During their middle school years, my daughter Maribeth announced she wanted to be a music producer while my son Kevin proclaimed his career ambition was to design video games.
My astute parental response was to attempt to sell them on the importance of product marketing. After all, that’s what dear old dad does for a living. Surely they are aching to follow in my footsteps.
“Kids, I absolutely believe you can be anything you want to be. But keep in mind it’s all about business.
Yes, being a music producer sounds great and designing video games would be exciting but if no one buys the CDs or the video games, then you’re out of a job. So when it comes time for college, you really can’t go wrong with a business degree.”
Take that, offspring!
In my naïve mind, my higher education sales pitch was going great until Maribeth blurted out, “Dad, didn’t you major in Speech and Drama?”
Darn, yet another important parental lesson destroyed by the calculating mind of a 12-year-old.
News Flash: We all sell. Whether our job title contains the word “sales,” we are all doing it.
All companies and organizations sell products, services, concepts, and/or emotions.
Even the computer guy had to sell someone that he was right for the job.
As a kid in 1970’s Missouri, I sold newspapers, sodas at football games, doughnuts, Whoppers, cookies, jeans and, thanks to my college singing telegram days, myself.
Since then, practically my entire adult career has been spent selling marketing products and services to other businesses. Of course, these same products and services are meant to help other people sell something else.
My introduction to legitimate sales was in the 1970′s when we were required to force-feed our family, friends and neighbors various perishable and non-perishable items for school fundraisers or other activities. However, back then, all of us kids actually had to do the leg work and complete the sales transaction somewhat unassisted.
So off I would go, crisscrossing down my street with, for example, a cardboard box of Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls.
Could there be a more unfortunate sounding name for a consumable product than “Log Roll?”
Fearlessly, I would push my merchandise to grandparents, friends, neighbors and even some strangers. If they had the requisite cash, they got their gooey Log Roll at point of sale and I had done my small part for Columbia, Missouri’s Daniel Boone Little League.
During really hot summer days, a more aggressive marketing approach was required. If exposed to the heat for too long, Stuckey’s Pecan Logs quickly became Stuckey’s Pecan Blobs.
But today, these frequent fundraising assignments have reverted from the children, the intended benefactors, to their parents, who have done all this before.
Say what you want about how the world has changed and all the inherent safety issues of a child performing door-to-door sales, but it’s the benefit of the sales process and the ensuing sense of satisfaction that my children almost didn’t get to experience.
Though modern times have seen my beloved Stuckey’s Pecan Logs replaced by gift wrap, prepared foods, magazine subscriptions and, my personal favorite, the Great Krispy Kreme Stale Doughnut Fundraising Debacle of 2003, our children have missed a very important learning opportunity.
Due to a mass parental sales force who semi-annually attack and annoy their co-workers with fundraising fodder, our children have lost the chance to communicate with adults, express the benefits of their school and/or social activity, promote the value of their fundraising product and, most importantly, obtain a greater sense of appreciation for the activity itself.
For my part, I understood it was important to at least go door to door with my child and assist them in shaming our friends and neighbors into making multiple unnecessary purchases—all in the name of helping my child achieve a positive sales experience.
“Come on Mrs. Plummer, those boys of yours look mighty hungry. I bet they can each eat a dozen doughnuts all by themselves. Can’t you boys?”
Always make eye contact and direct the final emotional pitch to the child of the house. That never fails.
So yes, I logged in even more customer-relationship-building time as adult sales manager to my kids while we sold the doggone Krispy Kremes together.
I will admit that it could take years for your average child to understand the positive impact of selling a Stuckey’s Pecan Log or even a dozen stale doughnuts because, in reality, kids are infinitely more interested in selling their parents a bill of goods:
“Dad, Claudia in your office will buy some doughnuts—she’ll buy anything.”
“No Kevin, I have already done enough. You have to sell the rest by yourself.”
“But dad, you have doughnut sales experience! Didn’t you work for—what was that placed called—Mister Donut?”
To this day my children cannot say the words “Mister Donut” without dissolving into hysterical fits of laughter. I am not quite sure why. I also sold condoms at Green Cross Drug Store at the tender age of 12 and that story is infinitely more interesting.
As for indentifying additional doughnut-sales victims, my company was housed in my basement at the time. Plus, the aforementioned Claudia was my only employee.
Nonetheless, just as my son Kevin predicted, Claudia would buy anything and purchased (gasp) four dozen doughnuts.
Claudia and I each gained 10 pounds in three days.
Parents: by all means please guide your children but make them do some things on their own.
How else do we expect today’s youth to become the responsible, confident, and courteous leaders of tomorrow?
After all, our children are going to be essentially selling themselves for the rest of their lives.
And of course, delivering stale doughnuts does not exactly earn anyone a loyal customer.
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.