to bump my mood up a few pegs, thereby making me a little bit more tolerable to the rest of Society.

The thought of ordering coffee through an app without any interaction sounds very cold.

It’s the idea of just getting what you want and avoiding the experience of getting what you want.

If my only option was to buy guitars online, then I’d probably have purchased only one. I’d have been unhappy with it, and wouldn’t know why, because I’d not have had that big experience with Rogerio. With all of the guitars I bought, I learned over time [the hard way] what I liked and did not like in guitar features.

Nobody thinks to ask about the fretboard radius. But I do now. That’s just one example of the many things I learned from Rogerio.

With a push-button purchasing experience, there is nothing learned. There is no Rogerio there to point out this or that, or to tell me why or why not a specific guitar would be good for ME, personally.

It’s just, here’s your guitar. Next!

This story is from the summer of 1980. I’m 15 and I have my first “real paycheck” job, complete with taxes. I didn’t drive yet, and the job was about an hour away in Indianapolis, so I’d be ready to go by 7:00am and would ride to the job site with my mother.

Every day, I would wake up at 4:45am, clean up, get dressed, jump out my bedroom window, and run about a half mile across town to a little local coffee shop.

A girl I had a MAJOR crush on was working there early mornings. I’d get there when they opened at 5:00am and sit at the counter so this gorgeous specimen of a woman would serve me coffee at the counter. For the first 10-15 minutes, it was just the two of us.

The coffee was truckstop-grade fare. Anyone who thought that I was there for the coffee was missing the point.

The coffee was the excuse.

But she would interact with me as a customer. No doubt, she had to know why I was there. It gave me an excuse to talk with her.

This leads me to think about the sad emptiness that comes with the removal of the human interaction. Find your things, buy your things, get your things. Sometimes that’s okay, like when I got on Amazon months ago and bought heat sinks for my Commodore 64.

For me, that’s almost like buying paper clips. I have no personal attachment to paper clips.

But with things like a guitar, or other gear that is VERY personal to me, I want to have a conversation with someone who knows what they’re talking about, and get into things in a way where I may determine that I am on the right track, or maybe there’s something I hadn’t heard about that better fits what I want or need to get done.

I’m not a good salesman, at all. However, it seems that over the course of my life I have relied heavily on salespeople, if for nothing more than the social practice that comes with talking to them.

Going to a Starbucks to get a coffee from a barista who helps me out is helping me with more than just coffee. It also helps me get some early and non-threatening verbal practice, which primes me for the office.

Ordering Starbucks through an app, driving up, and getting the drink would get me the drink. But that’s not the only thing for which I am paying!

I want to close this out with a clip from the show Mad Men. I never watched the show myself, but I did watch the following scene based on a recommendation.

In this clip, the main character is pitching an ad campaign for a product. In other words, he is selling a way of selling a thing. So meta! But if you watch this and are then left with both eyes dry and your heart not in your throat, then I have a Starbucks app that might interest you.

If you like what I write, then please consider sending a one-time donation to me via PayPal. Please use the following link and click SEND to donate, and thank you for reading!

Published by DrumWild

Writing about drums, music, and philosophy.

One thought on “Death of The Salesman

  1. Yet another beautiful account that rings so many bells in the reader’s mind. Rogerio is a rare gem. He doesn’t sell you what you think you want. He sells you what you really need. That clip, and nostalgia being “the pain from an old wound.” Yes, yes and YES. Last but not least, I’d run a mile for that lady at the coffee shop 😘

    Liked by 1 person

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