Even Salespeople Are Human

If you ever walk through one of the Las Vegas hotel/casinos, you may be approached by a well-dressed individual who says to you, “Hi! How long are you in town for? Would you like some free show tickets?”

If you talk to such people, you’ll discover that the free tickets are for real, but the catch is that you have to attend a high-pressure sales pitch for a timeshare property in exchange for the free show tickets. You may enjoy the show, but the timeshares are hugely overpriced. They must be very profitable for those who sell them, since the number of timeshare salespeople around the city has exploded in recent years. Erin and I have been approached so many times that we began referring to them as “hostiles.” If Erin sees one coming towards us, she’ll alert me by saying, “Hostile at 12 o’clock.”

At least while the hostiles are on duty, you could scarcely tell they were human beings. They behave like machines programmed to get you to take action. The entire conversation is only about getting you into the sales funnel.

But Erin and I recognize that underneath the hostiles are real human beings. One day we wondered if we could break through their external shell and access the human beneath, even for just a moment. So one day we decided to experiment a little. We didn’t do anything spectacular. We just wanted to see if we could access the human part of these Borg drones by bypassing their script.

When Erin was approached, she said, “I don’t need show tickets — I’m actually in town because I’m looking for a timeshare. You wouldn’t happen to know of any good ones?” It was funny watching the saleswoman’s eyes light up and launch into her story from an unexpected angle… at least until Erin revealed the truth. This bit of humor seemed to work, and we caught a glimpse of genuine humanity when the saleswoman realized Erin was just trying to connect with her.

When I was approached by a different, unhappy-loooking saleswomen offering free show tickets, I said to her, “You don’t really want to be spending your life selling timeshares, do you? You don’t seem very happy about your work. Is this really what you want to be doing with your life?” The woman’s reaction was similar to a first-generation Borg drone being shot with a phaser, only to be replaced by a second-generation drone with built-in shields. She gave me a quizzical look and remained speechless, apparently unable to find a line from her mental script file that could handle this scenario.

We don’t know if our experiment had any lasting effect on these two people, but we certainly have lots of opportunities to keep trying. I doubt too many people would choose to sell overpriced timeshares as their life’s purpose, so this is a good group to experiment with.

I’d imagine that humor is likely to work better than direct confrontation, but I also think a very compassionate approach could work well too. If Erin and I can even reach just one of these people and help steer them in a more purpose-driven direction, it will be worth it. Plus it may give us an idea of how to help others in a similar situation. I think we should do more of this kind of field work to see what effect we can have. I’m really interested to see what happens if we go around trying to give total strangers a quick jolt of awareness.

One social experiment I really liked because it quickly awakens the humanity in people is called “Free Hugs.” Watch this 3-1/2 minute video to see what a difference one human being with an open heart and a cardboard sign can make: Free Hugs.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference, just the motivation to reach out to people and the willingness to experiment.