The home security industry has experienced massive growth over the last decade or so. This is not only due to rising crime rates, but the proliferation of alarm “sub dealers”. These types of alarm companies are authorized to sell security products and services on behalf of the bigger national chains. Some of these dealers have thousands of employees and serve a large geographical area, while others could be run from a former installer’s garage by one or two people. Some sub dealers are known for using high pressure sales tactics (i.e. door to door solicitation), and/or have a very high employee turnover. Many go out of business after one or two years.
We were eager to know – is working for one of these “fly by night” companies really that bad? Why do employees leave so quickly? And what sort of qualifications and experience are required? After a lengthy search, we found an investigative reporter who actually worked for a medium-sized alarm sub dealer. The following is a detailed account of his experience, and encounter with one of the worst sales trainers we’ve ever read about (certain names have been changed):
Interviewing with an ADT Dealer
On the short drive to the office, I replayed the conversation I had with the receptionist that morning. I had answered a cleverly worded ad in the local newspaper’s jobs section by emailing my resume to the listed address, I couldn’t believe my luck when a call came in and the voice on the other end of the phone explained, in a very secretive and mysterious tone, that there was one more interview appointment available that day if I could make it, as though she was committing espionage by releasing that valuable information. I soon came to find that she wasn’t the only one at this company with an overactive sense of melodrama.
I was a little down on my luck at this point, stuck in a dead end, low paying job; under-stimulated and under-paid, but this seemed like an opportunity I could really sink my teeth into. The ad, which in retrospect was an obvious misrepresentation, was a call for potential sales people who wanted to earn serious money with ADT. No experience was required and they were offering paid training. Upon seeing the ad, I figured with my background in security and law enforcement, and my experience in middle management, they might consider me for a sales management position, or at least have opportunities for growth in short order.
As I arrived at the address I had been given by the Bond Girl receptionist over the phone, I noticed that the office was located directly across the street from the ADT Security Center in my little berg. More than that though, I noticed that this office appeared to be a service center for a transport company.
Somewhat confused, but no less eager to seize this opportunity, I entered the front door and was greeted by an 8×10 paper sign taped to the wall, which read: SALES INTERVIEWS UPSTAIRS.
At this point my unfounded confidence in the situation was somewhat restored; I figured the folks at ADT were just renting space from the resident business due to a lack of space in their own building, though I soon found out differently.
After climbing the dirty stairs, I entered a makeshift foyer, lined with cheap office chairs, and equipped with a large metal desk in the center, at which a nice looking woman in her mid 40’s sat quietly, and several other people sat around the room writing on clipboards and apparently trying to remember long lost information for their job applications. This seemed to be a central hub for the office, as there were several rooms leading off to three sides of the building, and I could hear people talking loudly behind two of the closed doors.
At first glance around the room, I noticed that I was somewhat overdressed in my favorite blue suit and yellow silk tie. Two of the people with the clip boards were in jeans and t-shirts and a third wore shorts and flip-flops, though the woman at the desk, who I assumed was the ADT equivalent to Jane Moneypenny, was dressed in a nice pant suit and was well put together.
My earlier assumption was confirmed when the woman spoke:
“Are you here for the interview?”
“Yes” I replied, “but I’m a little early.”
“That’s ok, have a seat and Mr. James will be with you in a minute.”
Choosing the seat farthest away from any of the other candidates, I wondered why she wasn’t having me fill out an application, but my concern was cut short as a tall slender man in a nicer suit than mine stepped out of the office across the room from my seat. Without so much as a change in his stride, he walked right over to me, holding out his hand.
“Yes” I said, rising from my chair to shake hands.
I briefly wondered how he knew who I was without an introduction, but then remembered that he and I were the only ones dressed for the occasion. It must have been an easy assumption.
“I’m Jeff, thanks for coming in today.”
After some polite banter about the cool weather, and if I had been able to find the office ok, he invited me to follow him into his large office. The first of many flags went up for me at this point, as I walked past the open door to the office next to his and noticed a small cot and some dirty dishes sitting on a desk. It struck me as odd right away, but full realization didn’t sink in until quite some time later.
Mr. James’ office was decked out nicely, an oak desk, a large hutch filled with technical manuals, leather chairs and an expensive leather briefcase sitting in the corner.
Now, I’ve been interviewed for many jobs in my career, in many different industries. I’ve been grilled on deportment and procedure; I’ve done panel interviews which left me feeling as tall as Tom Thumb. I’ve even had simple meetings at the local coffee shop that turned into lucrative business arrangements, but what I was about to experience was something entirely new.
Seated in the large leather manager’s chair behind the desk, Mr. James began by asking how familiar I was with ADT products and services. To which my answer was quite long and thorough.
We built up a simple rapport between us as we talked; he fired the usual interview questions at me, inquiring about my previous positions and my experience, he asked about my home life and queried me on my management philosophy. All was quite normal, until he stood and sat on the corner of the desk in front of me, this was the beginning of his sales pitch.
He started out by telling me that he had been a facilitator-trainer for ADT’s sales force for nearly six years now, he boasted about his track record of creating sales teams that bring in record revenues and how he had helped so many people start their own businesses after relatively short careers in the alarm sales field. I had been given a company by-line sales pitch before, so I wasn’t overly surprised, yet.
He continued on about how ADT is the global standard for home and commercial
security products, and how the technology practically sells itself, and then he came
out with it.
“…and when you start with Weston, you’ll soon be in a position to write your own
ticket in this business.”
I had to stop him there.
“Wait, start with Weston?” I questioned, “What is Weston?”
“Weston Security Inc.” “An authorized ADT Dealer.”
“Oh.” I said, a little stunned and somewhat confused. “The ad made it seem like
this was a job with ADT.”
“It is really, we’re so close with their business team that we’re almost one company.”
At the time I didn’t know any better than what he was telling me, but it did strike me as somewhat concerning. Mr. James continued with his pitch, which further explained the relationship between the ADT Corporation and its authorized dealers. By now I was becoming more than a little put off by the confusion, which was about to come to a head.
I sat quietly, listening to Mr. James as he extolled the virtues of ADT technology over the competition, he explained their tried and true sales process, which included a team of call center operators who worked feverishly to generate sales leads in strategically identified suburb areas around town. Following up on those sales leads was the responsibility of the sales staff, which were tasked with converging on the identified area as an ADT promotional force.
Sitting and reading the explanation of this sales process may lead you to a different conclusion than the live version did for me. Mr. James did a fine job of holding my hand as we walked down the garden path. At the conclusion of his monologue, I was convinced that his was a team of elite security professionals, whose sole purpose was to secure every home in every neighborhood across the country. My enthusiasm may have been slightly misplaced, and the small fact he revealed next should have, in hindsight, sent me running.
“So, once you interview with Mr. Santos, and I’m sure you’ll do fine…”
“Mr. Santos?” I questioned.
“Yes, Ronaldo Santos owns Weston Security; I’m just helping him get set up with training and personnel.”
“So you don’t even work for Weston?”
The effect of this roller coaster was beginning to show on my face for sure, it seemed like nothing here was as it seemed on the surface. My instincts were in such conflict; it was as though I had cartoon versions of myself sitting on either shoulder, each one telling me to do something different, though neither being particularly helpful.
“No, I work directly for ADT. My job is to recruit and nurture new authorized dealers, to show them the ropes and help them get set up.”
“So, other than being allowed to sell ADT products, what real connection is there between Weston and ADT?” I asked, more than a little annoyed by the posturing.
“There is no direct connection, other than as a distributor / wholesaler, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure everyone on the team knows their stuff.”
My attention drifted at this point; Mr. James went on talking about the training and the commission structure, which he promised would be covered during the week-long paid training session. I was summing all the equations up in my head: misleading job ad, crappy offices, much newer company than I had thought, being interviewed by someone who doesn’t even work for the company; was this something I really wanted to get involved with?
It took me the rest of his quickly unraveling sales pitch to decide that I had nothing to lose by sticking it out and seeing what they might have in store for me. After all, paid training is an appealing idea even in a situation like this.
Wrapping up our meeting, Mr. James handed me a schedule for the upcoming training and said plainly that he was going to recommend that Mr. Santos consider me for Sales Manager, but it would all depend on how well I did through the training. By the time we stepped out of his office (which I was now under the impression was Mr. Santos’ office) all the other potential applicants had left and “Moneypenny” was sitting quietly reading a cheap novel at her desk.
Shaking hands and proceeding with cordial goodbyes, I turned and walked toward the stairwell, when Mr. James blurted out: “Don’t forget, we’re buying pizza on the first day of training!”
There was something about the manner of his voice, or maybe just the way he presented himself that made all the condescension and confusion almost invisible, and even though my two cartoon shoulder buddies were still there arguing in my ears, I left the makeshift office above the service center hoping for the best.
ADT Dealer Training: Day One
According to the schedule I had been given during my interview, the intensive training program offered by Weston Security Inc. was two days of classroom instruction followed by three days of hands-on practical experience, all capped off with a one-on-one evaluation.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the classroom instruction; my impression of the company thus far had been confusing and inconsistent, though since I had left Mr. James with ‘Moneypenny’ the previous week, my enthusiasm and determination had turned to suspicion and concern and back again. I was still hopeful and looking for an opportunity, any opportunity to change my situation, but I wasn’t entirely convinced this was one of those opportunities.
Arriving at the makeshift office/service center, I noticed quite a few more vehicles parked along the driveway and crammed into the parking lot than the previous date, and my second impression, if you will, was that I might be facing some competition for the role of Sales Manager. As I entered the front door of the building, I noticed the same sign still taped to the wall with one lonely piece of scotch-tape, and I wondered, as my ears caught the muffled voices of several people in the offices above me…nothing to lose eh? How about your dignity?
I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs, the voices got louder with each step I took, and as the owners of those voices came into sight, so to did the point of no return.
The first day of training was scheduled to begin at 10 am, and as my watch hands moved past 9:55, I figured the 15 or so people who milled about before me were set to be my classmates momentarily. ‘Moneypenny’ was seated behind her desk, much as she had been the previous day, and for a brief moment I wondered if she had even moved since. Maybe the cot was for her, maybe she was so dedicated to her employer, that she committed herself to the company forever and always, a slave to Corporate America, an over zealous example of capitalism gone wrong.
My wildly distracting imaginings did well to mask my true feelings; I’m prone to jitters and pangs of inadequacy. I was again overdressed but not by much, and as I left poor ‘Moneypenny’ to read her novel in privacy, I scanned the room for an equal. Looking around I read the faces of my competition, young, inexperienced, over-experienced, tired, dull, every face I saw was beaten and defeated before we even began. They each put up a decent front, but it wasn’t difficult to see through their plastic faces and read their fears like a book.
My judgement was harsh, and I realized as much when I considered that my face might be betraying me in the same way. Luckily the torturous wait was over and the disjointed voices of the small crowd were silenced by the opening of Mr. Santos’ office door.
Out walked a man whom I least expected; thin, small, understated, even diminutive. He moved quickly and wore a very nice silver suit, which was complimented by his stylish haircut. If I were given only one word to describe the air about him, I would have to say ‘shiny’. Surely this was Mr. Santos, the mystery was solved; we were being recruited into the mob. Again my imagination got the better of me, but for what it was worth, my assumption was correct.
He introduced himself quickly as Ronaldo Santos, and ushered us into the large boardroom on the opposite site of the office. The room was set up with four rows of medium utility tables, each lined on one side with the same cheap office chairs as were abundant in the foyer. At the head of the room stood a small podium, a slideshow projector and a large whiteboard. As we all shuffled into the room we were handed a blue folder with ADT printed on the front in large white letters, by a younger woman standing just inside the door. It was nice to see actual employees, at least ones that didn’t make me wonder if this was a CIA field recruitment office.
Weighing factors carefully, I chose a seat in the third row of tables from the front, next to a rather large woman, whom I later found out, was a uniformed security guard who felt wasted by the monotony of security work. As I began to lay out my note pad and extra pen, I noticed that I was the only one whom had seen fit to come prepared. I wondered if it would be considered brown-nosing to continue, so I laid the folder out and began looking through the documentation inside.
Each page was earmarked with the ADT logo, and all of it looked far more professional than I expected. The folder was complete with a list of products and sales packages, a few flow charts detailing commissions and sales trends, and sample invoices. On the top of the pile of documents was a regular sheet of paper with just the following word equation printed in the center:
Motivation + Training + Opportunity = Success
An intriguing but simplistic idea, and one that gave me pause in the ongoing justification for continuing. At my age and with my experience, I was less than enthusiastic about going through yet another motivational training seminar. I may have been making excuses, or I may have had a point, but neither made any difference as my thought process was interrupted by Mr. James, when he dropped his expensive brief case on the table beside the projector and took his suit jacket off, hanging it on a nearby chair. 10:00 am on the dot, just as I’d expect from a man as put together as Mr. James.
He took a quick look around the room, taking in all the eager expressions and the general character of the room. Wasting no time, he began right away with introductions and an ice breaking exercise that reminded me of a summer camp activity. He was good at bringing us together, at getting our attention and building the team, it remained to be seen if he was equally proficient with the technical material.
Taking our seats after the ice breaker, Mr. James began by asking everyone to open their folder and to spread out the documents inside like a deck of playing cards. Everyone in the room was obedient and borderline enthusiastic about this venture, I felt like I might have been the only one who was getting annoyed by the theatrics, wishing he would just get on with it, but since I loath the spotlight for spotlight’s sake, I decided it would be best to play along and blend in with the rest of the crowd.
We spent the next hour or so, going over the contents of the folder, Mr. James gave us a quick synopsis of the training program and outlined what we would be doing, and when.
The only page in the package that he didn’t discuss was the word equation, and it turned out that this was our first lesson of the program. Taking a long pause after receiving no response to his call for questions and comments regarding the program outline, he assertively asked in an almost rhetorical way;
“What is it that makes successful people, successful?”
His first bit of actual instruction had fallen on deaf, or rather ignorant ears. No one seemed to understand the question. I wasn’t sure if this was a result of shyness or first day jitters, or if it was telling of the mindset of my classmates. But even though I instantly grasped where he was going with this question, I too hesitated to volunteer an answer, and the silence seemed to agitate both Mr. James and Mr. Santos, who had been seated near the door, his legs crossed and a stern look of ownership on his face.
While I debated about being the first to answer a question (fully realizing how silly my reservations were), Mr. James spun and retrieved a blue dry erase marker from the trough at the base of the large white board. He snapped off the top and quickly scribbled the same word equation as was on the top page of our folders. Clearly annoyed by the lack of participation thus far, once he finished his barely legible score, he turned round and locked eyes with the portly woman sitting next to me.
“Do you agree that this formula works?” The woman replied with a diminutive ‘yes’, and nodded her head slightly.
“Ok, from this point on, when you answer or ask a question, I want you to stand, introduce yourself and continue in a clear and loud voice.”
At that moment I saw a spark of the familiar in Mr. James’ eye, as though this had all been rehearsed in advance, maybe even performed like a Broadway play.
My desk mate took instruction well as she rose from her seat and introduced herself to the room, and then simply repeated her previous answer in a louder voice. I found that Mr. James and I both wore the same ironic smile as she sat down. He had been looking for more than a one word answer, but this room was going to make him work today.
“Yes, you’re right – it does work. Anyone care to take a guess why?”
The blank faces across the room began to warm to the idea of participating in the discussion, and a young man from the front row offered up his hand.
“Because if you take away one part of the formula it doesn’t work?”
I was clearly in the company of intellectual giants, and the suspense of the situation was almost causing me physical pain. It hadn’t occurred to me that this job, the job of selling high-tech home security systems would be akin to flipping burgers at the fast food joint down the street. My own preconceptions about the level of professionalism in this industry were misplaced. Mr. James, the long time trainer of ADT sales teams, the guru of alarm sales and the sensei of authorized dealers, had done this dance probably hundreds of times before, maybe even thousands of times.
His well practiced smile, his perfectly timed outbursts of excitement and of annoyance, all of it designed to build a feeling of parallel commitment in people who’s overall capabilities were far below adequate for the role they were about to take on. Or were they?
As a group we continued to play along with our teacher, and after three or four near misses, he finally got a bull’s-eye answer from a middle aged woman at the back of the room.
“Why it works doesn’t matter, just that it does work, that’s all that matters.”
I wasn’t sure what the overall point of this round-a-bout discussion had been, other than to get people using their words, but Mr. James accepted her answer as correct and quickly moved onto a deeper explanation.
“Just like a math problem, this equation adds up. You will find that anyone who possesses these qualities will be a successful person.”
It made sense, in an obvious and elementary sort of way, but we soon found out that this was not his point.
“Can anyone tell me which of these components, is the responsibility of the employer, and which is the responsibility of the employee?”
Ah ha! I nearly jumped up and pointed at him with a Sherlock Holmes style accusation, finally we get to the meat of it, I thought. My shy desk mate had found her courage by this point and she thrust her hand into the air.
“Um, is it opportunity – because it’s up to us to do the job?”
“Close, but not quite.” He responded, and not waiting for another answer, he jumped right into his spiel.
“It’s pretty easy to see that training is your employer’s responsibility, right? It’s also fairly easy to see that without the opportunities our employers give us, we could never succeed; but what about motivation?”
Pausing for dramatic effect, something he seemed to enjoy on a basic level, he paced across the front of the room as he talked.
“Motivation comes from inside, it’s something you find within yourself, and it’s something that no one else can give you.”
His labored and overly theatrical point was taken, at least by me. He, or more accurately, they, wanted to build a team of self-starters, self-managers, self-motivators. They wanted to build a team of sales people, to nurture them and to bring them into the folds as a child to their favorite school teacher. One might ask if it would be easier for them to seek, hire and let loose a team of seasoned sales people, men and women who already have experience, whom have that sales personality and ‘closer’ mentality.
Easier, yes; affordable, no. To me, this instantly added to the already mounting evidence against sticking it out. Others with a more entrepreneurial outlook may have seen these events as an opportunity to excel among lesser capable peers, but my skeptical mind tends to ask why, instead of why not. Why does it make more sense to these people, to hire a room full of poorly qualified, inexperienced sales people, in lieu of a handful of the opposite? This of course suggests that they had a choice in the matter.
My lack of exposure to this specific sector of the security industry was something they were counting on, they wanted people who knew nothing about the costs and tactics of alarm sales, they wanted people who were looking for a new way of capitalizing on an often impressive, yet useless background in law enforcement or physical security. As both a start-up company, and a business relying on only residential alarm sales, Weston was setting themselves up to be a small fish, in a sea of other small fish. They seemed to see their alliance with ADT as a leg up on the competition, but common sense tells us that ADT is in bed with many other authorized dealers, and Weston is no better or more important than the rest.
Weighing all of this new information in my mind, I considered only the possible benefits and detriments to my own career and situation; I failed to see the impact this type of business arrangement might have on consumers.
In any event, I stuck by my lifelong motto; where difficult decisions are concerned, inaction often works better than action. (We can discuss how well this motto has actually worked for me some other time). I chose, yet again, to stick it out and see how things develop.
The rest of the day was spent going over the basics of security and an overview of ADT products. For those who aren’t familiar with the vast array of security products that exists for virtually the same function, let me be the one to tell you that the alarm sales industry is largely made up of smoke and mirrors.
At the time of this training, I had little-to-no knowledge of how the technology worked, let alone the principals behind their installation. Since then I have educated myself on every aspect of physical security, and the single striking feature of this business is that between companies, there is virtually no difference at all in technology.
We spoke, in round table fashion, about the various components of a security system; the panel (the brain of the system), the keypad (the face of the system), the door and window sensors and glass breakage or decibel sensors (the senses of the system) and the add-ins like motion detectors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, remote access, wireless installation and a few other largely window-dressing-type components.
Mr. James verbally laid out two separate systems for us to examine, claiming that these are the two most common types and therefore delineate the two classes of system: wired and wireless. In hind sight, I know that Mr. James was either ignorant of the truth, or was spinning the truth to his advantage in a class full of people who knew no better.
In a box on the floor, they had several components for demonstration, most of which were simply the shells of each component; apparently we didn’t need to have any real working knowledge of the product to sell it.
After a short lunch break, during which we were served cold pizza that had been delivered an hour early, we reconvened to go over what had been discussed in the morning portion of the session. It was a rapid fire progression of questions from Mr. James, to which the answers were blurted out by whoever knew the answer, or whoever could get it out first. What might strike you about this portion of the story is not necessarily the speed at which we covered the information, but actually the small amount of information there was to be covered.
One would expect the training of an alarm salesman to be somewhat comprehensive, maybe described as a crash course in home security. After all, we were to be tasked with going out to secure whole neighborhoods. To bring piece of mind to housewives and to allow husbands to jet off to work without a worry for their family and home.
Shouldn’t we have been armed with all the knowledge necessary to speak intelligently about security and its technology?
Wrapping up for the day at just past 2:00pm (yes, a full days training that lasted just more than four hours), Mr. James issued a homework assignment for his class. We were to use whatever media resources we had available to us, to find, copy and memorize a news story about any security issue; preferably one with included statistics about crime rates. He didn’t explain why, and offered little in the way of instructional detail, but after our day of scholastic exertion, I figured less might be more when it comes to Weston.
As the group slowly disbursed I tried to get a sense, through overheard conversation and facial expressions, as to whether or not I was alone in my growing mistrust. Up to this point there had been no mention of money, no rumors of recompense nor statements of salary, aside from the single graph in our folder that vaguely outlined a ballooning commission structure based on units sold (essentially, the more you sell, the higher your commission rate), but this graph offered no actual numbers.
Patience is not exactly one of my virtues, and as I tried to corner Mr. James to ask a few pointed questions, he skilfully slipped into Mr. Santos’ office and out of sight, forcing me to save my questions for another time.
So, still confused and conflicted, I left the office with even more doubt. I knew my wife would be less than pleased at not having answers to our pressing financial questions, but at least I was supposed to be paid for the training. I would return the next day, resolved to be taken seriously, and much more active in my decision making process.
ADT Dealer Training: Day Two
This, my second day of training on the path to a career in home security sales and consultancy, I was determined to make count. Dressed to the nines in all black, my shoes shined and my act was together; I would be taken seriously by Mr. James, and by Mr. Santos. Today I would have answers to all my questions.
Even though I arrived as per my usual five minutes early, I waited in the parking lot until my watch struck 10:00am, then I swaggered into the building and casually strolled into the classroom. I intended to make an entrance, one that would be remembered, and it worked, sort of.
Mr. Santos was standing at the head of the “class” when I walked in, the room was silent, but for the leather on the souls of my shoes clicking on the tiled floor. I calmly apologized for interrupting and took my seat next to the large woman whom had been my desk mate the day before. All was going according to plan, Mr. Santos took notice of me, and though I thought I was the last one through the door, I wasn’t technically late. Unlike Mr. James, who hurried in the door just as I landed in my seat; even best laid plans can work out different than we would hope.
Our second day was slated to be a run-down of sales techniques, an explanation of pricing and financing, and a general demonstration of the entire process of selling an alarm system. In contrast, the curriculum seemed immense compared to the time we had available. Though, again, I had misjudged the scope of the situation.
Mr. James jumped right into the start of his presentation, asking us to pull from the folder, all of the papers regarding sales, financing and commission. He quickly wrote some figures on the white board and took a breath as he turned to face his waiting crowd.
“What is the most prominent selling feature of an alarm system?”
This was a good start to the day I thought, a real question about the real business we were getting into. Wanting to stick with my plan getting noticed, I raised my hand to answer.
“The security and piece of mind the system offers.”
“Wrong; anyone else?”
What? How could I have been wrong? This is what we were trying to do, sell home security. Did this guy not understand his own question? My face must have betrayed my feelings, as Mr. Santos, who had been seated in his chair near the door, stood and in an accusatory way effectively expressed the same confusion.
“What do you mean that’s wrong?”
I didn’t realize it immediately, but this was significant for more than one reason. I was engrossed in the vain embarrassment of getting caught by a trick question, and didn’t notice that the owner of the company, the company I was soon to be gainfully employed by, didn’t already know the answer.
“Security is an illusion.” Mr. James replied. “It isn’t real, and even the best salesman in the world would have a tough time selling an imaginary product for a living.”
The room was silent, in a way that was palpable; all eyes were glued to Mr. James, including Mr. Santos’, we, or at least I, was flabbergasted at the idea that Mr. James would come right out and say, without reservation, that security isn’t real.
“I was going to cover this later, but since it’s come up, we can talk about it now.”
Mr. James wasn’t fazed by the stunned silence, nor with the surprised look on Mr. Santos’ face, which I should have expected considering the number of times he’s likely conducted this training program.
Reaching into the box of demonstrator alarm components, Mr. James picked up and tossed a small motion sensor across the room and onto the table in from of me.
“What does this device do?” He asked.
“It detects motion within its range of view.”
“Does it have arms and legs?”
“No!” I snuffed, almost insulted by the question.
“Is it equipped with handcuffs and telephone?”
“So can it stop a burglar from breaking into someone’s house?”
“Ye…” I almost fell for it, but caught myself before finishing the thought. “No, I suppose it can’t.”
Mr James reached back into the box and pulled out a keypad console and held it up for everyone to see.
“How about this, can it stop someone from kicking in a door and invading someone’s home?”
The whole room answered simultaneously with a resounding ‘no’.
“So then what’s the point of putting one in your home?”
“Because, when you put them all together in a system, they make robbers choose a different house.” The eager beaver in the front row was really getting into the groove of the lesson now.
Visibly unimpressed with the answer, Mr. James once again reached into the box and pulled out an ADT lawn sign and planted it on the desk top in front of him with a bang.
“This sign provides more actual security than any alarm system in the world.” He exclaimed with a strange sense of pride in his voice. “Think about that for a minute and we’ll come back to it.”
His point, which at the time made little sense to me or anyone else in the room, was the tip of a fundamental truth in the alarm industry and in the security industry as a whole; but no one saw where he was going next.
“There is one reason and one reason only, why anyone should ever pay any money for an alarm system for their home.” He said, punctuating the statement by tossing the yard sign back into the box. “Insurance.” He lowered his voice and furled his brow, as though he was about to reveal some deep dark national secret.
“An alarm system in your home will do one thing for you…it’ll reduce your homeowners insurance by up to 30%.”
And there it was, the iceberg of truth was exposed for all to see. I’m sure some in the room originally thought he meant something akin to packing heat while on the wrong side of the tracks, but it sunk in for me almost instantly. It makes all the sense in the world too; money makes the world go round, it’s the reason we were sitting in the room, it’s the reason Weston Security Inc existed in the first place, it’s even the reason anyone ever worries about security at all.
Now that we were at the heart of the issue, things were beginning to come into perspective. The alarm sales business, like any other, is about making money; fast turn-around, low overhead and production costs, cheap labor and high volume. There’s a formula, almost like the word play Mr. James had laid out for us the previous day; if every element of the equation is satisfied the outcome is achieved, but in a business where your product is irrelevant beyond satisfying some home insurance rider, how do you bring your business to market without a little creative marketing?
This is when the real product made its appearance; from behind the podium, Mr. James produced a yellow, three layer, carbon copy contract form, and held it up for everyone to see.
“This is what our customers are actually buying.” He said, as though he had just woven straw into gold.
In his hand was an alarm monitoring contract, with its little boxes and fine print carefully worded and placed. It was a single piece of paper that would bind our clients to God knows what, for God knows how long. And in that moment, some of the smoke cleared from this hall of mirrors.
He offered the contract to one of the trainees at the front of the room, asking him to pass it around, and as we each examined the contract, like lawyers in a discovery meeting, he went on to explain the “freebie catch”.
“If we were to knock on someone’s door,” He asked. “…and ask them to buy an expensive piece of equipment; something that might save their lives, something that might even become a household convenience, what do you think they would say?”
Now moving into a more rhetorical mode, he quickly answered his own question.
“They’d say Hell No!” He exclaimed. “Who wants to make those kinds of decisions with the pressure of a door-to-door salesman standing over them?”
“No one, that’s who.” Again, answering his own question. “But we’re not selling expensive equipment; in fact we’re not selling any equipment.”
Being the kind of person I am, I often get frustrated with people who side step and manipulate, I wished he would just get to the point of it all, instead of slowly and painfully bringing out all these hidden little treats for us. I was beginning to get the impression that he enjoyed having all the answers, while the rest of us had none.
“What we’re selling is a contract to monitor the alarm system we’re giving away for free.” He continued.
The intrigue I felt for the potential of this job was quickly waning, and so was my attention. I minded what he was saying from this point forward, but my enthusiasm for being a star pupil was gone.
From the rest of his dialogue, I gathered, quite accurately, that the sales gimmick was for a free ADT alarm system, worth anywhere up to $300.00, installed and monitored for the low monthly cost, the catch was simple; the customer had to sign a monitoring contract for four years with ADT.
Though it hadn’t been part of his plan, this line of discussion did segue nicely into the rest of the sales curriculum.
We moved through the material in the folder rather quickly, discussing ways of building rapport, creating interest, overcoming objection, instilling urgency (enter our homework assignment from the previous day) and of course most importantly, closing techniques.
Mr. James iterated that the interpersonal relationship between the sales man and the buyer was the most important element, so important that it didn’t matter where the interaction took place: in an office, on the sidewalk, in someone’s living room, as long as we could build rapport, we could sell any product. Hidden in his instruction was another unspoken gem of the alarm sales industry; there are two places were alarms are sold, the second most popular is on residential construction sites, and the first is within the front door of the consumer’s home.
As it turned out, theirs was an engineered sales process, for which we were intended to be the first cog in their security sales machine. Our role was as the front line; the few call center operators that were yet to be hired, were tasked with canvassing local neighborhoods by cold calling in the name of ADT (misleading to say the least), they would generate soft leads and set open appointments on scheduled days when the sales team would “be in the area”. Those soft leads would be followed up by the senior sales staff (at this point being Mr. Santos), and the rest of the team would converge on the neighborhood, performing our own version of salesman’s dance, door-to-door, generating more soft leads, which would again be followed up by the senior sales staff.
So, in effect, we weren’t selling anything, at least we wouldn’t be for some time. Our job was to get our foot in the door and let the boss take over. It was now clear why we hadn’t discussed salary or compensation.
Halfway through the day, we broke up into teams to practice pitching and rapport building; our task was to get through a dictum of written sales material in a certain amount of time, 30 seconds to be exact. We were told to make an introduction and get the client (our desk mate) to allow us to present our first pitch within the first 30 seconds of meeting. This was to represent the amount of time it takes a potential client to dismiss a salesman and close their front door.
Someone joked during the initial lesson, about putting their foot in the door so it couldn’t be closed, to which Mr. James explained that he was more than welcome to try, but he better be able to run with a limp, since having a door slammed on your foot hurts, and angry husbands can hurt more.
The exercise worked well enough in the classroom, but I suspected it would be a different story in the real world, and my desire to find out had all but worn away. We continued with the role playing throughout the afternoon, trading places and becoming increasingly complacent with the whole situation, which may have been Mr. James’ goal in the first place.
My partner and I, a quiet man in his 40’s who had been seated behind me, casually discussed the situation between turns. He too was more than a little concerned with the way things were shaping up. He told me of his own previous sales experience in an unrelated field, and was surprised to hear that I had been interviewed for the position, since he had only filled out an application and been invited to come to the training.
In all honesty, I was well prepared to end my involvement with this charade right then and there; in fact I’m still not entirely sure what I was waiting for, other than maybe the other shoe to drop.
At shortly past 3:00pm, Mr. James called everyone back to their seats for a brief pep talk to wrap up the day. He explained that the situation with Weston was slightly different than normal because it was a start up company, and they didn’t already have a senior sales team in place. Because of that, there would be one more day of in class instruction before he and Mr. Santos would lead us into the field to try out our newly learned skills.
He thanked everyone for wearing their game faces that day and like straight out of a corporate team building manual, had everyone gather in the middle of the room and huddle like we were some misfit’s ball team about to take on the champs in the home stadium.
Just after our huddle break, I began gathering my notes and other material from my desk and Mr. James made direct eye contact with me. He waited for the majority of the class to head into the foyer, and then approached in the manner of someone about to break bad news. I was prepared for the worst, I may have been hoping for it actually, though I couldn’t fathom what might have prompted that kind of reaction already.
“Mr. Santos was impressed with you today.” He said, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Oh?” I asked. “What did I do that was impressive?”
“I’m not sure it was one thing, but he does want to sit down with you tomorrow, to discuss the management role.”
This guy was uncanny; he seemed to know exactly what to say and when, to keep me on the hook. So far everything that had been discussed was catered to the junior sales position, it was all elementary and pedestrian, and I’m sure they were both aware that it would take more than that to keep my attention.
“No thanks” was right on the tip of my tongue, it would have been a well deserved answer in hind sight, but my response was interrupted by Mr. James’ almost psychic ability to head off objections.
“Do me a favor and come back tomorrow…” He said. “…you won’t regret it.”
I am a sucker for a cliff hanger ending, so I agreed with as much interest as I could muster. And with that Mr. James disappeared again behind the door of Mr. Santos’ office, and I was left with my list of unanswered questions and more than a pocketful of doubt.
ADT Dealer Training: Day Three
Day three of this charade of a training program was promised to be something of an unforgettable experience. At the very least it was supposed to be un-regrettable, which when thought of critically, isn’t necessarily the best thing to base a career decision on.
This day was slated to be anything but dull, though that was due less to planning than to a clashing of sensibilities.
I wasn’t in much of a mood for making statements this morning, and so I dressed casual (for me at least), and arrived on time with no special plans to be noticed or revered. I found my classmates milling about in the foyer, though it seemed we were now short a few by head count, and at the tip of a quick nod toward those whom I had become familiar with, I headed directly into the training room and took a seat, waiting for this day’s instruction to begin.
A couple of the others took my lead and joined me inside. There was a calm about the office this morning, sort of like the polite silence that permeates funerals and court rooms. Everyone appeared to be ready for business, or maybe they were just ready to dispense with the theatrics.
Soon after, the rest of the crowd filtered into our makeshift classroom and by the time Mr. James made his appearance, everyone was seated and waiting for things to get rolling. Even the vibrant Jim James was somewhat low key on this morning; I wondered if it was the weather, or the drawn out nature of this training, or something else altogether.
Setting his briefcase down on the table, he motioned for me to join him in the foyer. He quickly ushered me into Mr. Santos’ office and shut the door. Perched on the corner of the desk, he asked me to wait there for Ronaldo, as he explained that Mr. Santos wanted to spend some time with me and to show me a few things.
So, this was it, my interview (of sorts) for the role of sales manager. I thought for a moment that this thing might actually work out ok. As Mr. James returned to the boardroom to get the day’s training underway, I sat in Mr. Santos’ office, admiring the furnishings and contemplating the possibilities of what was about to come my way.
I wasn’t entirely sure how they would outline the role, but I was fairly certain it would involve overseeing the sales staff, possibly scheduling and I would likely be quite close to Mr. Santos in managing operations, considering how new the company was. I was beginning to see the proverbial silver lining again.
I didn’t have to wait long, as Mr. Santos’, or Ronaldo as he asked me to call him strode into the office with that suave, made-guy swagger he usually had, but his demeanor was different than I expected.
Without even so much as a glance in my direction, he started into an impromptu speech about the nature of the company and the kind of people they needed to bring on board in order to get it off the ground.
I got the sense that this discussion was going to be terribly one-sided, so I thought it best to put on my best ‘I’m humoring you’ face and zip my mouth until I was asked a question. I find this approach works well, especially in situations that are questionably favored.
Ronaldo went on in his monologue about loyalty to company, to brand and to customer, and listening to him I began to get a sense for his business acumen, or so I thought. By now he was seated in his high-back leather managers chair behind the expensive desk, he had yet to look directly at me, but it was clear he was working up to something poignant.
“So Jim tells me you’re interested in becoming my Sales Manager…?” He said, hanging the title in the air like ring of cigar smoke.
I held the silence, partly because I wasn’t sure that was a question, and partly because I find that you learn more my keeping quiet.
“Your resume looks good, but I need to know what kind of guy you are before we can talk business.”
I was really getting the Corleone persona now, and amusing as it was I figured I’d better speak up if I wanted the job.
“Yes, I am interested.” I said. “I think I would be a good choice.”
I was prepared as ever to go into a remake of my earlier interview with Mr. James, but the questions didn’t come. Instead, Ronaldo rose from his chair and motioned for me to follow him out into the foyer.
Walking in step behind him we moved past “Moneypenny”, who’s role I was now certain, was to sit at the reception desk and read cheap romance novels. Ronaldo opened the solid steel door behind the reception desk and walked through, seemingly indifferent to whether I was keeping pace or not.
This room was even larger than the board room and walking in was akin to the scene in every 1980’s cop drama, wherein some innocent bystander accidentally stumbles into an operational heroine lab. In this case though, instead of Asian women making narcotics, this room was filled with dull looking middle aged women, manning a bank of computerized telephone stations.
Up to this point, I was only aware of three actual employees in the company, “Moneypenny”, Ronaldo and the unnamed girl who handed out the folders on the first day. I felt like a whole new world had been opened up to me, like I was now inside the inner sanctum and I recognized the anonymous girl with the folders holding a pointed telephone conversation at the nearest station. Ronaldo walked into the center of the room and turned to face me.
“You can see we’re ready to go, all we need is a team to reel in the leads we’ve already scheduled.”
On the far wall, above the station computer monitors was a large whiteboard with a grid of lines delineating lead numbers and operators and if I was reading the board right, they had nearly 300 soft leads scheduled. I was stricken with a brief wave of panic as I realized that they had started taking in telephone leads before they even had a security sales team hired and trained to follow up on them.
Ronaldo turned and touched one of the women on the shoulder and seemed to ask her something, though I couldn’t hear over the voices of the rest of the operators. He then walked past me to the door. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to follow him or not, until he paused and looked directly into my eyes.
“Let’s go talk money.”
ADT Dealer Training: Confrontation on Day Three
I don’t think I’ve ever had it put that way before, of all the positions I’ve held, and the jobs I’ve done, no one has ever been eager and upfront about money. I liked his direct personality, he didn’t seem to be interested in wasting time, and he certainly knew how to dress. I didn’t need any encouragement to follow this time either, I was eager to get this process moving and come to some kind of resolution.
We moved back to his office and resumed our previous positions across the desk. Ronaldo produced a copy of my resume from the hutch behind him and pretended to review my previous job history, as though there were some answer to how much money I was worth in that brief collection of words.
“What we’d like to do here is bring you on as a senior sales rep for a trial period and if you do ok with that we’ll talk about moving you into management.”
That sounded reasonable to me, after all, like he had mentioned earlier, they needed to know what kind of guy I am before committing to anything, just as I wasn’t about to make any commitments based just on the brief look I’d had over the last three days.
“We’ll give you the top commission rate to start, and then if you work out and we offer you management, you’ll get bumped up to the group commission rate.” He said. “That’s where you’ll make the real money!”
My heart sank in my chest; I didn’t see this curve ball coming, though I probably should have. Even without an explanation I knew what he meant, but I figured it would be prudent to make sure before storming out.
“Group commission?” I asked, afraid my tone came off more sheepish than stolid. “So there’s no salary or wage involved?”
“Being a small start up, we have to be careful with overhead…” His tone was less apologetic than biting, and I knew that he’d expected this response.
He continued on for several minutes, telling me about the virtues of straight commission, even for management. It was a great way to motivate everyone to work together, it made managers accountable for their teams, and (best of all) he could name at least six people from dealers he used to work with who drove Hummers and Corvettes, and who were taking their girlfriends out for hundred dollar dinners three times a week.
This wise-guy sales routine was only making me more frustrated with the time I’d wasted and it must have showed on my face. Ronaldo settled a bit in his chair and asked me what I thought, to which my reply was forcibly restrained.
“Is there no chance of a salaried arrangement?” I asked, almost sarcastically joking.
He thought in silence for a moment, and suddenly excused himself from the office, leaving me there to stew. I could hear him interrupting Mr. James in mid sentence and asking him to join us for a moment.
‘Oh great!’ I thought, they’re going to tag team me!
Both men quickly entered the room, taking flanking positions around me in the office, and Ronaldo filled Mr. James in on our dilemma. I was impressed at least with the candor and apparent sensitivity in his recount of my response, and Mr. James contemplated the issue with a thoughtful look on his face.
I’m not entirely sure what Ronaldo had hoped to achieve by bringing Mr. James into our meeting, unless I had even still misjudged the extent of Mr. James involvement with the company. The two men peered at me across the desk as though I was a Rubix Cube. They were confused about how to get the yellow square off of the blue side.
I decided, against my better judgement, to head off their brainstorming by reiterating my interest in the position, but declared outright that I would not take a management role for straight commission.
I should acknowledge that their position, up to this point, had been reasonable, given the circumstances. A start up company may not be able to afford a salaried sales manager, and as eloquently outlined by Ronaldo, others may have been quite successful in such a commissioned environment, but the point was that I had no particular interest in such an arrangement.
What happened next though, was the most profound and enlightening experience of my young professional life.
Ronaldo sat forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on the desk. He looked me straight in the face and with a scowl, he demanded…
“Who do you think you are, to come in here and throw our generous offer in my face?” His face was growing red as he spoke the words, and in spite of his small stature, he was doing a fair job of intimidating me.
He suddenly jumped to his feet, pushing his chair into the hutch behind him, and with a flip of his wrist he snapped his shining silver watch off and tossed is across the room at my chest.
I’m not entirely sure what Ronaldo had hoped to achieve by bringing Mr. James into our meeting, unless I had even still misjudged the extent of Mr. James involvement with the company. The two men peered at me across the desk, as though I was Rubix Cube and they were confused about how to get the yellow square off of the blue side.
“This is the kind of life you could be living if you would take a chance once in a while!” He declared, almost yelling at this point.
I looked down at the watch, just barely catching it before it fell to the floor at my shoes. It was a beautiful Rolex with a black face and large diamonds set at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 positions. His was a model of watch I had actually envied in magazine ads recently and I instantly considered walking away with it for the trouble. I was stunned though, I couldn’t move or speak, and I could see Mr. James in my peripheral was equally surprised by his colleague’s behavior.
I gently placed the $8000.00 watch on the edge of the desk and sat back in the chair, taking a deep breath as I considered what to do next.
“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you Mr. Santos.” I began. “But my situation…”
I stammered in my train of thought, cowed by this unexpected show of bravado.
“I just can’t survive on…”
Ronaldo didn’t let me finish, he walked around the desk and scooped up his watch, slipping it back on his wrist. Both men left just as quickly and calmly as they had entered. I was left sitting in this office, which was quickly beginning to feel like a lion’s den, and he wanted me to think about it. What exactly was I supposed to be thinking about? The fact that this Rolex wearing wise-guy wanted to extort me into taking a commission only position; or maybe the fact that his reputable contact with ADT was little more than a front for whatever world domination plot was brewing in that call center.
My mind was made up the moment his watch hit my chest, though I was now wishing he had left it sitting on the desk as punctuation for his point. My stint with Weston Security Inc was officially over, and with both men engaged with the rest of their new crew, I slipped out of Ronaldo’s office, gave a nod to “Moneypenny” and didn’t stop walking until I reached my car in the parking lot.
For the next several days I replayed that last meeting over and over in my head. It was like a bad dream, confusing and disturbing at the same time. I felt stupid for having been tricked into taking them seriously in the first place, but also still couldn’t see any one thing that could have tipped me off any earlier.
Final Thoughts on Working for an ADT Dealer
Over the next two years, I kept tabs on Weston and Ronaldo through various business contacts and industry gossip. Weston went on to become a company that was synonymous with bully tactics, poor customer service and a revolving door attitude toward its employees. I recently became acquainted with the man who did take the position I was offered and for the group commission rate. He declined to comment on how much money he actually made with Weston, but the fact that he left them after only seven months of service and refuses to list the company on his resume is telling of the experience he had.
Since that time, I went on to become an expert in physical security and private investigation, and now knowing what I do about the realities of both home security and the security alarm business, I can tell you, with no sense of honor, that Weston, while possibly typical of the Hollywood image of the door-to-door sales business, isn’t necessarily the rule in an industry with few exceptions.
If there were a moral to my story, and I’m sure there is one somewhere, it might be akin to the Latin term, caveat emptor, meaning buyer beware. But in this case, the buyer should beware of some different things than most other businesses.
Firstly, educate yourself as a consumer and know the real value of the products and services you spend your hard earned money on. Security is an illusion, but a security system isn’t meant to provide you with security. The purpose of the technology is to be a voice for you and your family in times of emergency, it’s meant to detect threats, not deal with them directly. When put into perspective, Mr. James analogy of the monitoring contract being the real product of this business was right for more than one reason.
With the emphasis correctly placed on the reach of the alarm system’s monitored capabilities, one becomes aware of the importance of finding the right company for the job. When seeking a security system for your home, be proactive, seek out the best brand name technology, and seek it from the corporate entity that provides it, not from a lower level dealer.
Secondly, don’t focus on the tangible product; focus on the intrinsic value of the service. Companies that offer in-house monitoring services, in-house technical support and service, and who perform their own installation of the product are the companies who are best suited to provide the most value for your dollar.
Martin J. Clemens