How to handle a door-to-door salesman

How to handle a door-to-door salesman

On Saturday morning, a young man knocked at our door. He wanted to sell us new windows. Kris tried to brush him aside gently, but he was persistent. He didn't leave until he'd scheduled an appointment to give us an hour-long in-home presentation about his company's product.

“We do need storm windows,” Kris told me after he'd gone.

“That's true,” I said. “But I don't like buying from door-to-door salesmen.”

The worst job I ever had was selling insurance door-to-door to little old ladies in rural Oregon. I know the tricks and techniques these folks use to get into your home and make the sale. Sometimes knowledge isn't enough. Kris and I have purchased our share of stupid things from door-to-door salesmen over the years, including:

  • A set of encyclopedias. We bought these in 1995, on the cusp of the digital age. They never saw much use. (Look for more about this on April Fool's Day.)
  • A freezer full of chicken, most of which went to waste after a power outage.
  • A Kirby vacuum cleaner, which now sits unused because we have no carpeting.
  • Membership in a “consumers club”. We paid something like $1500 to join this organization, and then $70 a year thereafter to remain members. In theory, membership allowed us to buy furniture and electronics for cheap. In reality, we barely used it.

Kris and I are smart people. You'd think we'd know better than to buy this stuff. But we're also nice people, and sometimes that niceness overpowers the intelligence. Most of the time I'm able to stand strong and to turn people away at the door, but sometimes I'm weak, and I feel sorry for the salesman. That momentary weakness is all it takes to end up spending $500 on encyclopedias I'll never use.

I used to have a rule that I'd always buy stuff from kids who knocked on the door. But in 2001, I let some college kids cajole me into purchasing several magazine subscriptions. Several over-priced magazine subscriptions. Canceling these was a nightmare.

Since then, I've adopted a rule of thumb that has served me well: I never buy anything if I did not initiate the transaction. I don't buy anything from flyers in the mail, from telemarketers, from e-mail ads, and, especially, from door-to-door salesmen. Why not?

  • They're trained to sell. You are not trained to resist. During my time with the insurance company, I learned how to handle a variety of objections, and how to present my information in such a way that the customer almost sold herself. I wasn't very good — some of my colleagues were. They could have sold ice to eskimos.
  • They create need where none exists. If you really need something, you already know it. You can do the research on your own. If you allow yourself to be pitched, the salesmen will create a need you didn't know you had. He'll make it seem sensible to spend thousands of dollars on a smoke alarm.
  • They prey on fear and ignorance. They want you to feel sorry for them. They want you to feel like you're keeping up with the Joneses. They want you to feel like you're protecting your family. A salesman wants you to make an emotional decision.
  • They use high-pressure tactics. They try to create a sense of urgency: “I only have one left”, “This offer ends today”, “We're only in town for this week”. Don't let the perceived scarcity influence you. And don't feel guilty if a salesman berates you for wasting his time. Stand strong.

It's all well and good to know how the salesman works, but what can you do to resist? Here are some effective techniques for handling door-to-door salesmen.

  • Don't answer the door. The best way to resist any form of marketing is to avoid it altogether. Don't watch television ads, don't read junk mail, don't engage telemarketers. And don't open the door to a traveling salesman.
  • Don't let him inside. If you do open the door to find a salesman, don't let him in your home. Once he's in, he has the advantage. Good salespeople know this. Some people feel it's rude not to ask a salesman inside, but that's not true. The salesman isn't concerned with etiquette (and, in fact, takes advantage of social conventions by using them against you). The salesman just wants inside your home so he can make his pitch. Keep him outside.
  • Don't listen to the presentation. Most sales pitches are constructed to get you answering questions (usually with a “yes”) as soon as possible. Don't fall for it. Again, nobody wants to be rude, but which would you rather do: interrupt the pitch or buy an overpriced set of steak knives? I'd rather interrupt the pitch.
  • Be courteous but firm. The salesman is just doing his job. Yes, it's a shitty job, and he ought to be doing something else, but ultimately it's still just a way for him to put food on the table for his family. Stand firm, but don't be a jerk.
  • Get a big dog. “No soliciting” signs don't work. Salesmen ignore them or pretend not to see them. (They're like a red flag: “I'm no good at resisting sales pitches, so please don't call.”) But it's difficult to ignore a large, snarling animal. When I was selling insurance, I avoided any home with a large dog. I wasn't the only one.

Ultimately, your best defense is to just say “no” and shut the door. I've done this many times before, and though I sometimes felt guilty for about thirty seconds, this soon passes.

When Kris told me about the window salesman yesterday, I did some research. I knew that he'd caught her in a weak moment, and I was worried that her pride might make it difficult for her to cancel the sales appointment. I found several sites online with complaints about the company and its tactics. I compiled the information and went upstairs to tell Kris what I'd learned. I was going to volunteer to call the salesman myself.

“We don't want to do this,” I told her. “The company does a hard-sell. The ‘one hour appointment' generally lasts four hours. They don't take no for an answer. Their windows are much more expensive than normal windows.” I sighed. “We need to cancel the appointment.”

“No problem,” Kris said, smiling. “I already did.”

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Adfecto
Adfecto
12 years ago

We all get snookered sometimes. In our old community they had made door-to-door sales illegal (except for the kids) but that didn’t stop them either. The Kirby sales person just came through our area a couple weeks ago. It was cold and I was too nice to send him away. He did his sales pitch and got both my wife and I to “realize” we had a “need” (that we never knew we had) for an uber-vacuum. I was hooked… until I saw the price! He had it laid out as $33 per month financed. I twisted his arm until… Read more »

Alfa
Alfa
12 years ago

My boyfriend’s mom is one usual victim of these door-to-door salesmen. My bf always sulks about this because oftentimes her mom would end up breaking her budget just to avoid that “sorry” feeling for the salesman.

I wonder how I can help in sending the message that she just has to say no without offending her.

KC
KC
12 years ago

I live in the city and going door-to-door is dangerous business. Eventhough I’m in a very nice neighborhood – we trust no one. I simply don’t answer the door. If the person sees me I say (through the closed & locked door), “I’m sorry, I don’t answer the door to strangers.” The only people I answer the door to are delivery men and anyone else in uniform. It’s rude, I know, but I don’t care. It simply isn’t safe to answer the door to anyone. I have an 80 lb dog and a baseball bat near the door for back-up.… Read more »

Bubba Hotep
Bubba Hotep
8 years ago
Reply to  KC

I am the door to door sales man. I sold it. All of the crap. the stuff you use, may use, will never use, and food you dont want. I never liked the products I sold. I loved meeting all the people. You meet all kinds. I have horror stories also I could tell them but I still love meeting all types of people mean rude dumb smart fast slow tall short fat skinny. The stories go both ways for sales people and customers. The bottom line is we are all people just trying to make a living. We do… Read more »

Will Emigh
Will Emigh
12 years ago

Watching Glengarry Glen Ross really helped me understand that door-to-door salesmen really do take advantage of politeness and niceness. It’s a lot easier to be firm and ignore social customs knowing that they’ll do the same.

Annie J
Annie J
12 years ago

We actually have good luck with our No Soliciting sign. The only people who’ve gone ahead and rang the bell were school kids too young to know (maybe?) what the word “soliciting” means and a high school kid who should have known, but obviously didn’t.

angie
angie
12 years ago

I still say buy from the little kids. I hated having to sell those candy bars and stuff when I was little!

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
12 years ago

Timely post – I’ve been working on my “line” to deal with door-to-door salespersons. Now I just quickly say “This isn’t a good time”. I’ve found it works like a charm – ok I’ve only used it once but it did work.

Mike

Mrs. Micah
Mrs. Micah
12 years ago

One of my friends had a vacuum cleaner thrown out the window by a…demonstrative salesman. She’d said something about not needing a new one and being satisfied and such.

That left an impression for me—don’t let them near our house.

I mean he was obviously a crazy guy and most salespeople aren’t that bad. But I’m not letting someone I don’t know in my house even if they work for a respectable company. You just never know who you’re dealing with.

Malva
Malva
12 years ago

I found saying you’re renting your house and aren’t responsible for that kind of purchases sends all the home improvement/yard maintenance/alarm system/utility companies out really quick. Also work over the phone with telemarketers.

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor
12 years ago

Another advantage of apartment living – no windows salesmen, no aluminum siders, no Mormons, no Jehova’s Witnesses, no Girl Scouts, no magazine hawkers.

Minimum Wage
Minimum Wage
12 years ago

All I have to do is tell them (truthfully) I’m a credit reject with a minimum wage job and they lose all interest in trying to sell me anything.

Gavin
Gavin
1 year ago
Reply to  Minimum Wage

If they were good, that wouldn’t stop them. Minimum wage working class people are the easiest for me to sell, because I relate to them the most.

Dogatemyfinances
Dogatemyfinances
12 years ago

My doorbell broke about two months ago, and I put up a sign to call. Turns out anyone who would need to talk to me knows my number. And anyone who I don’t want to talk to doesn’t!

I’m not even sure I will fix it.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Angie wrote: I still say buy from the little kids. I hated having to sell those candy bars and stuff when I was little!

Absolutely! Buy from the little kids! I agree 100%. But I used to buy from college kids, too. Not anymore.

COD
COD
12 years ago

This is the text of our no soliciting sign. It is 100% effective. We watch the solicitors approach our door and then turn away almost every day. ABSOLUTELY NO SOLICITING If you are selling something DO NOT knock on the door, or ring the doorbell. We do not need your magazines, coupon books, or eternal salvation. I’m sure your cause is important, and it will still be important without the donation you will not get from us. If you are a Boy Scout or Girl Scout this does not apply, please knock. One can never have too many Thin Mints… Read more »

Tom
Tom
6 years ago
Reply to  COD

I put a NO SOLICITORS sign up with a phone on the bottom.
The phone number is the local office of the State Police. They Do use caller ID and don’t like prank callers.

cabesh
cabesh
12 years ago

This is great! I’m still fuming about the Kirby salesman I endured a year ago–I was referred by a friend because they offered a free carpet and upholstery cleaning. The 1 hour presentation turned into 3, with my newborn screaming to be fed, and I couldn’t get the guy out of my house! He criticized my home for not being clean (and not just the carpet), was very rude once he realized I really wasn’t going to buy anything, complained about the noise from my children and finally resorted to “you should tell your mommy to buy this”. I was… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
12 years ago

Yes, buy from little ones. They aren’t trying to sell you a product with financing or anything that requires a credit check or will have you making a monthly payment for the next few years with interest. A single box of cookies or one candy bar or the cheapest tin of unpopped popcorn will make their day…

JenK
JenK
12 years ago

Wow. I am in shock. Yes, we get the odd salesman trying to sell windows or landscaping, and the occasionally suspiciously-mature-looking “youth” selling magazines, but I have never had a problem saying “No, not interested”. Half the time we don’t even open the door. I just look through the window, shake my head “no”, and turn back to what I’m doing. I’m not sure if I’m more shocked that there ARE people who buy this stuff or that folks have a hard time saying “No”. I mean, if it was worth buying they wouldn’t have to go to your house… Read more »

Bill Hutchison
Bill Hutchison
12 years ago

We had a guy come around the other talking as though he was from our existing phone company and that they were upgrading their lines. I thought they were going to tell me our Internet would be down for a bit while they were working, but he was from a rival company trying to convince us to change our Internet Service Provider and Phone Company. He was very persistent and a hard one to get away. In the end I started to just close the door and told him I had to go and that he could leave information in… Read more »

James
James
12 years ago

The problem with ‘buying from little ones’ is that most of them are victims of extortion! Most ‘fundraisers’ raise more funds for the company than for the kids organization. Most cost 3 times more than it should, and the kids organization only gets a tenth of it! I’d much rather buy that box of cookies from Wal-Mart (I do like the Girl Scout cookies, though…) and donate the whole $3 to the local organization! Of course, kids doing fundraisers promotes hard work, business skills, and so forth. I just don’t like the organizations that take advantage of our children to… Read more »

N.L.
N.L.
12 years ago

That 2nd picture you used showed up on Postsecret.com this week. Any connection?

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
12 years ago

We haven’t had traveling salesman come around our neighborhood since I’ve been here. It’s a mixed income, safe neighborhood…I wonder why?

JF
JF
6 years ago
Reply to  JerichoHill

I think it depends on where you live. I used to live in Northern VA right outside DC, and I can recall maybe once or twice getting door to door sales. I moved out to the eastern part of WV and it seems we get a salesman every other week. My guess is the further you are away from big cities, the more likely the practice is still done. The biggest ones we get are lawn companies, who show up several times a year, last time they showed up at 7 or 8 o’clock, in the dark and in freezing… Read more »

Gavin
Gavin
1 year ago
Reply to  JF

I work for a lawn care company, and I have been told many times that I should consider a different line of work (for the reason being knocking doors until 8 pm in the freezing rain) but with my education I’m limited to either this, or factory work. And I have a bum arm, so this is much less painful than factory work. Everyone has a reason as to why they do the work they get paid for. You’d also be surprised at how easy it is to get sales going door to door. I usually average 5 sales in… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
12 years ago

I would never, ever let anyone I did not know inside of my house (assuming they are trying to sell me something).

Trying to force their way, even politely, into my residence puts you on my turf. I have a golf club for these situations. You have 10 seconds to leave, or you’re going to need a new set of teeth.

That may sound harsh, but I think the behavior is unacceptable.

We have a “No Soliciting” sign at both entrances to the neighborhood, but I doubt it works.

Adam
Adam
12 years ago

I had hornets living in my peep-hole above the door knocker. They were surprisingly ineffective though, had to fire them.

Penelope
Penelope
12 years ago

I’ve got no problem saying “No” to sales people. A telemarketer offered us a free vacation if we listened to a “presentation” in our home. I gave the guy the alloted one hour and after that I cut him off and said, “Where’s my certificate?” He was astounded that 1. I interrupted him and 2. I didn’t want his vaccuum cleaner. I still got a free weekend at the beach. I did the same thing to a timeshare sales person and got another free weekend…if you work it right you can take advantage of them!

Daedala
Daedala
12 years ago

I’ve never had a problem telling these sorts of people “no.” I have a very good “no.” Vibe.

Part of why I’m still single, but not every useful trait is useful in all circumstances. 🙂

zqudlyba
zqudlyba
12 years ago

The same techniques could be used to those “born again” christians trying to convert you to their version of christianity.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

N.L. said: That 2nd picture you used showed up on Postsecret.com this week. Any connection?

iStockPhoto, baby! 🙂

I either paid a buck for the image or downloaded it as one of their free images of the week. iStockPhoto — the blogger’s best friend.

nmh
nmh
12 years ago

It is not rude to tell an uninvited person that they cannot come in. This include everyone from your best friend, your neighbor and especially someone you have never met before in your life. I always ask who is at the door, if it is not someone I know I do not open the door. If it is a delivery or utility person I am not expecting I ask them to wait and the call the company for verification. I have twice had “meter checkers” leave when I said that only to find out that neither my electric nor gas… Read more »

kitty
kitty
12 years ago

I am pretty resistant to sales pitches, at least when the thing they are trying to sell isn’t worth the money to me. My only experience with door-to-door salesmen was when I just started working. They were selling a vacuum cleaner. I knew right away I wouldn’t buy it – the one I had worked fine and I had hardwood floors and an area rug, but I let them in hoping for some free cleaning during the demonstration. But they only cleaned a portion of my rug, putting a paper towel inside instead of a bag. Then they took it… Read more »

George
George
12 years ago

I’ve always refused to participate in any transaction that I didn’t initiate.

My “no peddlers or solicitors” sign seems to be working – the only people that ring the doorbell are kids who wouldn’t know what those words meant.

I’ve never been one for door-to-door sales. If a product is truly good, it’ll sell just fine in a store, and I can happily shop for it on my terms.

Jeremy
Jeremy
12 years ago

I don’t even buy from the little kids; I am so opposed to the fund raising junkets they put these kids on. Instead I offer to donate directly to their school or organization so they get 100% of the donation rather than just a small percentage of the overpriced product they are selling. I do the same with my own kids, I don’t allow them to sell door to door to raise funds for the kids. Instead I give them $20 to donate to the purpose they are raising funds, which is much more than they would have made going… Read more »

Molly's Mom
Molly's Mom
12 years ago

In addition to Kirby, BEWARE if you get a call or a flyer to have a “water quality test”. This is Rain Soft trying to get in your door! I made the mistake, in a weak moment, of allowing them to make an appointment with us–I intended to cancel it when they called to confirm (as I was told they would). They never did, and my husband and I forgot and were subjected to FOUR HOURS of this guy desperately trying to sell us the Rain Soft system! NEVER again!

mikey
mikey
12 years ago

why not just shut the door when you open it and find out they are selling stuff door to door?

Tom
Tom
12 years ago

Encyclopedias, Kirby vacuum, magazine subscriptions, bulk meat, AND a shopper’s club? Wow, you guys fell for every one of the big scams! (well, except for windows, lol)

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

Please don’t let any salesmen into your home! I live in a very small, safe college town in California, and we’ve had two women raped in the last year by traveling “magazine salesmen”. You just never know what a person’s real motives are.

Shay
Shay
12 years ago

Strange; we *love* our Kirby! We have a mix of hardwood floors and Oriental rugs.

(we also have a long-haired German Shepherd and two cats).

riley
riley
12 years ago

I did not know that door to door salesmen still existed. I haven’t encountered one for years. Since I have gotten rid of the land line, no more junk calls on the phone either.

Jesse
Jesse
12 years ago

I don’t buy when people come door to door – we rent, carry no cash, few checks, and only use our credit card for visiting family out of state (for renting the car – they don’t pester you with a credit check if you’re putting it on the card). We’re Agnostic, so we leave it at that and most people leave us alone. We use the cheapest vacuums we can get from the store and do a twice-per-year rental of a great vacuum and steam-cleaner. And anything that can be found on the computer (like encyclopedias) means that we don’t… Read more »

Ben
Ben
12 years ago

The easiest way is to make yourself a rule that you are not buying anything nor subscribe anything at the door. I politely ask the salesperson to leave me a folder (or send it to me) so that I can review the product in my time, and then come back if I really want it. This also works with unsolicited phone calls trying to sell you something. “You can cancel anytime” is not good enough for me, I want any offer in print BEFORE I decide. Quite a lot of “once-in-a-lifetime” offers seem not to work with paper anymore, so… Read more »

Juan
Juan
12 years ago

This is a great article.

I use the ‘We rent this house’ line which always works for sales people selling windows and stuff. This also works on the phone.

But, now our dog, is no longer a puppy, I like to open the door, holding my dog bu his collar.

I love seeing their faces. The funny thing is, my dog is just eager to get out because he thinks his going for a walk, the sales person thinks the dog is going for them.

I love it.

Juan

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

A reasonably friendly smile and a “no thanks” as I shut the door has always worked for me. I could add “I do not buy anything from door-to-door salespeople, ever.” Saves their time as well as mine so I figure they appreciate it. For fundraisers from kids, I usually just offer a check made out to the organization for between $3 and $5. It generally costs less than the product they are selling and gets more cash to the organization that the paltry cut they would get from the sale. It also keeps junk food and other garbage out of… Read more »

thehungrydollar.com
thehungrydollar.com
12 years ago

The worst are the Kirby vacuum salesmen… they don’t leave! I’m usually a sucker with the kids though…

Ross Goodman
Ross Goodman
12 years ago

Hi It’s the same here in the UK. I came home one night to find a kitchen saleman in the kitchen talking to my wife. She handed over to me. I told him politely, we have no intention of buying a kitchen, we cannot afford to buy a kitchen and if we did want one, we would be shoping around and buying from a comapny that had been reccomended. The then asked if he could chat anyway. Two hours later my wife called me on my cellphone from the phone in the living room, we proceeded to chat for about… Read more »

james
james
8 years ago
Reply to  Ross Goodman

You let some guy talk for SIX HOURS? Are you nuts?

Marie
Marie
12 years ago

The worst in my area are the guys who try to get you to switch to their hydro or gas company. They insist to see your bill so they can copy down the account number and info! Once, when I told them it was my parent’s place (it was), they asked me to get *their* bill (that’s when I shut the door).
I was a Girl Scout leader and in my area the Girl Scouts don’t go door to door anymore – their parents are afraid to let them.

mos
mos
12 years ago

Jesse wrote: True story though – my parents (Catholic) had two JW’s come to their door, and before they could knock, my youngest brother (who had to be elementary school at the time, and was up in the tree in the front yard) calls out “What the hell do YOU want?”…they ran off and never came back. Never saw anything so funny in their lives, my grandfather tried to talk him into doing the same for them the next week. *grin* Considering some of them face drawn weapons at times doing the non-paid, volunteer work that Jesus commanded his followers… Read more »

Shannon
Shannon
12 years ago

Oh man! I know exactly who that window company is. They hit my husband the second day we moved into our new house, back in October. The line was that they would just measure our windows, leave us a quote and be gone. Had I answered the door I would have said no thanks as many times as it took, buy my husband can’t say no to this sort of thing. They came the next day and took up 5 hours of unpacking time. By the end of it, I was fumming and just wanted them out of our house… Read more »

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

I only buy things from children I KNOW in the neighborhood.

If another child comes to the door, I just say that I’ve already purchased from another child.

If adults come to the door, I firmly say, “No Thank You, I’m not interested”. I then close the door on them, whether they are talking or not. Why waste their time and mine? I’m not worried about being nice. Nice gets you suckered into things!

I NEVER EVER let ANYONE into my home. That’s just stupid from a safety standpoint.

mjmcinto
mjmcinto
12 years ago

I have two dogs. They’re cocker spaniels, so they’re not big. However, whenever anyone rings the doorbell, it gets them going. I always have slide out of the front door while my dogs are trying to get out (one would probably just lick the person to death…the other might attack). However, I never invite the person in (I’m paranoid, and don’t know them, so I don’t want anyone “casing” my house, or worse). They never try to get invited in either…I think my dogs scare them 🙂 Though I do think that if anyone ever comes by, and is persistent,… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
12 years ago

Ugh, Kirby. My wife responded to what looked like a legit job ad once. Turns out the job was selling these useless things. She went in for a “training session” expecting to spend the day in a conference room or something and found herself stuffed in a van with more bodies than seat belts, sitting on someone’s lap, being driven through a neighborhood and being told that “no solicitation” signs were signs of weakness. When some homeowners complained about the folks ignoring the signs and a police car started driving through the neighborhood she told the van’s driver she wasn’t… Read more »

Maria
Maria
12 years ago

I managed to get a meat salesman to leave after telling him we only bought local organic beef and we had just bought a 1/2 cow … but sheesh, he was persistent!

I have to agree, though … the Jehovah’s Witnesses selling their false religion are the worst! Once, one gave my mom some “Watchtower” tracts, and at the end asked her to pay for them!!

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