Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Seven Skinny Cows: Sometimes life just sucks

Rosie and Mark spent a couple hours each day sorting through Grumpy and Doreen’s house.

The house stood on forty acres, the majority of which had been rented out to a farmer.

The actual lot the house and outbuildings stood on was a couple acres in size. There was a foundation from an old, gambrel-roofed barn that had fallen in half a century ago. There was the big pole barn and a smattering of smaller out-buildings.

In Mark’s poking around he determined that the old barn foundation was riddled with woodchuck holes. He figured that out from the vast numbers of rabbit and fox tracks weaving through the tall weeds that still grew in the soil that had been enriched by a hundred years of horse and cow poop-and-pee.

Mark would take Rosie when he set out toward Eaton Rapids in the spring. He had little hope that the house would not be pillaged, perhaps even burned down.

By shifting around rotted barn beams and judiciously arranging shocks of dried nettles and giant ragweed, Mark created several caches for the most important contents of the attic. Some of the contents had no intrinsic value...old letters and photos of Rosie’s ancestors, for instance.

Other contents were nearly priceless: Aladdin lamps, charcoal fired food warmers, corn knives, hay saws, horse harnesses and books on how to make those and hundreds of other items needed in everyday life in the 1890s.

Mark also found that Grumpy had a sixteen gauge Browning semi-automatic shotgun and a GI .45 handgun.

The sorting was therapeutic for Rosie. Just as we all have different gifts, we all have different styles of grieving. There is no right or wrong way of greiving.

A surprising benefit of Mark’s salesmanship was that he had developed a keenly honed sense of empathy.

Sales is one of the last bastions of self-made super-stars. Nearly every other endeavor has been analyzed, documented and turned into a college degree. Sales people often fall into their profession after a series of career pratfalls which tainted the status of the profession.

Mark came into sales early in life with few preconceptions. He knew he had to establish a bond with the potential customer, but other than that he had few things to un-learn.

One of the techniques he found particularly powerful, especially early in his career before he had other tools, was to mirror his customer’s body language, sentence cadence and functional vocabulary. Not only did it establish rapport with his customer, he found that it actually worked backwards, it actually put him in the same emotional state-space as his customer.

At least one-person-in-ten who walked onto the lot was a distressed buyer. Perhaps it was a recently divorced person who lost the vehicle to the ex. Sometimes it was a working stiff living on the edge whose vehicle crapped out and they no longer had reliable transportation to their job. The reasons for a distressed buyer to walk onto the lot were myriad.

What they all had in common is that they tended to be “lookers” rather than “buyers.” All the other sales people avoided them like the plague. The last thing they wanted was to be tied up with a loser when a real hot prospect walked onto the lot.

Mark had a phenomenal closing rate with the distressed buyers. He figured he made plenty of money on his regular commissions and he could help ‘a brother in need’ out.

Many of Mark’s customers did not use a lot of words. Even though most of the other sales people were from New England, they were from URBAN New England and were much more voluble than the distressed buyers. Mark was rural. He was very comfortable with a slower speech cadence. He had also been in the Coast Guard and he was equally comfortable with the compact, information rich speech of mil-talk.

Even though Mark did not sound like he was from Baa-abba his distressed customers quickly trusted him more than they trusted Joe Isuzu.

Every distressed customer had a story to tell and nobody who wanted to listen.

Mark listened.

“She cheated on me. She burned through the bank accounts and maxed out the credit cards. The judge gave her the Volvo.”

Mark might say “That happened to my brother. It took him three years to get back on his feet.”

“The dog got sick. The vet bills were $6000 and the dog died anyway. Then my truck died.”

Mark might say “My dog died when I was 12. Worst day of my life.”

None of what Mark said was made up. None of it sounded like one-upmanship. It was affirmation that Mark had some inkling of how much the distressed person’s life sucked RIGHT NOW.

Mark would just nod. Many people cannot process words when stunned by grief. Even if they could hear the words, there are times when no words can ease the pain. Sometimes life just sucks.

Mark went into the conversation with no expectations. He just listened.

Sometimes it took the distressed customer fifteen minutes to spin down.

More often it took a bit more than an hour.

Sometimes it would go on for four hours.

Mark had never made a sale after a four hour grief counseling sessions. But he had no expectations so that did not matter.

The irony is that if he had gone into the session with any kind of expectation he would have fallen on his dupa in sales. Only true psychopaths can fake empathy that exquisitly.

Mark sold boat-loads of vehicles after the fifteen minute and one hour counseling sessions. The fact that he had invested in an empathy-bond was only half the magic. The other half is that Mark gleaned information from the customer that helped him guide the customer to the vehicle that was going to meet his needs.

If they absolutely had to have a Volvo, Mark found them a Volvo.

If they needed a truck to drive to work, Mark would guide them to a reliable truck that was within their price range. They might kick about the lack of creature comforts but Mark would quell their objections with, “I would make a lot more commission selling you a fancier truck. Selling you this truck is taking money out of my pocket...but this truck is the truck you need right now. You can always sell it for what you put into it and buy a nicer one after you get back on your feet.”

While Mark got into it for the crassest of reasons, to make more money by selling more vehicles, Mark found that the acorn had not fallen too far from the maternal tree. Like Kate, Mark found great satisfaction in easing the deepest aching pain in other people.

There was a screaming need for Mark back in Kates Store.



  1. The Marks of the world are what keep salesmen from being shot on sight.

    Hope he hid all the good stuff well from the morlocks.

  2. I forget - how old is Rosie?

    Hiding the good stuff like that is a great idea; I doubt anyone would look at an old foundation like that, especially with the house as a magnet.

    1. Rosie is eight.

      The implication is that Rosie's parents live in a suburb of Chicago, Columbus or Cleveland and stashed her with Grumpy and Doreen because they perceived it to be safer than where they lived.

      I don't know that the exact city where Rosie's parents live is all that important in the long run.