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Brandon Rogers, a salesman for Pinnacle Security, sells home security alarms in Chicago in May 2009. (Carlos Javier Ortiz/NYT)
Brandon Rogers, a salesman for Pinnacle Security, sells home security alarms in Chicago in May 2009. (Carlos Javier Ortiz/NYT)

Rob Carrick

A door-to-door sales pitch is no way to make big purchasing decisions Add to ...

They say in the sales world that the pitch doesn’t really begin until the customer says no.

For door-to-door sales, that’s wrong. Tell the person at your door that you’re saying “no thanks” to his or her sales pitch and the whole concept of door-to-door sales. There’s no coming back from that.

It’s time we all agreed that serious business cannot possibly be conducted on a door-to-door basis. When you open your front door to a salesperson, end the conversation quickly and politely by saying you don’t make serious financial decisions while standing on your doorstep.

There’s a high correlation between door-to-door selling and scamming. That’s why the province of Ontario recently proposed new rules that would make it possible to ban unsolicited door-to-door sales of certain household appliances, including water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners and water filters.

Veteran CTV consumer-issues reporter Pat Foran says door-to-door marketers are well paid to secure long-term rental contracts, and that leads to a lot of “deception” at the door. “It’s a huge complaint I deal with on almost a daily basis,” he said in an e-mail.

A door-to-door scam seen this year in Ottawa, where I live, hinges on false claims being made about the city’s drinking water in order to sell water-filtration equipment. In Calgary, door-to-door sales people have run a scam in which they claim to be building inspectors who need to look at a home’s furnace. The “inspectors” then find problems with the furnace and aggressively try to sell a replacement.

Not all D2D commerce means a scam risk. The guys who want to seal your driveway or the university students offering to aerate your lawn are just selling a service, and it might be one you want and need. But purchases of any size, let’s say $100-plus, are best made when you take time to consider your options.

In today’s world of widely available online consumer information, the idea of making a major purchase such as a furnace or air conditioner at the front door is a joke. If you need a furnace, invite a few heating and cooling companies to give you a quote and then research the brands they sell to see how reliable and effective they are.

Some might say that cutting off door-to-door salespeople is a sign of how we’re evolving into a society of hermits. We prefer to engage with people via social media and have no interest in opening our front door for a chat with a friendly salesperson. In fact, door-to-door sales have a much worse impact on our sociability than Facebook, Twitter and such.

We now have a generation of homeowners who never answer the door for fear of getting trapped in a conversation with someone selling weed control, water purifiers and even financial advice. Not too long ago, a young man knocked on our front door in search of prospective clients for an investment adviser working for one of the big banks in Ottawa (gross, I know). Get rid of these sellers and we’re all free to answer our door again.

Door-to-door sales began more than 100 years ago with the likes of the Fuller Brush Co., which did a brisk business in selling brushes and other household products. The reason this sales method has survived into the Amazon age of e-commerce is that it works.

Effective salespeople can still get people to buy things in a face-to-face setting. They use sales techniques such as being enthusiastic, making eye contact and asking questions to draw customers out. If you answer the door to a sales person, don’t engage. If they ask why your answer is no, don’t elaborate.

Charities are the grey area in door-to-door sales. The Canadian Cancer Society says canvassing of homes is one of its oldest and largest fundraising efforts, and other legitimate charities also use this method of raising money. Yet our front door has been knocked on by people raising money for sketchy-seeming charities that can’t even produce a brochure explaining what they do.

Follow your gut and your heart when considering a door-to-door appeal for charitable giving. Door-to-door selling of products and services is dead, though. Reputable companies don’t make pests of themselves trying to sell you their products.

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Follow on Twitter: @rcarrick

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