Over the years, I served in a variety of capacities. At the time, I thought that was because I never proved very good at any of them. As I look back, I am only now beginning to see that I might have done better than I used to recognize.
Mike gradually learned to get more and more customers to say “yes” to a sale and became a consistent strong performer. So did some of the other agents hired around the same time. I only had a few weeks when I hit quota, and those were not all in a row either, and my sales seemed to plateau. In matters where I had better control, I consistently did the right thing – I was always ready and in the right place at the right time, had my ducket and pen with me, worker-like things. Also I was careful to say the “positive” things – for example, not to complain about going out to work in the rain – but I tried not to alienate others with this orthodoxy.
I didn’t do better, didn’t sell more product, in the country than in the towns, nor with magazines than with cleaners. Under varying circumstances, it probably was a problem that I was too long-winded and too serious. (I know many of you will have a hard time believing that!)
So for a time I worked in other roles. I trained new agents. I’m not sure what logic there was in asking me to train new people to do what I did not do very well myself, but I have since learned that this is actually common practice in many other companies also.
I tried to model correct, accurate sales talks. I was aware of some things that were sometimes said, that should not be. It could be very hard, when out there on territory, trying to show a new recruit a strong day of sales, to avoid the temptation to fall back on the wrong words that were just too easy to say, and I didn’t always make it. Eventually, I made an excuse and backed away from working in that situation.
To place an ad, I would take to the newspaper office Ronnie’s copy, some version of the ad I have described for you above that I answered. Always we, I, endeavored to get the ad accepted and have it placed in the “Help Wanted” section rather than “Business Opportunities.” I was vaguely aware by this time that there were some issues over whether questions of employment versus independent contractor work, and I was willing to think of those as technicalities. Also, some newspapers objected to placing ads for sales crews at all, but not all their staff would be thinking about such policies at any given moment on any given weekday morning.
“Answering ad” could be about the most boring task in the world, but very important. Usually it involved long spells of waiting for the phone to ring and for people to arrange for appointments to discuss the job. Sometimes response would be very strong, however, and I was hard pressed to keep pace. The interview I gave would be mostly like the interview I have described above when I was hired. If possible, we tried to encourage people to spend a day or part of a day out on territory with an agent while we were still in the same town, but we did run ands and interview right up to the day before a jump sometimes.
Everyone or almost everyone was encouraged to sign on. Most decided to remain in their hometowns and continue their job search, but some would join the crew. The women on the crew, when they knew I was preparing to answer ad, used to exhort me to hire some more females, and I always assured them I would make every effort. We all wished for more female companionship, but it was very, very hard to hire women.
Most of the time car handling was done by others, but a few times I was asked to help out by taking town agents out to work, or meeting them during the day when the appointed car handler had other things come up during the day.
I provided hospitality. This was a major thing, and I have written about that separately under the heading, “Food and Drink; The Bathtub and The Smoker” below. There were also some occasions when agents stayed at our home over the winter vacation season or in order to take care of some matter, maybe a long-term medical need, in Cedar Rapids.
In addition, I was often present with the crew during morning and at evening check-in time, even after I ceased to be an agent, and I might help someone practice a sales talk or help greet people as they came in from territory and try to say the most positive, helpful things available: congratulation for a successful day, encouragement and hope for improvement after a difficult one,or maybe a useful suggestion.
I helped more and more often with various kinds of assistance to individual crew members. When agents got sick enough to seek medical attention, some of them would take care of it themselves, but other times I would help out. Rather than going to the emergency room for a non-emergency illness, I used to go through the phone book, doctor by doctor, asking if the physician would see a patient who was just visiting the area. If appropriate, I would also provide a ride and cash payment in cash, which would constitute a draw on the agent’s account.
As I put on only a few more years, some of the agents liked it when I reminded them to dress warmly in chilly weather and things like that. They might or might not do that, but they believed someone cared.
Once Fred figured out that a recent hire was functionally illiterate. Fred was the kind of person who would detect a thing like that when someone was able to keep up appearances before others, and he was concerned. He asked me if I would be willing to try to help the agent with some individual tutoring, if he chose. I pointed out that being an avid and capable reader was not the same as knowing how to help someone read. On the other hand, if the agent were interested, I would do my best. After Fred encouraged me to approach the agent, I did so, privately and as gently as I knew how. I found Fred had already said something to him, and his reply was ready: he thought maybe he had made enough efforts to learn to read better, and he didn’t think he wanted to try again just now, but he truly did appreciate my offer.
There were other situations where I was involved in helping. You get the idea. So what’s the word for that role? There wasn’t one. But I became a helpful female presence. Not quite maternal, but family-like, to some, not all, of the agents. Sometimes I understood that the need, or the role, was bigger than I was. I just offered the best I had at the time.
I also took time away from the crew for semesters necessary to complete my bachelor’s degree and some other things. During such times I had another life somewhere else but would visit as frequently as possible.
In 1985 we got married, and in November 1986 our son Daniel was born. I believe January 1987, when the crew was getting going again after a winter break, was when we hit the road with Ronnie. After that, Daniel and I spent time in Cedar Rapids as needed for his physical, intellectual, or social needs, and otherwise were on the road where also I tended to those same needs.
Implications for my role with the crew? That helpful female presence role was reinforced, I think. More business-like responsibilities, like training or recruiting, were assumed when they could be arranged around my mothering responsibilities. I also became a support person for some other new mothers through experiences of pregnancy and parenting, sharing information I had learned along the way, swapping ideas gained through experience or reading.
Another implication, especially as Daniel’s needs for social time with peers grew, and then Elizabeth was born, was that I spent less time on the road and more time in Cedar Rapids. The children participated in preschool and recreation programs. Daniel was home schooled through second grade, with support from the school district’s Home School Assistance Program, and we went back and forth between our home in Cedar Rapids, and wherever the crews were, a lot.
From struggling agent to a mom on the crew, I have presented these roles and responsibilities in rough chronological order. Nothing was precise, and many of these overlapped. For the most part, the earlier I have described any of these roles, the younger I was in taking it on.