This I Believe

Cate - Charlottesville, Virginia
Entered on January 11, 2007

I believe in soliciting. Yes, that’s right. I believe in going door to door, rousing homeowners from their early evening, post-work activities to ask them if they would like a free, no obligation estimate on their windows, or if they’ve found God, or if they would sign a petition preventing the destruction of forty percent of Colorado’s evergreen forests. I believe in standing up for the dirt-eaters of the business world because for eight roller-coaster weeks I had the experience of being not just Cate, but “Hi, I’m Cate with Ameritech Construction. Have you ever considered replacing the windows on your home?”

Surprisingly, soliciting has its benefits for both solicitor and solicited; however, these advantages are usually lost in society’s first instinct to turn a cold shoulder and slam the door on the poor (literally) college student on their front porch, asking for a minute or two of their time. Ah ha, there’s the issue: time. Time is money, they say. Time is precious. Too precious, in fact, for some homeowners to be torn from the comfy couch and that delicious beer and that Simpson’s episode on TV by a stranger knocking on the door, wondering if they want a free estimate on their single-paned, aluminum, P.O.S. windows. If only they realized that ten minutes of their time might have saved them ten thousand dollars on their energy bill, not to mention bought a carton of eggs to feed me until the next pay check. Oh, the irony: time is money, for sure.

I believe there is little better way to come to know the wide variations of American society than by walking through the neighborhoods of Denver or Wheat Ridge or Broomfield, Colorado. In a night, I could be called a liar on one doorstep, be offered a Gatorade next door, have the door slammed in my face down the street, be asked for my number by a sketchy dude on another, and be mistaken for Publishers Clearing House on the last. Phone salesmen really don’t know what they’re missing.

For me, soliciting was less about the windows I was selling than the people I met. In fact, the worst part of the job wasn’t dealing with angry homeowners, but instead came at the end of the evening when we would meet our manager to hand him the leads that we had somehow lucked into. Some of my coworkers would hand him two, three, sometimes even five appointment sheets. And when I would come to him with one, or more likely, empty-handed, he would give me a look that made even the rudest homeowners seem kind. No, for me the job was more about sympathizing with the guy who had just been laid off, or agreeing with the woman who wasn’t interested because she’s paying tuition for three kids in college, or chuckling at the person who eyes the clipboard through the peephole and locks the door, trying to sneak away unnoticed. The anticipation of these humbling—and sometimes hilarious—experiences kept me walking around those neighborhoods; I could have cared less about selling the windows.

Do I really believe in interrupting a family dinner to persuade them into signing up for a window estimate? No, I’m not that indecent. But I do believe that the basic values of soliciting—personal interaction, patience, and rejection should be appreciated…just don’t try to sell me on that.