Down and Out (Part 1)

Richard A. Plinke


Editor’s Note: This is the eighth installment in a 10-part series of excerpts from Richard A. Plinke’s upcoming book, “How to Sell the Plague (Without Being a Rat and Other Cheeky Musings of an Unrepentant Salesman).” The series humorously explores how Plinke ended up in sales, the last place he ever thought he’d be and what he learned during those early days that carried over through his 35-year sales career. Subsequent installments will be posted each Monday. If you missed the first parts, you can go back to the beginning here:


Okay, so that’s not exactly how I put it to Mac McGlinn, but it’s the gist of what I said.

“Is that a true story?” Mac asks.

“Yes, it is.”

“Interesting,” he says and jots down some notes.

When he’s finished with his notes, he tells me about the job and what it entails in terms of responsibilities, expectations, earnings potential and training. He explains that he is the training manager and handles all the day-to-day duties of hiring, training and supporting new salespeople. He has two sales coaches that work for him, he tells me, fresh off the street carrying a bag (meaning they were selling until recently – the bag referring to a briefcase), and their only job is to support the trainees through their learning curve, which can be a somewhat exciting process, the Keeper of the Red Dancing Flames adds, sort of like your dentist telling you that root canal can be a stimulating experience.

Come a little but closer, you’re my kind of man.

Mac says he reports to a man named Carl Little, who is in charge of the personnel department for the company (before we employed more user-friendly, supposedly self-empowering euphemisms like Department of Human Resources) and that he will be my next interview, should I make the cut.

And the Fallen Angel snickers, flipping his red, spiked tail for dramatic emphasis.

He concludes the meeting by telling me he appreciates my time and honesty and hopes to see me again, although his words have a disingenuous, perfunctory tone to them.

You want to get together and sing some more tunes?

However, a couple of days later I get a call from the sales puke telling me I have an interview with Carl Little. Gee, I hope it’s as much fun as the last one.

But Carl Little is not a fun man. You can tell the first time you look at him, like he didn’t get enough sleep and it’s your fault. He’s gruff and speaks in few words while looking at you like you’re a pile of garbage someone dumped on his desk.

“What do you know about sales,” he growls.

Let’s get right to the point. Why waste a lot of time on pleasantries and superfluous verbiage?

“To be honest, not much,” I say, “but I’m hoping to learn quickly.”

“When you say to ‘be honest,’ does that mean you usually lie?” he sneers.

“Well, no. It’s just an expression,” I respond, not sure why I’m here. Do I really need to keep sticking needles under my fingernails?

“Words are what sales is all about, and how they are used will determine success or failure,” he admonishes me. “Choose your words carefully.”

Ain’t we got fun?

Then he gives me a word puzzle to figure out. He asks me if I was driving my car and came upon a tunnel whose ceiling was too low by an inch or two for my car to fit under, and there was no other way to get to the other side of the mountain, what would I do?

I’d turn around and go back to Aspen where nobody cared if I chose my words carefully.

“Let me see,” I say, stalling for time. “I suppose I would take the wheels off and drive on the drums. That should lower the car by several inches, allowing enough clearance.”

“Okay, that might work but the correct answer is that you would let the air out of the tires,” he replies, his words dripping with heavy sarcasm (choosing his words carefully), mad as a wet hornet that I came up with any answer at all.

“But if you do that,” I ask, “how would you get to your destination after you go through the tunnel? You couldn’t drive very far on flat tires and you’d have no way to put air back into them. With my way,” I say, like leaning into a Mike Tyson left hook, “you can put the wheels back on once you’re through the tunnel, and be on you way.”

He glowers at me.

Torpedo in the water! Dive! Dive!

You can feel the steam coming off of Carl Little. I took a man who was obviously in a bad mood and made him even madder. Absolutely furious, would be more accurate. I think this is one of those situations where you win the battle but lose the war.

“Well, that’s something to think about, isn’t it?” he hisses.

Gathering his composure, he asks, “What is a cold call?”  It’s not really a question, more like a poisoned spear thrown at my heart.

I don't have a clue, but I take a guess. However he reacts to my answer, things can’t get any worse.

“Does it refer to calling on someone who is not really interested in buying your product, hence they are a cold prospect?” I say with a rather large chip on my shoulder because I'm bluffing all the way through. I’m not even sure I understand what I just said.

“It’s a term that means calling on the phone or in person (a premise visit, if you will), a potential customer without an appointment or introduction; calling on someone who doesn’t know who you are. It’s the most basic strategy for all successful salespeople,” he instructs, triumphantly showing me who knows what around here.

“That make sense,” I humbly offer.

“I'm glad it makes sense to you,” he grouses.

This is really going well.


Next Week: Down and Out (Part 2)

Then he tosses me a cheap, blue pen. “Sell me this pen,”  he challenges.

The sales puke had prepped me for this situation. He told me that interviewers will sometimes hand you an object from the room, like a notebook, a coffee mug or a pen, and ask you to sell it to them. The three things to remember, he said, adding that they were the three most basic tenets of selling, is to ask questions about the customer’s use of the product, listen to the customer’s answers, and then position the product relative to the customer’s needs.

OK, and right after that I’ll build a hydrogen bomb in my back yard out of odds and ends lying around.


Learn more about Richard Plinke and read his blog here: