I Was a Teenage Vitamin Salesman

I was a vitamin salesman at one time. It only lasted for about 20 minutes. I think the problem with the job first arose when I was conducting the phone interview. I was answering all the interview questions promptly with well spoken answers and even as the words left my mouth I regretted answering them so well. All I could think was, why did I just say that? I should have made up something that made me out to be a terrible salesman. He called me back the next day, and I got the job. Hooray. I love vitamins.

Training hurt my brain and questioned my morals at every turn. It was all about cordial manipulation. Great tips like, start filling out the order form as early as possible because once there is something in writing, they will feel more willing to buy. Of course, when they said the word willing, they meant the word pressured. Don’t ask for the sale, make them believe they have already agreed to the sale. Don’t say, “would you like to order something,” say, “what would you like to order.” I would throw words like,”manipulate” and “corner” back to my trainers frequently, which was often met with a response like, “well we don’t like that term.” My favorite was when they were explaining how to make sure the customer would not abandon the sale if it seemed liked they were ready to buy. “We need to make sure they don’t have a way out, right?” I asked, believing I was cementing the lesson we just received. “Well, um, yeah. But, we don’t like to say it that way.”

Despite all my rebelliousness, which was for the most part very low key, I often caved or agreed with them after my initial attempt to corner them into telling me I was supposed to corner customers. “You’re right, we probably shouldn’t say it like that,” was my usual response. They were after all, going to pay me to sell these things, and being salesmen and women themselves they were very friendly and wanted to sell me their selling tips.

During my first mock sale, I found myself going through our assigned product book not pointing out the benefits of the vitamins, but rather remarking on how happy the models in the pictures looked. “You know you want these vitamins. Look how happy these models are! They love these vitamins!” It inspired a chuckle from my mock customer, but she clearly wasn’t interested in purchasing my vitamins.

I truly came to terms with my inability to sell vitamins when we played the Kevin Bacon game. They had us play this game to show us how easy it was to connect one person to another. The business of selling vitamins was all based off of referrals. You find one person to sell vitamins to and then you get your new customer to provide you with the names of five or six people they don’t like so that you can go bother them about buying vitamins. Kevin Bacon’s over-saturation in the film industry is a great way to show how easy and lucrative the business model of referrals can be.

I was tasked with connecting Kevin Bacon to Bill Murray. I pondered for a moment and came up with this. “Kevin Bacon, of course you go with bacon, that you eat for breakfast, which leads you to cereal, because that’s for breakfast too, which takes you to eating cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons. Saturday morning cartoons takes you to The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, which was based on the Ghostbusters films that starred Bill Murray.” My vitamin salesman aficionado, of whom was a short balding Italian man, stared at me quizzically with a piece of chalk in his gold ringed fingers. He had been prepared to write down the trail of names that led me from Kevin Bacon, but had stopped after writing the name Kevin Bacon. “Um, yeah. That’s a bit outside the box. Let’s try somebody else.” At that point he moved on to the next vitamin salesman student since I had failed miserably in proving his point.

Allow me to reiterate that I was not trying to be a smart-ass. I was here for a job, with a goal to become a valued employee with this company. The problem is that my mind went there first. It seemed perfectly logical to me to develop this tangential relationship between Bill Murray and Kevin Bacon. Why connect them with their relationships to other people, when I can create an abstract one involving cereal and cartoons? I truly thought I had played the game well and was surprised when my answer was brushed off so lightly.

A few days later, after never having sold a single vitamin, I turned in my resignation. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. Here I was face to face with a man who truly believed in these vitamins and this company. Even though I was saying words like, “not for me,” and, “thanks for the opportunity,” all I could think was, “this is stupid,” and, “I haven’t decided if this is a scam or not.” He may have seen through my veiled politeness, but he didn’t let me know. He was an absurdly nice guy, as I imagine you have to be in order to be a successful salesman.

So with that, I left the world of vitamin salesmanship, but not before buying one month’s worth of vitamins for myself. I couldn’t leave empty handed right? Or at least that’s what I was convinced of before leaving Mr. Italian’s office.

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About Kyle Hilliard
I used to be a freelancer. Now I write for Game Informer magazine. Someday, when the time is right, I will grow a mustache.

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