Poetry for Salespeople, Part 2
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Poetry for Salespeople, Part 2<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> I figure that no one lives without some kind of epic narrative in their lives. Fishermen surely squint into gathering squalls and quote 'The Ancient Mariner.' Farmers squint across rows of tassled corn and quote rural English poets. <p> But here in the metropolis, the Urban Man is forced to squint across conference tables in highly-lit office buildings, and I have to write my own verse. Again today, a hardy band of three technology salespeople roars into the parking lot of another glass-covered tinkertoy. Maybe you don't find much poetry in crisp chinos or cold handshakes, not in small talk over styrofoam cups or cheery smiles at the white board. <p> But today we must meet with a Purchasing Manager, and trust me, heroic couplets ring in the morning air: for Purchasing Managers are evil incarnate. "This guy is trouble," warns my colleague. "Don't try anything clever." She knows I have a tendency to go on about things like "global processes." "No problem," I reply. "Ultimately, it's his job to purchase things. We are, in fact, his destiny." <p> The purchasing manager turns out to be twenty-something, dressed in Melrose layers, with a drop-dead buzz cut. Cleverly, he has not arranged for a conference room at all, and three of us crowd into his tiny office. Buzz Cut ignores us and does his email as my colleague, resplendent in her lavendar pantsuit, suggests we all go to lunch, where we can be more comfortable. <p> It's a bad move: purchasing managers are immune to expensive lunches. <p> "Not today," he says, still staring at his screen. <p> But at last Buzz Cut stands with a weird grin on his face. "Hello," he says to me. "You're new, but your friend here has probably told you I'm a real jerk. She's right. Once we get started, it'll take you about eight minutes to start hating me." <p> Actually, I hate him already. Not only has he set a poisonous tone, but he has violated the sacraments of the sales visit. The ceremonial Powerpoint show has been waved aside. He provides no ritual coffee. The traditionalist in me is deeply offended, but the epic poet rises to the challenge I begin by reciting the many advantages of our global processes, but Buzz Cut merely shakes his head. He explains that what we do has been commoditized, and he can find it cheaper in Asia. <p> "Really, you're not offering anything different," he says. And eight minutes later an epic 'Moment of Truth' arrives, just as he planned, absurdly early. I step forward, eyes lowered: "Look, you know the whole bottom line here," I say. "We'll be losing money, but we'll do it to keep our market share. I'll just have to convince my boss." <p> Buzz Cut grins again. Now that he's humiliated us, he can give us the contract. <p> Have we been disgraced? Has this man removed both rhyme and meter from our lives? No, heading back to the parking lot, we walk as heroes, and our minds fill with grand metaphor: the barn has burned, but we have raised a new barn. The locusts have passed, but we have saved the seed corn. The battlefield is strewn, but we carry off glad survivors. <p> You see, we won't actually be losing any money on the contract. And heroic couplets finally spring to mind. "Sharp in Nordstrom Slacks I strut with corporate zeal:<br> For truth be told, there's handsome profit in this deal." Like I said, in the metropolis, the Urban Man is often forced to write his own poetry.<p> Copyright -- 2004 Marc Porter Zasada, all rights reserved. This commentary was adapted from a piece originally published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. <br>
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