Friday, April 7, 2017

Sales Attacks

by Linda Rodriguez

My late first husband, who died fourteen years ago, still receives mail at my house—though we were divorced for fifteen years before he died. If he were alive, he would be old enough for Medicare. Suddenly, missives from various insurance providers (almost none with identification of the firm involved) are hitting my mailbox every day. I called the number listed on one of the early ones to tell them that Michael was dead. I sent back the cards, which others provided without a phone number, printing in large block letters across them, DECEASED.

Almost immediately, I began to receive hectoring telephone calls from the first company, who now had my phone number and name from my call to advise them of Michael’s death. The more I refused the Medicare insurance they had to sell, the more verbally aggressive and downright mean they got. I began refusing to pick up the phone at sight of their phone number in caller ID, so they switched numbers and caught me another couple of times before I learned those new numbers. Currently, they call four or five times within five minutes, varying the number each time. They start at 8:00 a.m. and continue throughout the day, every few hours. When I’ve told them that they must stop, they say I contacted them so they have the right to call me, even though I’m on the no-call list. And unfortunately, that seems to be the truth, even though I contacted them only to tell them their target was not here.

Meanwhile, someone from one of the other companies showed up on my doorstep, insisting I let him in so he could give me the hard-sell on his company’s insurance plan. When I repeatedly said no, he verbally abused me for agreeing to be visited and changing my mind, shouting and leaning into my face at the door until my dog was straining at the collar I held, trying to get at this stranger threatening his mom. I slammed the door in his face, puzzled at his feeling of entitlement until I realized that he must be from one of the companies I’d sent a card with DECEASED written on it. Someone at their corporate headquarters must have interpreted that as permission to send their salesman around.

I’ve been in touch with our attorney general’s office about these events, and I’ve learned that this is common. Medicare is confusing, and these companies have made a habit for years of using high-pressure sales tactics with the elderly, since they’ve found older people’s unquestioning regard for authority figures makes them easy targets to bully.

Now, the baby boomers are hitting retirement and Medicare age. My late first husband was in the vanguard of this group. If he were alive, he would never have put up with this sales-bullying, and I think these companies are going to find that their stereotype of little old elderly people who are easy to pressure into sales will backfire in their faces as they try it out on the boomers. We have had precious little regard for authority figures throughout our lives.

I have encountered more and more of this aggressive, high-pressure behavior in salespeople of all kinds lately. I wonder if that’s because I’m moving toward that age when we’re supposed to turn into people easy to bully into sales that are not in our best interests, or is it because times are tough financially and people are desperate to make sales. Which do you think it is? I try to keep in mind that even the most hectoring salesman is just trying to put food on his (women can be bad, but the worst offenders are all men, I’ve found) table. Still, it really makes me mad. Have you noticed this kind of sales warfare being waged against you lately?

Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited was recently published. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received honors, such as Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.


  1. I vote desperation as sales become harder to get. I got a little of that when my condo stayed on the market long enough that the contract with the selling agent expired. Even though I re-signed with him right away, I got several calls from agents seeking opportunity, and one angrily expressed his frustration -- I tried not to take it personally, but doubted he'd last much longer in the field. Now, what if all that time and energy and effort were devoted to providing care instead of seeking customers? Wouldn't that be so much more worthwhile? Hugs <3

  2. Mary, I think desperation is some of it. Also, I think companies are pushing their salespeople harder with impossible quotas to meet (witness the fiasco at Wells Fargo), and they may feel their jobs are in jeopardy. But some of it is that this country seems to have come to value aggression and meanness. You see it in movies and TV shows, in our comedians, in music, and certainly in business and politics. I don't know how we'll manage to turn this around.

  3. I received a brazen phone call in January from the lawn fertilizer service I cancelled in 2015. I was "on the list" and therefore "was scheduled to receive a lawn treatment." I told them I would call the police if they set foot on my property.

    I no longer answer our landline, filled with robocalls about medicare, hearing aids, credit card deals, utility deals, and prizes for contests we supposedly entered. We still receive threatening calls supposedly from the IRS once a quarter.

    Good luck! Sometimes it's easier to flip junk mail in the recycling bin.

  4. Margaret, we finally got rid of our landline, tired of paying for something that was only used by sales callers and scammers. The lawn service had real chutzpah. I've had a friend suggest I get a loud, deafening whistle to blow into the phone. I may.

  5. I've been getting such calls on both the land line and the cell phone. I never answer either phone unless the caller is a friend or relative.

    One company calls periodically and leaves a message that they are returning my call to them in which I expressed interest in receiving a brace, I think it was a back brace, from them. They said I called them because I saw a commercial about the brace. I don't have a TV.

    Calls have been made to my land line from people who are apparently from collection agencies. The calls have always been for people I never heard of. On a couple of occasions when I told the caller "you have the wrong number", they didn't want to believe me. One of them even screamed at me and called me a liar, and said I needed to start cooperating with them. It was at that point that I decided to never answer the phone again.

    I think the meanness is deliberate. I just have the horrible feeling that most of them have found they can get results that way.

    Deb Romano

  6. DebRo, I think you're right, unfortunately. They have learned they can get results by intimidation.