I’m not a salesperson. I think my friendliness and general ease with strangers makes people think I’d be good at selling stuff, but I’m not into it. Sure, I like chatting with just about anyone: That part of my new job is awesome. As long as I can pretend to myself that I’m only looking to find out general information about these water systems I’m responsible for calling, I’m fine.
But when I have to explain who I am, and what it is that I’ll be doing with the data I’m getting from the person I’ve contacted, I feel too awkward to enjoy the call. On one hand, I honestly believe that the water systems can benefit from the professional services offered by my employers, because often the systems are inefficient, hampered by aging infrastructure, and run by volunteers who may not be aware of the support they can access. On the other hand, years of anti-capitalist idealism and studies in cooperative business models make me clam up when dealing with “hard pitches” and “sales funnels”.
Often, the person I’m talking with doesn’t understand why I’m calling, so I can easily just get their email, send them an info package, and continue with my daily pitch goal. Sometimes, they’re sufficiently engaged with water issues to ask exactly what it is our company offers, tell me a few things about their water system, and have a good discussion. Even when these people figure they won’t need our services, I appreciate the fact that they’ll talk to me.
Then there’s the jerks, who get irate and acuse me of trying to sell them something, as if that’s a crime, as if I’m trying to scam them. This is where my own doubt comes to light: I want to convince them that I’m not trying to sell them anything they couldn’t use, anything that wouldn’t make their water safer and their systems easier to manage, but I can’t. Instead I just feel bad for being part the sales machine, and question my own beliefs and reasons for taking this job.
I can rationalize working here very easily, firstly because I need a job and secondly because access to clean water is a huge fucking problem that I want to help solve. Where I get lost is in my lack of confidence in private for-profit enterprise: Is this really the best way of fixing things?
From the limited experience I’ve gained during my 6 days of employment in the industry, I would say that one of the biggest problems in the water industry is communication: There’s no comprehensive public listing of water system administrators, no listing of grants available to them, no framework for engagement. Being a geeky organizer sort of person, I immediately want to make a website that does all these things, and I want to coordinate conferences and webinars and all sorts of other events that’ll get people educated and engaged with water issues. The more capitalist side of me will say that that’s exactly what this company is working on, for the good of the people. And that may be true, and if I really try, I guess I can see it that way. Then I read another email from my boss about “coaching” “prospects” through the “sales funnel” and I get all nauseous. Meanwhile, I’m at least learning to question my ability to take clean drinking water for granted… And paying the bills, which feels like no small feat these days.