Go sale-ing with Hilton!

I'm not a sailor. To be honest, I don't like the water much. It probably stems from seeing Jaws, the Posiedon Adventure and Lifeboat as a child. No, I'm not much of a sailor, but I do understand tacking. The act of sailing in a diagonal pattern to move forward against the wind.

I went out on a friends boat once and he showed my how it works. I probably couldn't do it, but I understand it. In sales and advertising you could define it as "changing ones course or conduct to get to the a desired point". At least, that's how I think of it and how it will matter within the framework of this post. And yes, it's kind of a funny story to my sense of humor.

I went to NYC this weekend with my wife. We love to go and see a play or two, see a museum or two, hang out in a good restaurant with some good food. It's a quick way to get out of Chicago without the pressure of a real vacation. Just a couple of days to ease a mind and not think about work or all the things I should be fixing around my house.

This weekend was no exception. Had a great time seeing "Good People" with Frances McDormand and a great exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef and Arpels". I was fascinated by how detailed the design work is that goes into fine jewerly making. There was also another exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt on Sonia Delaunay that was also fascinating, but I digress.

How does the Hilton and sailing relate to my general ramblings on design and advertising? I'll get there, but first a little background. I stay at a lot of Hilton properties. I have been a member of their rewards program for years and have gotten a lot out of it. I find hotel reward programs work way better than airline programs because hotels are expensive and a $400 a night room multiplied by two nights is a bigger savings than a flight to New York. The rooms are always clean, their staff are always nice and in general I always have a good stay.

My friend Brian Ahearn blogs and his site "Influence People" relates information on how to properly and ethically influence people. This story will give an example of how NOT to do this. I should have titled the post, "How to never sell anything to an ad guy or anyone else with half a brain."

We arrived ion Friday afternoon. After checking in we decided lunch was in order, then off to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and a nice walk through Central Park. It was a beautiful day. Maybe a cocktail on a terrace somewhere later. Good fun.

On the way out of the hotel we were stopped by a nice woman asking if we were reward members. I said, "Yes". She asked if I would be interested in a "free" breakfast if they could take up a little of my time. Not being completely stupid I figured they would be trying to sell me something, but she was offering free breakfast and, get this, $125.

As a freelancer $125 for an hour or so of my time is good money. I told her she could sign me up, but that I hadn't made a lot of plans for the weekend and wasn't going to guarantee that I would be there. If I showed up, I showed up, but don't hold your breath. She gave us an invitation and off we went.

The next day she called to confirm my coming, on Sunday morning, to the breakfast. I reminded her that I didn't guarantee anything and wouldn't again. In fact, her calling was making me not want to go, but it was her job to call so I didn't bust her too much for it. "Fine", I said, "maybe I'll be there. Once again, don't wait on me."

Saturday came and went. Another beautiful day in a beautiful city with plenty to do and see.

Then came Sunday morning. I tried to sleep in, but at my age that's a fading dream. It was around 9:30 a.m. when I got up. The breakfast was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and was a few blocks away on the way to the airport. My wife and I figured, $125 bucks, some free food, listen to something and we're out. Let the fun begin.

When we arrived we were asked "What do you know about time share?"

Ah, so it was a time share deal from Hilton. "Not a lot." I said, playing my role as the hick who just got sucked into a time share sale for $125 dollars. Would there be steak knives? I got a little excited. Don't really need steak knives, but wouldn't it be great? My wife and I shared a laugh and got on the elevator.

Upstairs we were greeted very warmly and offered coffee. Looking good, free stuff already. We laughed again and waited patiently for "our representative" to come get us and explain this "exciting new program". We laughed some more. Okay, in for a penny, etc.

Our representative came out and greeted us, once again very warmly, but the poor boy seemed confused.

"Where ya from?" he asked.

"Chicago." I replied.

"How long ya been there?" he asked.

"25 years." I said.

"You like it?" He asked.

What? Do I like it? I've been there for 25 years. If I didn't like it wouldn't that make me some kind of martyr or idiot? Maybe he didn't hear me. "Sure, I like it."

"Are you married?" he asked. Obviously not noticing my wedding ring, wife or the one set of luggage. The last time somebody asked this my wife replied, "Do you mean to each other?" I prepared for the joke, but she didn't bite.

"Yes. For 15 years." I said.

"Do you like it?" he said.

Really, what kind of an ass do you take me for. Even if I didn't like it was this a test to see if I would say something in front of my wife? Did I like where I lived? Did I like being married to who you assume is my wife? Was I going to break down in front of you and say,"God no, I hate my life. Please, Mister, take me away! Take to this fabulous place called Hilton!"

I glanced at my wife, and we shared another laugh. Was this guy for real?

He escorted us to a desk. The place was full of desks and lots of people were at them signing paperwork and discussing all the great things time share could do for them. He showed us where the food was, my real reason for being here since I assume they weren't going to show me any cash until the end. We got something to eat and sat down with him at his desk. Let the pitch begin.

"This is not about time share." he started. Really, that's not what your girl at the front desk said. "What if I could show you an opportunity..." At this point my hackles went up. Everyone in advertising knows the word "opportunity" means "a way for you to eat a whole lot of crap with little or no reward". It's a word an account guy uses when asking you to do a favor for a client. It's the word your boss uses when a client puts his business up for review and you know as the incumbent your odds of keeping the business are 100-1.

He asked more questions.

"How often do you travel?" "How much do you think you spend on hotels?" More questions, at the end of each reply he repeated my answers back to me in the form of a question as if he didn't know what I said and he needed to check. Some were valid questions and I just adored how every time I gave him an answer he checked it with my wife to see if I might be lying to him. At one point asking my wife if what I was telling him was true.

Then came the question about "making a decision today". My wife told him, very pointedly,"we don't make decisions that way. We won't sign anything today." I agreed. "I don't do business that way." I said, "People don't do business that way." ABC, a friend reminded me "Always, Be, Closing!"

Her tactic seemed to befuddle him. "I walk into Best Buy, not really wanting anything and sometimes I buy things right there on the spot." he said.

"I buy gum that way, sure. I don't buy property that way." I said.

We argued a little more about the virtues and vices of what to buy and when, suddenly coming to the realization that we were in the middle of a Mamet play heading towards Kafka. (See the link at the end of the post)

Finally, he asked a good one, "Why are you here?"

"Me, I'm here because you're worth $125 to me. Beyond that I don't mind listening to people if they have something to offer." I laid it out on the table fondly remembering Alec Baldwin. "What's my name?"

Now, I'm not the best negotiator in the world, but after the 30 minutes of back and forth I expected him to realize why we were there. I expected him to tack. If he had half a brain in his head he would have changed his tactics, dropped the used car salesman bullshit and talked to me like a person about their deal. After all "I walked on the lot".

I was willing to listen, I wanted the money and frankly, they started this. I just didn't want to have to wade through his schtick to get there. My wife told him as much. We own our own companies, she was in sales for years, drop the schtick and get to the deal. Tack, son, change your behavior to keep the sale going.

He was undeterred. Just like the telemarketers that get thrown when you interrupt their reading of a sales pitch. He stopped and went to consult his boss. We laughed. He's probably in the breakroom regretting his decision to pick us as his rubes for the day. He'll probably change tactics and we can move along.

Wrong again. He came back and launched into the same spiel of asking me questions designed to get me to agree with him. "Do you think it's smart to throw away money?", "Do you think it's smart to get something for nothing?" Do I think it's smart to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger? Do I think it's smart to burn $100 bills while dancing naked in traffic? Who was this genius?

I said, "I get what you're trying to do. Fine. Yes, to all of your questions. It is much smarter to not throw money down a toilet. I agree. Move on to the sale. How much and what do I get for it?"

"Well, I'm not trying to sell you anything." Really? "I'm offering you an opportunity." Again with the "opportunity". It had now become comical.

"Fine. What is the opportunity?"

"Let me ask you a question..." he started, I cut him off.

Fine, I'll tack. "I have a plane to catch, you have about 20 minutes to get through all this." I said.

"What? You committed to 90 minutes." he said.

"No, I didn't "commit" to anything and if you can't get to the deal without another question we can call it right here."

"Let me ask you...." Done.

We stood up. "Look, we're done here. You have my email, if you send me the information, I'll go over it and let you know." At this point we knew we weren't going to see our $125, but we did get free coffee, and a nosh. Still in the win column for me.

Will I still stay at Hilton properties? Sure, they're everywhere. Will I still try and get free steak knives if someone offers them to me? Sure, I'll bite. Will I see through your used car salesman bullshit and call you on the carpet for trying it with me because I find it insulting? You're damn right I will. I've seen how these guys were trained http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-AXTx4PcKI. Thank you Mr. mamet and Mr. Baldwin.

Tack, Hilton. Change the direction and adjust the course next time if you want to keep the sale alive. Next time you may be able to close.



  1. Michael,
    It sounds like the salesman - the guy who wasn't trying to sell you anything - pissed you off. I have to admit, the story made me laugh the whole way through. Of course, if I'd experienced it I'd have been pissed and you'd be laughing at me. Maybe I'll write about the car I buy this summer to pay you back because I'm sure I'll encounter that guy's uncle or cousin at some auto dealer.


  2. Brian,

    It didn't piss me off as much as it astounded me that he couldn't get off his script and treat me like a person with half a brain.

    I think you would treat it the same way I would. Like a cat with a ball of yarn. And yes, let me know how your experience at the auto dealership goes. I'm sure it will be just as good if not better!


  3. Have experienced similar situations; I'm always astounded as I continually (gently at first, then more overtly later) reveal that I understand the system the person is using and I'll be deciding outside of that system that they don't "tack."

    One time a car salesman threatened to have security escort me off the lot. Yeah, that'll get you a sale.


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