Cody James thought it would be an easy way to make money during the summer before his first year of college. What he didn’t realize is that all the footwork going door-to-door to sell high-end knives would be the most humbling experience he’s yet to face.
When asked how the knife business was going, James’ only response was, “It’s not.”
Despite his innocent looks and kind demeanor, James found himself with doors shut in his face and those few customers that allowed him to go through his sales pitch laughed wildly when he asked for the sale. At $2,500, the knives were well above the budget for most, if not all, of the homeowners in his suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.
An Engangered Species
James isn’t alone in his struggle to succeed as a door-to-door salesman. In fact, it seems as if the craft is going the way of the dinosaurs.
For decades, many industries relied on door-to-door sales, both direct-to-consumer and business-to-business. Now, unsolicited solicitations are not only unwanted, but in some areas are illegal unless a hard-to-come-by permit is obtained. And, in light of the surge of social media and e-commerce, door-to-door sales is simply unwarranted.
In fact, door-to-door sales has been listed by Forbes as one of the 10 Top Dead or Dying Career Paths, with an 18 percent decline in positions expected by 2018.
Why the Decline
Randy Tivens, vice president of marketing and communications for Forecast Land Corporation, a land investment firm, said society no longer permits such a practice. “I like to tell my newer sales trainees, the only folks who go door to door anymore with any amount of success are either poor kids selling candy from a large box or general real estate folk who are giving out pads of paper with their pictures on them to remind homeowners to use them if/when they decide to sell their house,” Tivens says.
There are various factors that have led to the demise of door-to-door sales, including:
Rise in reported scams. The average consumer is becoming more and more skeptical when it comes to anyone peddling his wares door-to-door. There have been numerous reports of scammers meeting their victims during sales visits. Every summer it seems there are news stories of people, especially the elderly, who have fallen victim to a variety of schemes.
This trend has contributed to a sense of hyper-vigilance, with many Americans becoming very cautious about allowing strangers into their homes.
Changing technologies. Long gone are the days of the encyclopedia salesman. With the advent of the Internet, people stopped turning to the yearly books to do research. Google and Bing are the 21st-century equivalent of the books, taking up much less space and providing more information than the books ever could.
“I think people have found it’s much more efficient to seek out information online and on their own terms for potential products they may be interested in, rather than listen to sales pitches that can be long and uncomfortable at times,” explained Jeremy Schaedler, president of CaliforniaContractorBonds.com.
Increase in retail. Today it’s not a big deal to walk into nearly any big-box retail store and find a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner. Knife sets like James sold can be found in boutique kitchen stores, with sales personnel trained to answer even the toughest of questions about the products.
In addition, consumers can easily research nearly any product online and compare sites for the best deals.
The biggest downside to purchasing products online, or even in a retail store, is that they do not get to see the demonstrations that made door-to-door sales so successful.
If your business is still forging ahead with door-to-door sales, your employees may be still gaining valuable experience. Schaedler credits much of sales resilience, a trait he says is essential in sales, to his beginning days knocking on doors. But, he doesn’t believe it is an effective sales tactic in the modern age. “I don’t think the practice is still effective today. People in today’s society are more and more sensitive to being disrupted in their homes, either by phone or by unsolicited visitors,” he says.
Schaedler points to do-not-call lists and other laws that have greatly accelerated this trend over the past several years by raising awareness of harassing marketing tactics.
Businesses that are currently selling door-to-door will most likely need to transition their marketing efforts, if not now, soon. Or, at the very least, consider incorporating other tactics to their sales plan.
Both Tivens and Schaedler have turned to digital media to manage their efforts. Websites full of beneficial resources, blogs, YouTube videos demonstrating the products and social networking sites have all stolen the limelight from the door-to-door salesman.
Some sales forces still make house calls, but they do so via scheduled appointments, rather than the chance knock on the door.
Death of the Salesman?
No longer is it just a play. Death of the salesman, or at least the door-to-door salesman isn’t far from reality. Although there may always be select industries that succeed by knocking on doors, there are more effective and efficient ways to grow and cultivate qualified business leads.
Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.