by Scott A. Williams
“Welcome to the team, Steven.”
He shook Steven’s hand, again surprised at the force with which the young man performed the ritual. All this handshaking made Gary uncomfortable, but the training manual said it was good business to seal an agreement with a handshake.
Though youthful, Steven was a well-seasoned hand shaker. Smooth and polished, he was a salesman at 17. He’d certainly sold himself to Gary, who felt confident about his potential. Yes, it was a good decision to hire him.
“I think you’ve got a good chance to make Three-S, Steven.”
“Super Shoe Seller. That’s when you lead the store in selling DSPs – Designated Second Pairs. We’ll find out when you start tomorrow. Do you remember what time I told you to be here?”
“Yeah, I know: the store opens at 10:00 but be here at 9:00 to read the training manual first.” Steven groaned silently. Another stupid training manual.
“See you at 9:00, Steven. Welcome aboard.”
Steven walked back into the mall, knowing he’d make this Three-S designation in no time flat. Still, he was left wondering about his new boss’s intellectual deficiencies.
His girlfriend was waiting. As the primary beneficiary of Steven’s summertime income, she was interested in how the interview went.
“How’d it go, Steven? Get the job?”
“Yeah, Francine, piece of cake. People need shoes, they come to a shoe store and I sell ’em shoes. It’s a good arrangement.”
“What about your boss? Think you might be able to get along with your boss this time? You don’t want to get fired again.”
“This guy should be nothing to worry about. He’s got the IQ of a cadaver and shakes hands like one, too. What a pushover. I bet his own boss walks all over him. Really, he looks like a weasel, only a weasel’s probably smarter and not so skinny. Besides, it’s straight commission. He’ll just want me to sell shoes.”
“So can you sell shoes, too?”
“Can I sell shoes? I can sell lighter fluid to Lucifer. I can sell oceanfront property in Arkansas. I can sell formal wear to a penguin. I can sell — “
“I get the picture, Steven. When do you start?”
“I’ll be reading his how-to-sell shoes book starting at 9:00 tomorrow.”
Steven acted his new role to Francine’s delight.
“Yes, madam, you’ll find these shoes to be exceedingly comfortable. Yes, and they look simply scrumptious with that skirt you’re wearing – wherever did you find it? Oh, it’s just divine! Here, I’ll wrap them up for you, or perhaps you’d like to wear them? Yes, why don’t you wear them. They look so lovely on your exquisitely callused feet.”
“OK, OK, I see that look in your eyelets, so I’ll bite my tongue. Let’s make like shoes and get the heel out of here.”
Steven spent his last five dollars on ice cream. Francine chowed her treat, secure in the knowledge that ice cream would be plentiful all summer if Steven’s job went well. Steven was in love with being in love, so he bought her all the ice cream she wanted.
In the morning Steven asked his mom if he could use the Oldsmobile. It wouldn’t be cool to get dropped off and picked up by a parent, especially on the first day. Besides, he was sure she’d let him have the car because he had gotten a job. Another job.
“Now maybe you shouldn’t be so forward this time, Steven. Just do what your boss tells you to do. That’s what he’s paying you for, you know.”
“Ma, I’ll do what he tells me unless it’s stupid. You always say, ‘Would you jump off a bridge just because someone told you to?’ I won’t do stuff that’s stupid. If I have a better way to do something, why should I do it stupidly?”
She didn’t answer. She knew her son was sensible, just like his father. But the boy could be a bit gruff when others didn’t see things his way. He’d just have to learn for himself.
Steven parked the Oldsmobile and by 9:00 he was waiting at the storefront. The weasel arrived five minutes later.
“I was here at 9:00 just like you said, Gary.”
“Good morning, Steven. Right, right, let’s get you started on your training program. We want you to step into shoe sales with your best foot forward!”
Steven refrained from simulating regurgitation in response to Gary’s attempt at humor. He didn’t want to start his day by looking for another job. Of course he also didn’t want to start his day reading some stupid manual written by a goddamned English major who probably couldn’t sell sunglasses to albinos at the beach. He knew there’d be strict procedures to follow.
“I’ll be right out front if you have any questions, Steven. Why don’t you get started?”
Steven started by reviewing the extensive list of acronyms. Their system was just a bunch of cutesy ways to remember useless phrases. He closed the manual and leaned back in his chair. He was going to sell shoes the best way he knew how: talk to people, feel ’em out, figure out what makes ’em tick. The manual wanted him to use the same approach for every customer who came into the store! They may as well have only one shoe style in one size. Steven only had to feign study until 10:00 and that was only another 50 minutes. Fortunately, Gary left him in peace until the store opened.
“I’d like you to wait on the first customer this morning, Steven. Let’s see how you do with our system. Do you have any questions about the system?”
“Yeah, the system. What’s up with this Designated Second Pair?”
“The DSP is very important, Steven.”
“I saw it in the manual, but what if I think a customer is one of those people who gets put off when a salesman brings out shoes they didn’t ask to see? A lot of people will think that’s pushy.”
“It’s not pushy – it’s assertive. It’s part of our method. We’ve proven it scientifically. I think you’ll find it better to try it our way. Ah – and here comes your first opportunity.”
Into the store came a woman of 50. Dumpy, Steven thought to himself. Won’t take any guff from anyone. A light dose of sweet talk and a cheap pair of shoes.
“Good morning, ma’am, how are – “
“Well let me know if there’s anything I can show you in your size. By the way, what is your size? Please, have a seat over here and we’ll find out for sure.”
Now that was interesting. Gary hadn’t seen this method before. It wasn’t in the training manual, but Steven got her to sit, and Sit was the first phase of the SHOE method: Sit the customer down, Have the customer try on the shoes, Overcome any objections, Execute the close. It wasn’t in the manual, so why did it work?
“Let me remove your shoe for you ma’am. This looks like a very comfortable pair of shoes. Are you looking for comfort in your new pair, too?”
While Steven’s customer babbled on about what she wanted, he removed her worn plastic sandal and placed her foot on the measuring stick. Averting his nose, he made mental note of her size.
“Just something cheap. I’m not spending any twenty bucks for a pair of shoes. What do you got in fake leather? That’s usually cheap.”
“May I recommend this comfortable slip on? I think you’ll find it offers fine quality at a very attractive price. Just relax for a moment while I get a pair in your size.”
Steven smiled as he walked toward the back room. He returned with the cheap shoes, size 12½ extra wide. Gary noticed right away that Steven had neglected to bring out the Designated Second Pair. He screeched to Steven in a whisper.
Steven ignored him, certain that this customer would balk at the pushy tactic. He was sure he had one sale in the bag, but going for two would net him zero. Gary watched nervously as proper procedures were disregarded.
In two smooth motions, Steven slipped the new shoes on his customer’s feet. “There. A good fit, aren’t they? Take a walk around the store. They look great, and aren’t they really comfortable? You know they’ll get even more comfortable as you wear them, too.”
Seeing her smile, Steven clinched the deal.
“Shall I wrap them for you or would you rather wear them home?”
“Oh, I think I’ll wear them!”
Pleased with himself, Steven rang up his first sale. He’d done it his own way and it worked.
By now Gary was helping a customer. He emerged from the back room with two shoeboxes and put the system in motion.
Store traffic was steady and shoes were being sold. In the bustle, Steven recognized a challenge: his feel ’em out method versus SHOE. Watching the weasel in action, Steven was convinced that SHOE should stand for Sit the customer down, Hound the customer needlessly, Oversell the products, Extort the money. It was so stupid.
The shoe-selling day was reaching an end and Steven was planning a quick retreat. Francine would want ice cream, so he wanted to collect his commissions and leave.
Following the proper accounting procedure, Gary counted the day’s receipts. He was stunned to discover that Steven had sold more shoes and without selling a single DSP. Just beginner’s luck, Gary thought. If he really took SHOE to heart and pushed DSPs, Steven would be great. The manual called for some constructive criticism.
“You did a good job today, Steven. I want you to remember to bring out the DSP every time. It will help you to sell more shoes.”
Steven had been watching Gary count commissions. “Looks like I sold more than you did without being, uh, assertive.“
Gary couldn’t respond. He was a pushover, all right, and Steven sold shoes like a pro. If only he would embrace the system and push DSPs, Steven could easily become a Super Shoe Seller. If Steven made Three-S, Gary knew his store had a good chance to be honored at the sales conference for Largest Ability to Cultivate Extra Sales – LACES. But if Steven didn’t push DSPs, Gary might not make LACES. Until he made LACES he couldn’t be considered for a position of leadership in area management.
Over the next two months, store receipts jumped 24% over the same period last year. Steven earned more commissions than anyone in the store without ever selling a DSP. Gary knew the manual said that every shoe seller had to sell DSPs, but his store was posting excellent total sales since Steven started feeling out customers.
Nonetheless, Gary knew he’d look bad if the figure for DSPs didn’t go up, too. The next day, he consulted the manual on the procedure for dealing with insubordinate employees and planned a chat with his young salesman.
“Steven, I’d like to have a word with you.”
He’d heard that before. Perhaps he could sell furniture?
“You know, Steven, after all I’ve told you about how you need to bring out DSPs, you still don’t do it. That’s how we do it here. It’s the best way.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Gary. You hired me to sell shoes. I sell more shoes than you do. I sell more shoes than anyone in the store. Don’t you want me to sell shoes?”
“I want you to sell shoes with the SHOE method. It’s the scientific way to sell shoes.”
“My way works better for me. Tell me that it doesn’t. Show me that it doesn’t.”
Gary knew that the boy just wouldn’t follow procedures, even when they were right there on the page. He had done everything he was supposed to do. The manual gave him no alternative.
“Steven, your performance is not up to what your job requires. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”
“Let me go where?”
Steven had always loved that comeback. He shook Gary’s hand firmly and walked into the mall.
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