Friday, October 24, 2008

The world's greatest salesman

Every year I perform my stand-up comedy routine at dozens of sales awards banquets. They’re usually held in nice resorts, include open bar at some point and are attended by the company’s top producers – the “best of the best” if you will.

The attendees carry themselves well. From the moment they stride into the resort, golf bags slung over their shoulder, they walk with an air of accomplishment. They know they are excellent salespeople. Some may even go so far as to think they are the best salespeople.

They are not. For I know the best salesperson. While we have never met, I know where to find him or her. It’s somewhere in Pennsylvania. But more on that later. First, any talk of the best sales person in the world has to include this joke:

A salesman walks into a sporting goods store to apply for a job. During the interview he tells the manager that he is the world’s best salesman.
“I can sell anything to anybody,” he says, matter-of-factly.
Unconvinced, the manager puts him on the floor immediately and then drifts over to the salesman’s area, hoping to watch the first customer exchange.
A man approaches and chats briefly with the salesman. Together they head to fishing tackle where, within minutes, the customer has purchased $500 worth of fishing poles and tackle.
The awestruck manager creeps closer, anxious to get a whiff of the conversation.
“Now that you got the fishing tackle, aren’t you going to need a boat?” the salesman asks.
The customer agrees and buys a boat on the spot.
“How about a trailer to haul that boat?” asks the salesman. Another sale right there, this time for a top of the line trailer and hitch.
“A trailer like that can only be towed by a large Winnebago,” says the salesman. Let me show you what we’ve got.
The manager is completely blown away as he sees the customer sign the paperwork for a new Winnebago.
But the salesman isn’t done. Not until he has sold the customer a piece of lakefront property where he can fish to his heart’s content.
When the customer had left, the manager came out from behind his hiding place. “I gotta tell you buddy, I was skeptical but I just watched you in action and you truly are the world’s greatest salesman. I mean, that guy just came in to buy fishing tackle and he walks out with a boat, a Winnebago and a piece of property. Unbelievable!
“You don’t know the half of it,” the salesman replies. “That guy came in looking for tampons for his wife and I said, ‘hey, as long as you aren’t doing anything this weekend, why not go fishing?’”


Okay it’s not a laugh out loud joke but it’s funny if you pound the pavement every day, hoping for the next big score that will send you on that trip to Hawaii. And maybe someday you will be as talented as the salesperson in Pennsylvania. Again, I don’t know this person’s name or whether this person is male or female. I only know that he or she sells cell phone service.

Several weeks ago I was performing for PennMed Healthcare, which manages 17 long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania. Each year the company organized a corporate “retreat,” in which the top brass go to a remote location and spend two days discussing how to make PennMed a better operation.

For reasons never quite explained to me, the group chose the St. Francis Center for Renewal, a convent located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was the first show I had ever performed in a convent. Statues and paintings of Jesus were on every wall of the showroom. The Lord truly was watching me from all angles.

But that’s not all. According to Wikipedia, Bethlehem is also home to the largest concentration of Amish people in the world. Indeed, when driving around the area, it’s hard not to see billboards for Amish furniture and other wares.
So there I was at 8:30 a.m. driving a rental car and attempting to find a convent in the middle of Amish country. Upon arrival, I turned on my Blackberry to check email.

My phone worked perfectly. I had all the bars. I had full strength. I had cell phone service. Put more succinctly, I had cell phone service in an area populated by a bunch of women who had given their lives to God and a collection of people who still think we’re living in the early 1800s.

Whoever convinced the population of this area that they needed cell phones is the world’s greatest salesman. END OF DISCUSSION. Prepare the plaque, engrave the company pen and book the trip to Cabo. We have a winner.

I still wonder what these people are doing with their cell phones. Are the Mother Superior and Ezekiel texting each other late at night? Are the nuns listening to choir music on their new 3G iPhones? Are the Amish buying and selling oxen on eBay?

Actually, I don’t care and I doubt the world’s greatest sales person does. For right now, that person has probably just convinced the executives at PennMed that the nursing home residents need motorcycles.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

What are YOU doing right now?

I am typing on my laptop in the Lehigh, Pennsylvania Airport

I am taking a sip from the Diet Coke that I purchased at the airport Subway. It is cold and refreshing.

I am checking my Blackberry to see if I have any emails.

I am typing again.

If you don’t care that I’m doing any of this, then you obviously are not a member of Facebook, the wildly popular social networking site that invites its members to announce to the cyberspace community exactly what it is they are doing RIGHT NOW!

Right now I am wondering why I ever joined Facebook. I’m wondering that now as well. And now. Now too!

At last count, Facebook had approximately 75 million members, not counting the five million who are desperately trying to join but are having trouble with their Internet connections. What started as a quirky idea in a college dorm room has snowballed into a phenomenon that, in my opinion, threatens to overtake Fantasy Football as the biggest time waster in modern history. (Read Greg's Facebook profile by clicking here)

Mind you, Facebook is not the first social networking site to hit the Internet. I joined the social networking phenomenon two years ago when a business acquaintance suggested I become part of LinkedIn, a “business-oriented” social networking site. By “business-oriented” it means that the members actually have jobs and, furthermore, actual lives. (Read Greg's LinkedIn profile by clicking here)

Such does not appear to be the case with Facebook.

I took the Facebook plunge only after a marketing executive told me it would increase my on line profile and allow people trolling cyberspace one more way to reach me directly. What did I have to lose?

I went to the site and set up my profile. This took just over 92 hours because Facebook wanted to know EVERYTHING about me. Was I married? Single? Engaged? In an open relationship? Or my favorite choice: “it’s complicated.” Excuse me o Facebook gods but what relationship IS NOT complicated?

Was I interested in men or women? Actually I find both men and women interesting, particularly if they’ve had a few drinks and are in the midst of a lengthy airport delay. But I assumed Facebook wanted to know my sexual preference. I left it blank.

What were my political and religious views? I thought there might be drop down boxes to choose from. Had the choices included “Democrat but Sarah Palin makes me laugh” or “church on Sundays unless my daughter has a gymnastics meet,” I would have made a choice. But I left those blank too, simply because I don’t want to be contacted by any Facebook members with conversion on their minds.

The interrogation continued. What were my favorite movies? TV shows? Musical groups? Quotes?

The quotes box stumped me, as I have never gone through life quoting anybody other than my father who lived by the mantra, “So help me God, I am turning this car around right now!” Somehow that didn’t seem appropriate considering some of my Facebook “friends” were quoting Plato, Sun Tzu and Lee Iacocca.

Ah yes, the “friends” you will meet upon joining Facebook. Once my profile was completed and I had announced every known fact about myself except what I ate for breakfast on June 29, 1981, (Note: Facebook support personnel are working to answer that question right now) it was time to sit back and hear from others in the Facebook community who wanted me to be their friends.

It didn’t take long.

Facebook, you see, crawls into your inner being and just keeps digging deeper, much like a tapeworm. Facebook can scan your email address book and determine which contacts also have Facebook profiles. It can contact them directly if you like. It’s a good thing I don’t know anybody named Bob Smith for Facebook would instantly send a message to approximately 549,000 Bob Smiths, letting all of them know that Greg Schwem wants to be their friend.

Instead, people I had long forgotten about wanted to be MY friend. There was a fraternity brother who graduated shortly after I initiated; a Canadian woman who last hired me 10 years ago; a fellow Chicago comedian whose name and face I could barely place.

And my accountant.

I have no idea why my accountant wants to be my friend. Is he not satisfied with the monthly check I send him? I wanted to email all these people back and say, “Where were you when I was seven, huh?” Nobody wanted me to be friends with me then. There was no “Greg’s a pretty cool kid, so let’s ask him to play baseball with us” message board that I could join. But with Facebook, suddenly I was more popular than I had ever been in my life. So I emailed them all back, acted like they were all still fresh in my memory and asked them to stay in touch by writing on my Facebook “wall”.

That was a HUGE mistake.

Opening up your Facebook wall to your friends is another way of saying, “annoy me whenever you like.” It allows them to, indeed, tell me what they are doing right now. Suddenly I was being bombarded with email alerts letting me know that one “friend” “was thrilled that the Sox pulled it out.” Another “is working on a plan.” Another “got sunburned during the kickball tournament” and still another is “counting the minutes until she sees her boys on Wednesday.”

I don’t know if that’s what these friends were doing “right now” or if it was just something they thought everybody should know about. In any event, it caused me to stop what I was doing and read what they were doing.

Before Facebook launched its new look, it gave users a drop down menu containing “what are you doing right now” choices. So, if a user wasn’t actually sure what he or she was doing right now, Facebook could help. One of the choices was “going to bed.” That’s right, I could let my entire collection of on line friends know that I was “going to bed” with a simple mouseclick. Trust me, if anybody interrupted my life with an email stating they were going to bed, I would tell Facebook to WAKE THEM UP. NOW!

The bottom line? I don’t want to know what people are doing right now. I don’t need social networking sites that will distract me from my primary goal, namely getting something done. Which is why today I am launching the first ever “anti-social networking” site. Simply put, this is a site for people who don’t care to be in the loop anymore.

Interested? Then join me. My site will purge your email address book, ultimately leaving you “friendless.” Your name and personal information will be eliminated from message boards, chat rooms, groups, and lists. Nobody will know your favorite color and you won’t know how anybody is celebrating his or her birthday. In short, you will have nothing left to do with your time other than be productive.

That’s what I’m going to do right now.