Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nature abhors a vacuum: Why I'm not trying to sell my sister on the value of keeping Shabbat

Or, "A Tale of Two Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen"

STORY #1: My Father
My father tells the story of the summer between college semesters, when he sold vacuum cleaners:

Dad was trained to use his test model, and was ready to face his first customer. When he got to the man's house, however, he couldn't get the machine to work. Flustered and self-conscious, he fiddled with the controls. The customer, sensing my Dad's mounting panic, came over to him and helped him figure out why the vacuum cleaner didn't start.

Together, they were able to get the machine working.

My father made the sale.

Dad realized he sold that vacuum cleaner because his customer became personally involved with it. After investing himself in learning how it operated, the customer had developed a relationship with the machine. When my father's demonstration was over, the man felt some ownership of the vacuum cleaner. This helped him make the sale.

Thereafter, my father made a point of getting his victims fish potential customers to handle the machines during his sales spiel. He’d ask them to turn it on, or plug it in. He offered them the attachments to hold. He got them involved.

My father sold a lot of vacuum cleaners that summer.

STORY #2: Some other guy
In 1996, a vacuum cleaner salesman called. He told me he got my name from a friend of mine. He asked to come to my house and deep clean a room with his spiffy and expensive vacuum cleaner, free of charge.

I said, "No, thank you, I'm not interested in buying a vacuum cleaner."

Being pathologically polite to salesmen, I wasn’t able to hang up on him quickly enough.
(I suffer from LUMPY OATMEAL Syndrome: Lamely Unable to Modify Politeness Yields Overly Approachable To Marketers Employing Assertive Language.)

Somehow he stuck his foot in my door over the telephone, and continued his pitch.

"It won't cost you a dime," he said.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

"I'll do a deep cleaning of one room. You don't have to buy anything."

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

"What do you have to lose?" He persisted.

I gave up after a few minutes of repeating, "I'm not going to buy a vaccum cleaner" after every round he fired at me and scheduled the appointment.

The next day, he showed up five minutes early, wearing a jacket and tie. He pumped my hand. He flashed a seminar smile. His eyes were tractor beams.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said, before returning his greeting.

"That's okay, no problem. Just show me to the room you'd like to have deep-cleaned."

He used my first name in every other sentence. Business cards sprang from his pocket. He offered them with both hands.

I told him I didn't need multiple cards. "They’re for your friends. They might like to have a room cleaned, too." He winked.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said.

For an hour and a half, he vacuumed and vacuumed my living room. He moved decisively. He was cheerful and energetic, and worked up a heavy sweat.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said, handing him a glass of lemonade.

He shrugged and went back to work.

During this time, I puttered in the kitchen, calling out to him every so often, "You know, I'm really not going to buy a vacuum cleaner. You do understand that, right?"

"Sure, that's fine, that's just fine. Hey, come over here and see the difference between the part I haven't done yet and what I just finished. Let me show you how the drape attachment works..."

He did a fantastic job. When he was finished, I felt guilty, yet determined. The room was thick with a burnt-dust just-vacuumed odor. We were the third family with children to live in that house, with that off-white carpet. I doubt it was ever that clean, even when newly installed.

I praised his machine. I praised him. I thanked him profusely. I told him, "I'm really sorry you went to all this effort, because I'm really not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

He smiled his seminar smile, chirping, “No problem. I hope you enjoy the living room. Maybe you can recommend me to some of your friends," as he packed up his equipment heading for the front door.

I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Look,” I said. "I don't get it. From the moment you called, I told you I wasn't going to buy a vacuum cleaner. I repeated it throughout your visit and demonstration. I stood here, with my hands folded across my chest, shaking my head, repeating that sentence. Yet you worked so hard. You did such a great job. Why did you bust your tail for me for half a day, knowing that I wasn't going to buy one of your vacuum cleaners?"

"Oh, that." He chuckled a bit. "Everyone says that."

"But I repeated it over and over again."

"Everyone does that. I'm used to it."

I was surprised. "Okay, so lots of people say that. Out of all the people who say that, how many break down and actually buy the vacuum cleaner?"

"About half of them," he said.


"Yup. I'm almost at 50 percent.. Now you go and have a lovely day, and don't forget to tell your friends about me..."

And off he went.

Ducking the “Hard Sell”

So, how does this relate to my sister and me?

My sister and her husband recently started keeping kosher. She’s blogging about it at Kosher Newbie.

As she mentioned in a recent post comment, they are not (yet?) shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observers). While I did comment about my own experience of becoming shomeret Shabbat in reply, I have no intention of explicitly urging them to become shomer Shabbat.

There are two reasons for this: one philosophical and the other strategic.

First, it is no secret which way I would choose. After all, I have already chosen for myself. This is the only choosing I get to do. My opinions are known. I know that they know I’m available, if they ask my opinions or advice in this area. Given that, any unsolicited coaching from me would be insulting or patronizing. At the very least, it would be annoying. I hate being annoying.

The strategic reasons are related to the two vacuum cleaner stories above.

In the first story, my father taught me that a sale is more likely when the customer sells the product to himself. This is especially effective through direct involvement with the product. It’s easy to tune out the enthusiastic sales pitch made by someone who “works for the company;” someone is vested in the sale. One’s own experience is much more convincing.

The second story demonstrates the effective strategy of allowing the victim fish potential customer to state objections without posing an emotional counter-argument. True, the guy in that story didn’t sell a vacuum cleaner to me. He did, however, have a fantastic closing rate. The salesman in the second story let the product speak for (and sell) itself.

I care about my sister and her family. I’m interested in the choices they make.
Yet, my plan is to sit back and let them sell themselves (or not) on Shabbat observance, and let Shabbat sell itself to them.

This way, I don’t have to become a pushy salesman, and the chances of a successful closing are maximized.

That’s the plan: Mind my own business, unless asked, and hope.

Now it’s time go vacuum my living room…

7 comments, so far. Add yours now!

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Malachi Rothschild said...

I loved your post. I think part of the reason that allowing the customer to sell the product to themselves works so well is because it's more experiential. Someone can come in and show you Shabbos but you've got to have a taste before you get menuchah-cravings.

muse said...

This is a truly great post, no surprise that it topped HH.
It reminds me of a lilne I've used with unruly classes. Recognizing that they won't listen, I've taken out my crocheting and said:
"I have better things to do with my energy than fight with you!"

Yoav said...

I think this is an excellent approach.You can really only decide for yourself.

Juggling Frogs said...

This ties in, I think, with an interesting post at Beyond BT (a wonderful site that I've just discovered since making this post) about how one approaches "doing kiruv" to others:
There's no such thing as kiruv"

ME said...

Please do tell your sister though to check with her rabbi about the halachot of cooking on shabbat, if she hasn't already, as food cooked on shabbat can render pots unkosher.

Juggling Frogs said...

Thank you. She's aware of this, and been using cold food on Shabbat since she kashered her place.

Jack's Shack said...

I just stumbled onto this and wanted to say that I really appreciated it.

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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