A tale of two door-knockers

 - 
07/22/2010

Both Tom Few and I sold one system apiece during our day of door-knocking with the team from APX Alarm’s El Paso office yesterday.

In the interest of full disclosure, it may be material that Tom was with one of the top sales reps from that office, which by the way, is the top office at APX so far this year, and I was with Mark, the manager of the El Paso office.

I worked with Mark, manager of the El Paso office.

I worked with Mark, manager of the El Paso office.

Could that have had something to do with our sales? Maybe, but, hey we were there, and let me tell you, I was feeling some pressure to make (or be present) at a sale.

At the Correlation Meeting—a daily 11 a.m. meeting at all APX offices, where reps strategize, review the results of the day before, do a little training and get psyched for that day—Shawn Brenchley, APX EVP, ended a discussion of company stats with a challenge to all reps—they’d make an extra $100 for every system they sold that day and they’d make $200 apiece if I sold a system.

Shawn Brenchley shares some statistics with the El Paso sales team during the Correlation meeting

Shawn Brenchley shares some statistics with the El Paso sales team during the Correlation meeting

Me and Tom Few in front of the daily scoreboard. All of the reps predict how many sales they'll make. Tom and I are pointing to my quota: one sale.

Me and Tom Few in front of the daily scoreboard. All of the reps predict how many sales they'll make. Tom and I are pointing to my quota: one sale.

Sound like a lot of cabbage for a bunch of mostly college-aged or just post-college-aged kids? Yeah, it does to me too, but in case you didn’t suspect it … this is hard work. Very hard work.

Few and I both spent six-plus hours on the streets of El Paso. We started around 2 p.m. and called it a day when the sun went down around 8:45 p.m. It did not fall below 100 degrees all day long and was 103 at 5 p.m. There’s not much shade in El Paso and when there’s a “breeze” it’s not a Maine sea breeze—it’s like a dust storm. What’s more, they have mini-cactus balls. I don’t know if they fly or what, but my running shoes are covered in them.

While every single homeowner I spoke to in El Paso was friendly—considerably more so, I’d venture, than people in my hometown would be to someone knocking on their door at suppertime—the El Pasoans’ dogs were less friendly.

I’m used to labs, goldens, maybe a boxer or two, but they favor German Shepherds in El Paso. See this nice stone wall?

I walked right next to this stone wall because it was kind of shady.

I walked right next to this stone wall because it was kind of shady.

I was walking by it and nearly dove into the street when two German Shepherds started barking like crazy and trying to hop over the wall.

So, they tell you to knock every door, but when I was on my own, I skipped a few. Can you read the sign on this gate? The sign says “No Trespassing. Violators will be shot and survivors will be shot again.”

A lot of homes had signs that read

I suspected they didn’t want to chat with me about residential security.

Did I mention that if you carry a water bottle for an hour in El Paso, the water heats to a temperature appropriate for hot tea?

With all of this said, I didn’t hate sales. Surprisingly, I kind of liked it.

It was fun, in a way. I read in the APX sales manual about how you approach your prospect, checking out the house and then making the homeowner feel comfortable when you approach them. It was really interesting watching Mark work.

He’d look for clues like this about the homeowner.

Little sneakers on the porch, a telltale sign that there are kids in the home.

Little sneakers on the porch, a telltale sign that there are kids in the home.

When he spoke to homeowners he’d mirror slightly their stance and cadence. Mark is bilingual and many El Paso residents are first-generation Americans of Mexican descent or immigrants themselves from Mexico. He slipped from English to Spanish and back again. I asked why he didn’t just start speaking Spanish when it was clear that that was the resident’s first language, and he said they’ll often take offense if you think they don’t understand English.

Interestingly, I spoke to another rep last night (we all went to dinner around 11—which is what time you eat when you work until 9) who said he tried out his high school Spanish on a customer who said, “no Ingles.” After a few minutes, the customer couldn’t take his Spanish any more and started speaking some pretty decent English.

Back to prospecting, Mark wasn’t too psyched about the chances for a sale if a car in the driveway had unrepaired damage. A satellite dish on the other hand? That’s a good sign. A big house with landscaping and flashy accoutrement? “I’d run to that house,” he said.

Mark recognized our first sale of the day from a block away. “I like that house,” he said, pointing one out to me. It was fairly new (no system yet), satellite dish and nice block (they can afford it), isolated from other homes (more security concerns) construction of new homes going on down the street (even more security concerns.)

My sale

My sale

It turned out to be a single mom with three young children. She needed and wanted and had been thinking about getting a security system, but it definitely took her a little while to decide. Below is a photo of “Twilight” the installer, who showed up just after the sale. People say he looks like Edward from the vampire movie, and he kind of does. (All of the sales people at APX have nicknames. There’s a guy named “Hulk,” one names “Stats”)

In my training the day before I learned about the objections homeowners have about door-to-door alarm sales, and when I was with Mark, I recognized him addressing in different ways those objections. Shawn Brenchley said if you listen carefully, you’ll notice it’s like a list—at some point during the conversation, a good sales rep addresses each of the ten or so common objections homeowners have. (I don’t need it; I can’t afford it; This is too good to be true; Is this a scam?)

Shawn Brenchley did an accelerated training for me on July 19. Here, he's diagramming the sales clycle for me.

Shawn Brenchley did an accelerated training for me on July 19. Here, he's diagramming the sales clycle for me.

After “I” sold a system with Mark and Mark sold another one while I looked on, he heartlessly cast me out to sell alone. That’s the way you learn, he said, you shadow a pro for a while and then you’ve got to try it yourself. He took off. (And sold two more systems before 9 p.m.—Yes, he’s a rock star.)

I knocked a few doors, talked to a few extremely nice people who weren’t terrifically impressed with my pitch, and then there was the thing with the hopping German Shepherds and the boiling water in my water bottle, and the cactus balls on my shoes and plus, I just didn’t feel like I had my licks down.

A big part of my job as a reporter is asking people questions. When I put myself in a position to answer questions, I like to feel ready to answer them. I wasn’t feeling like I had a polished answer to every question that was asked. I wanted some back-up.

There was no way I was calling Mark and I was definitely not calling Bo, the regional sales manager, who’d taunted me with some crack about people from Boston (where I hail from originally) being wimps.

And Tom Few was out of the question, given our throwdown.

What to do? I knew Stuart Dean, APX’s corporate communications guy, was in the neighborhood somewhere selling by himself, and I knew he had an air-conditioned car, so I called him.

He’d never sold alarms door-to-door, though he does have a pretty extensive sales background. He’d already come very close to a couple sales that day. One didn’t have a high enough credit score; the other prospect wanted to buy, but needed to talk to her spouse.

So Stuart and I started knocking doors together. He’d do a little talking, I’d do a little talking. We were refining our pitch with each door. We noticed some stuff that seemed to resonate with the homeowners. We were having fun, and bottom line, we both really, really wanted to make a sale.

Well, we definitely “got a few good looks” as Mark says, maybe even “teed up a couple sales” as he also says, but alas, the sun started to go down. We had to stop working just before 9 p.m.

Tom had some prospects from his day too. Stuart was leaving very early today. So, Tom Few and I talked a very good game at dinner last night about going back to close a couple of sales this morning. By the end of dinner, however, we decided it was more fun to talk about what might have been—the fishes that got away, so to speak.

I’m telling you, if we could have gone back this morning, we’d have had two for sure, maybe four sales. Ask Stuart and Tom.

This photo of Stuart Dean was taken at 8:30 p.m. We were still knocking doors.

This photo of Stuart Dean was taken at 8:30 p.m. We were still knocking doors.

So, it’s summer sales. There must have been lying and cheating, and rogue-ish behavior right? Well of course, it’s unlikely that anyone with half a brain is going to go rogue with a reporter around. I didn’t see or sense any misbehavior. Quite the opposite, as I have been before, I was impressed by the people, processes, training and infrastructure that APX has put together. It’s a well-oiled machine.

Still, I read the stories and the complaints about door-do-door alarm sales people. While there do seem to be considerably fewer stories this year compared to last, they’re out there. Here’s one that Sam blogged about one the other day.

My guess is that there may be a rogue or two at some APX office somewhere. I’d also wager that there are a a few rogues to be found at any residential security company: summer model, traditional door-to-door, and companies that don’t knock doors.

I’m not downplaying the need to crack down on rogue sales people; it makes the industry look bad; it’s extremely important. I do think that established companies like APX take the problem seriously and progress has been made.

This is the first time I’ve spent much time with a group of APX sales reps and the thing that struck me most was this: These guys really believe in the value of what they’re selling.

Of course, we were in El Paso, which borders Cuidad Juarez, a drug-trafficking center and one of the most dangerous cities in the world. One of the reps told me there is an average of eight murders a day in Juarez. People who live in El Paso are concerned about security for a very good reason: They need to be.

But these guys believe every family should have a security system. Over the two days I hung out with them, more than one sales rep asked me: “What kind of security system do you have?” When I told them that I don’t have a security system, they were incredulous, and genuinely seemed worried. It’s not the first time I, (or Sam and Dan, the other Security Systems News editors, who also live in small towns in Maine and also do not have security systems) have encountered this kind of response from people in the industry.

It’s very clear that these guys, and many of you out there, are passionate about the business you’re in, you believe in the products you sell, and the services you provide. It’s one of the reasons that APX Alarm, and many other residential security companies, big and small, are so very good at what you do.

I’ll be writing stories about door-knocking over the next month for a Door-Knocking Special Report which will appear in the October issue of Security Systems News.

Comments

<p class="comment_time">August 3rd, 2010 at 7:57 pm</p>
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<p>I&rsquo;ve personally lost customers from these rogue programs. We&rsquo;ve taken steps internally to prevent future lose as a result of deceptive sales practices.</p>
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<p class="comment_time">August 2nd, 2010 at 11:40 am</p>
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<p>I agree</p>
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<p class="comment_author">July 30th, 2010 at 8:25 pm</p>
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<p>Great call on the installer picture! This is the problem with rogue sales teams. If your going to own and operate an alarm company atleast buy yourself some company vehicles. Even my company who only installs a few systems a month has company branded vehicles (not magnets). You&rsquo;d think a company who proclaims to have hundreds of thousands of accounts could afford a few company owned trucks.</p>
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<p class="comment_author">July 28th, 2010 at 2:42 pm</p>
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<p>My favorite picture is the apx tech showing up to do an install in his beat up truck w/Tennessee tags while working in Texas!</p>
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<p class="comment_author">July 22nd, 2010 at 9:31 pm</p>
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<p>What was your nickname?</p>
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