Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: oceans

Ten lessons I learned

I met Andrew twice, once at a conference in Berlin in 2013, then again at a conference in Vilnius in 2014. I have lost grip with the Oceans Network since then, and I am not too sure he is still in the loop either. But sometimes his posts come up on my personalized newsfeed and I thought it was worth sharing his last one – upon his permission. The title is ‘Ten lessons I learned as a door-to-door salesman‘. Here we go.

I recently completed 100 days as a door-to-door vacuum salesman. My main goal was to learn salesmanship.

It’s no coincidence that the mascot for the sales profession is the mighty rhinoceros. This is because of its tough, thick skin.

During the 100 days, I knocked on thousands of doors, and was told “No” at about 99% of the homes that answered.

Door-to-door vacuum sales is a seven-day workweek with each day lasting 12-14 hours. One Saturday in March lasted 18 hours.

Not everyone who signed up had rhinoceros skin. During the 100 days, 120 people quit.

Starting out, it was heart-wrenching to work 80+ hours and not even earn a paycheck. For the first few weeks I thought about quitting every single day.

I began with virtually no selling experience, yet developed skills to the level where I was I was the top salesperson in the division and then was promoted to be a Team Leader, which meant that I would go into demonstrations and help close deals for others.

I’m not the best salesman by any means, but I’d say that I learned priceless lessons on communication, psychology and human nature that aren’t taught in any classroom.

The fact is, there’s a steep learning curve, but once you’ve climbed it, you’ll do alright.

The following chart shows my growth during the 100 days

Day Range……………Number of Vacuums Sold
Day 1 – Day 25……………..11
Day 26 – Day 50……………12
Day 51 – Day 75……………22
Day 76 – Day 100………….36

It wasn’t easy, but I believe it’s a skill anyone can develop with enough determination.

With that, I wanted to share some of the best takeaways from my experience.

#1. The best salespeople are effective teachers who enthusiastically demonstrate great products to their clients. Effective salesmanship isn’t about being sleazy and manipulative. The lying/high pressure/pushy sales people sold less because they wouldn’t listen to people, lacked empathy and broke rapport. People buy from people they like and trust.

#2. Many ‘No Soliciting’ signs are put on doors by husbands who don’t want their wives to buy merchandise when they’re gone. About 40% of my sales were from houses that had those signs 🙂

#3. Being inside people’s homes gives you a more authentic experience of a person than meeting them in public. Most people were great and would often share food and life stories with me. One Ethiopian family taught me a folk dance and wanted me to marry their daughter. Another lady gave one of the newbies on my crew a pair of new pants and shirts with a belt to help him dress for success.

#4. People from India are the world’s best negotiators. Whenever I entered an Indian home, it was like a baby gazelle slathered in barbecue sauce walking into a den full of hungry lions.

#5. When dealing with strangers, who you are and what you look like speaks volumes louder than your words. The majority of people you briefly meet are judging you by your body language and appearance before you ever say anything. Because of that, everything you say is being filtered by their instant judgment. Paying attention to clothing and hygiene gives you the best chance of making a positive impression. Nonverbal communication is vital to getting into a complete stranger’s house and selling them a $3995 product in 2 hours.

#6. Instead of saying “No” directly, many people will tell white lies and half-truths because they’re not interested or are trying to protect your feelings or give themselves an easy out. This happens about 99.9% of the time when trying to sell people vacuums, but also happens frequently in normal day-to-day interactions.

#7. Women are a lot cleaner than men. However, the women who were the exception seemed to take it to the extreme, and their houses wouldn’t be just dirty, it would be like touring the National Museum of Dirt, Dust and Filth. In terms of cleanliness, the women from Romania, Germany, Guam and Puerto Rico took the most pride in good housekeeping.

#8. Many people are bored/living the same day over and over and over and having a vacuum demonstration may be the most excitement they’ve had in weeks or months. Surprisingly, sometimes people who live in cities are more isolated than those who live in rural areas. Sadly, for widowed older folks, you might be the only social interaction they’ve had in weeks or months.

#9. The majority of the time in door-to-door sales, strangers will mirror your emotions. If you think everyone’s being rude or negative towards you, take pause and look at the common variable in those interactions.

#10. The youngest person who got a vacuum from me was an 18-year old girl who worked at Bed Bath & Beyond. The oldest person was 78 who told me she wasn’t going to buy one many times and then surprised me with a check when I had packed up and was headed out the door.

Now, I’m gonna use that experience and head off onto my next adventure! Stay tuned 🙂

Tango with a grown up

There was one day, long time ago, when I had to rank my priorities for the moment I would have been a grown up. I was in primary school back them and I remember I put ‘career’, ‘money’, and ‘family’ on top. ‘Travelling’ was on the very bottom of the list. What’s the point of travelling if you are well off in your home place, I thought.

My opinion has evolved quite considerably since then and I write this while passing through Munich on my way to Austria. The last time I was here was 2013 to attend my second OCEANS conference, which would have been followed by many others: in Berlin, Budapest, Bruxelles, and Vilnius, where I was until a few hours ago. Today I am the person I am because of all this travelling up and down. Whatever happened to my primary school ranking?

I guess it all got messed up in 2008, when I left my country for my first relatively long trip to the US with Stefania. A few months later I was in Dublin for my first – and not the last – exchange, which I enjoyed very, very much. Only those who have been on exchange can understand the excitement of starting your life all over again in a foreign place: anyway, it was there, and precisely it was when I was walking along the Liffey on a sunny day of June that I realized that being unsettled made me feel good. It was, if you allow me, a defining moment. Since then I have crossed roads with hundreds of humans from all over the place: it was often in a matter of few hours that we laughed, sometimes got drunk, and eventually always departed. With some of them I know our paths will cross again; with others we might never meet again. It is a tango: you establish a profound connection, be it with the people or with a place, and then you depart. For some, including my young self, this is inconceivable: the priority is building up your core group of loyal friends, a family and settle down in your own house. Maybe one day I will start prioritizing these objectives once again. But for now I cannot help but taking a chance, walking away, and enjoying all the genuine smiles, the instant connections, and even the occasional loneliness.


Not a sociopath

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an article about Macchiavelli for Oceans, the network for students and alumni of specific bi-lateral exchange programmes between the European Union and other industrialized countries. Here is what I submitted.

Not necessarily a sociopath

A recent survey suggests that most people buy books because they like to be seen reading rather than because they actually enjoy the experience. If this is the case, then you would better choose highly pretentious stuff, and trust me: nothing can beat collections of political essays written in ancient Italian. I am glad I can announce you I recently had the pleasure to embark in such a fashionable public display of intellectual engagement. Not that I did it entirely on purpose: this peculiar interest happened by accident rather than by design. Though studying politics, in fact, I always carefully avoided reading the original Italian philosophy classics considering them as immensely boring and rather pointless to account for the complex times we live in. But then the opportunity came to me thanks to the editors of this magazine, who came up with the idea of writing something about philosophy and leadership, the latter being the topic of our upcoming AGM in Vilnius. As it turns out, one of the most authoritative philosophers on leadership is the Florentine renaissance philosopher best known as Niccolò Machiavelli. And here is where I kick in, as the only Italian OCEANS member who currently lives in Florence, studies politics, and has enough spare time to write an article about the great intellectual master of power-politics. A fortunate combination indeed.
So there I am, reading Macchiavelli’s books every chance I get, and impressing the hell out of anyone who spots me doing so. Never mind that I rarely go out to read, and that therefore the only persons likely to spot me doing so are my flatmates, who at the time I’m most likely to be reading Macchiavelli’s books are very much sleeping flatmates. Maybe it is better so. After a few weeks of reading, I discovered that in psychology ‘Machiavellianism’ is used to describe anti-social behaviour commonly found in sociopaths. I guess this has something to do with the fact that Machiavelli has the reputation for being a ruthless son-of-a-bitch. But, in fact, describing him in such a way would be misleading (as well as, perhaps, slightly disrespectful). His most famous book, The Prince, is a satire of the Medici family who was in power in Florence in the 15th century, at the time when Macchiavelli was writing. In his other political works, he offers a different perspective of the Prince and in no single treatise did he rigorously expound his theory of man and leadership. Take notice that in Macchiavelli the latter cannot be understood in separation from the former. Let think in these terms: Macchiavelli’s entire philosophy spurs from a study of man’s innate traits, as a creature of insatiable desires and limitless ambition with a primary desire is for self-preservation. The human being, therefore, is short-sighted and rather imitative: indeed, given his human nature, the outlook for social cooperation may appear dim. Leadership, as a detached, rational manner to analyze the ways power can be acquired and maintained, is the most effective instrument to mold man’s essentially evil nature.
No doubt, then: men’s desire for self-preservation and their very shortsightedness make them peculiarly susceptible to manipulation by leaders. Am I the only one thinking of the Frank Underwood kind of leader now? But be sure, in Macchiavelli’s view leadership can also mold man’s essential evil in pursue of a good society. Astute leadership and rational social organization can, and indeed should, maintain civic virtues. According to Macchiavelli’s most careful commentators, the political virtuoso is rational, calculating, and eminently self-controlled, plays many roles with aplomb, and is prudent enough to identify his own interest with the well-being of those he seeks to manage. It is not by chance that Machiavelli’s heroes are statesmen and founders of civilizations, including Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus. As Isiah Berlin explained in his essay, Machiavelli admired these characters because they were high-minded and tough enough to use brutality against the few to help the public good of the princedom. He particularly admired the moderate, liberal-minded, and humane military genius Scipio Africanus Major and got inspired by his story.
In a similarly inspiring vein I suspect reading Macchiavelli is likely to affect a significant part of the rest of my life. The grandiose way of describing this shift is to say that I have been slowly making my peace with ancient Italian philosophy. Alternatively, to express it with the accurate words of another contemporary philosopher known as Nick Hornby, I have discovered that some old shit, after all, isn’t so bad.

The dustman and the dancer

December was a cold sunny month in Florence. I did not take many pictures, but the few I shot are mainly about sunsets from the EUI terrace. Then I went to Budapest for a few days and I took some other photos, almost all of which by night, in spite of the obvious limits of my camera. Perhaps this is what Budapest is all about. Still, to me the best of all these photos is the one about the unnamed dustman and the dancer. I took it in front of the National Theatre in Budapest in a freezing morning. Stop for a second and look at the contrast and the sadness. Sometimes I wish I had a better camera.


Clean Lorenzo

Home again after ten days in Slovakia completely disconnected from the world. Good to find on my desktop the pictures of the OCEANS Annual General Meeting I attended in Berlin at the beginning of July. All these pictures are made by and belong to Enrico.