House rule: we always open every piece of mail. Remembering Mr. Wiz’s* astonishment, a while back, in receiving a $300 rebate from his old insurance company, I recently ripped open both sides of an envelope that urged me to open it immediately.
We’ve all seen these invitations before; listen to a presentation in exchange for a gift of some sort. This one caught my eye, only because of the gift: two- round trip tickets to anywhere in the continental United States, a two-night stay at a top hotel and a $50 restaurant gift card.
Curious, I called the 800 number and was told that this travel agency promoted themselves via one-on-one presentations, rather than utilizing other forms of advertising.
With a background in sales, I was intrigued to see how these experts might elevate their craft to an art form. The two airline tickets and the fact that the presentation was in a classy downtown hotel made me decide to reserve a space.
We arrived early and greeted the woman sitting outside the conference room. Wondering how she could possibly be so irritated at such an early hour, she looked up, handed us a clip board and told us to fill out the information without acknowledging us at all. I named her Ms. Morose (aka Ms. M).
The doors opened and we were ushered in, along with two elderly couples. The body language of the two gentlemen accompanying their wives conveyed immediately that they were coerced into attending. Personally, I would have removed the two tables that sat in the back empty.
Before we had a chance to chat with our neighbors, the master of ceremonies leaped into the room and introduced himself. Because of his Hawaiian shirt, perpetual smile and game show host voice, I gave him the title Mr. Carnival Barker (aka Mr. CB). In between photos of exotic destinations, we were told that joining this members-only travel agency (brokers that cut out the middlemen) would discount our travel by at least 50%.
We were then introduced to our personal consultant (Ms. M and Mr. CB turned out to be the other consultants). A large black man with a sweet face, he shook our hands and joked that, by his accent, we could probably guess that he was from Alabama. He later mentioned that he was actually was from Senegal. Having to repeat his introduction three times before we understood him, we settled in at the edge of our seats and politely tried to focus intently on every word that Mr. Senegal, my name for him (aka Mr. S) had to say.
It seemed that Mr. S. was also the closer. With a broad smile, he assured us that the $3995 we would spend, along with the $199 per year was a small price to pay for the deep discounts offered us.
By the time we looked up, the two grouchy husbands and their spouses were nowhere to be seen. It was time for Mr. S. to throw in the discounts and specials that he had been hiding in his back pocket. Though he mentioned more than once that the offer expired once we exited the room, we were unsure why he wrote his name and cell number down for us.
We declined the offer and said our goodbyes, still wondering, if this was their one shot at a sale, why the staff was not as professional as expected and not dressed for success. Exiting the room and walking down the hall, I heard Ms. M. call me back to her desk. As I returned, she said in her monotone voice “I’ll need that pad back” Mini paper hoarder that I am, I had put the white lined 8 x 11 inch pad under my arm.
All in all, I learned a lot that day: first impressions are important, never make a big decision before sleeping on it, if it seems too good to be true it probably is and the secret to success for multimillion dollar companies is keeping an eye on those 25 cent pads.
Postscript: The coupon for the airline tickets, hotel stay and dining did arrive along with a request for credit card information to cover taxes and fees totaling $450. I figure I still came out ahead; I made scrap paper out of the coupon, still have the Sheraton Hotel pen and got the idea for this post.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.