On a recent vacation trip to San Antonio, Rosa and I were bribed into viewing a sales presentation for Vacation Inspirations, purportedly a wholesale travel agency.
Approached on the street
Our adventure began when a young lady stopped us on the sidewalk as we walked from Alamo Plaza to the County Line restaurant for lunch. With the simple question, “Where are you visiting from?”, she engaged us in conversation and led us into a storefront with walls covered in posters promoting San Antonio tourism and racks of brochures advertising local attractions. A gentleman soon joined us and implied they were from the Chamber of Commerce. He said they wanted to make sure we had a great time while in San Antonio. He asked us what attractions we had visited so far and suggested others. He gave us a brochure for a trolley tour of historic sites and points of interest in downtown San Antonio and the surrounding area. The young lady presented Rosa with a brochure that offered discounts from a number of downtown restaurants and merchants.
The gentleman eventually guided the conversation to our travel habits. Where did we like to travel and how often did we travel? The young lady asked us if we would like a couple of vouchers to eat at one of the popular restaurants on the River Walk. The gentleman said he could arrange for free passes on the trolley tour. All we had to do was attend a presentation that explained how we could save money on vacation travel. The presentation lasted about 45 minutes, it had nothing to do with time-shares, and of course, we were not obligated to purchase anything. We’d get the restaurant voucher and trolley tickets for simply listening to the presentation.
By this time, Rosa and I both knew what was up. We’d attended similar presentations for time-share condominiums on trips to Las Vegas and Mazatlan years ago in exchange for tickets to shows or restaurant vouchers. I remembered how hard those salespeople had tried to close a deal with us. On both occasions, we had resisted the sales pressure and enjoyed the gifts, but I didn’t want to go through the process and said so. Rosa wanted the free meal and tour. We agreed to attend.
Qualifying the prospect
We were asked to fill out a form to determine if we qualified for the gifts: Names, address, phone number. Were we retired? The name of our hotel or motel. Did we have a major credit card with us? What was our approximate annual income?Order True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle at the special discount price of $6.00 per book. Free Shipping.
We completed the form and were told we qualified for the gifts. Then came a request that took me by surprise. They asked for $20 cash to reserve our places at the presentation. We balked at this. They reassured us that we would be given a receipt and the $20 would be returned to us when we arrived for the presentation. We handed over a $20 bill and pocketed the receipt.
Into the lion’s den
Upon our arrival at the presentation later that afternoon, we were assigned a salesperson who returned our $20 bill and accompanied us into a partitioned portion of a large room that was used for the presentation. He sat with us at a small cafe table and tried to get to know us prior to the presentation. We didn’t give him much information.
Our salesperson left and the presentation began. There were six couples in the room, each at their own table. In exchange for the gifts, the presenter asked us to keep an open mind throughout the presentation.
Sales presentations of this type attempt to tell a story that creates an alternate reality, one favorable to the product being sold. The presenter hopes to get the prospects to engage with this alternate reality, believe it is real, and desire it. Of course, the way to obtain this alternate reality is to buy the product being sold.
The presenter began by introducing the company, Vacation Inspirations, and the concept, wholesale travel—cut out the middleman and save. How did we know the program was legitimate, he asked. Vacation Inspirations was obligated by contract to fulfill the terms of the program. Then he got the price out of the way: $6,995 plus $399 in administrative fees due upon signing of the contract and $199 annual membership fee. Rosa and I hadn’t intended on purchasing the program, but if we had been open to it in any way, the cost would have slammed that door shut.
After dropping the price bomb, the presenter spent the next 30 minutes talking about the benefits of the program: a guarantee of four weeks per year at top-rated condos anywhere in the world that normally cost $1000 to $1200 per week for only $599 per week, a savings of 40% to 60% on any hotel or resort booking, and fantastic deals on vacation packages and cruises. He gave examples of trips to exotic foreign destinations and luxury cruises at what he said were low prices. The savings from just one or two of those dream vacations would pay for the program, he said. The images that accompanied his talk made it all very exciting. World-wide travel and accommodations at wholesale prices; who wouldn’t want that?
Vacation Inspirations had so much confidence in their program, he said, if the cost wasn’t completely recouped in savings over the first five years, Vacation Inspirations would refund the full amount of the program.
The soft close
He closed the presentation by saying that the wholesale travel program as he described it was only available that afternoon. If we decided to purchase later, we would receive a scaled-down program. Then he made an offer: The first couple to purchase the program that afternoon would get it for only $4995, a $2000 discount.
The presenter repeated the offer.
The hard close
After a few minutes, our salesperson joined us at our table as other salespeople joined their prospects at their respective tables. The salesperson wanted to know, what did we think of the program? We said it wouldn’t work for us. We aren’t interested in international travel; I can’t fly anymore because of a medical condition; we spend less than $3000 per year on travel including transportation, accommodations, food, and entertainment; our income has been shrinking due to falling interest rates. He immediately offered us a reduced program for $4995. We said no. He moved on to a bare-bones program for $2000, no administrative fees, and no annual fee. We said no. He gave us our gifts: A check for $50, two passes for the trolley tour worth $26.00 each, and bid us a good day. Yes, the check cleared the bank.
I have to say I was surprised but relieved that the salesperson didn’t close us harder, but to be fair, I had understated our annual income on the questionnaire, and he surely noted we were staying at a Studio 6 motel, economical accommodations to say the least. On paper, we weren’t particularly promising prospects.
Alternate reality is full of holes
In the alternate reality of the sales presentation, the wholesale travel program was appealing. One of the six couples in our group bought the program. In reality, there was not much substance to the tale told by the presenter:
- Contracts don’t really guarantee anything. Enforcing contracts can be expensive and time consuming. Vacation Inspirations could file for bankruptcy and there would be nothing to enforce.
- A guarantee of 4 weeks per year at expensive condos for $599 per week, what does that mean? What condos? Do they really go for $1000 to $1200 per week? Could the price of $599 a week be obtained outside of the program, such as through online travel sites? Who knows?
- Are the 40% to 60% savings on hotel and resort bookings real or are they the result of inflated retail prices? Can the same rates be obtained outside of the program, such as through online travel sites? Who knows?
- What are the details of the foreign destination travel packages and the luxury cruises? Which hotels? Which cruise line? Are the prices that were given valid examples? Could those deals be had outside of the program, such as through online travel sites? Who knows?
- What kind of customer service does Vacation Inspirations provide? How responsive are they to customer concerns and complaints?
- What of the guarantee of a full refund if the price of the program isn’t recouped through savings in the first 5 years? Is there a minimum annual purchase requirement? Who determines the savings? Vacation Inspirations could easily inflate retail prices to show substantial savings. A five year break even point is a long time to wait before net savings are realized.
- Finally, why would anyone give $6995 up front for a promise of savings to come? A promise was all that was being sold that afternoon.
Never agree to a deal without taking a few days to review it
Rosa and I have a hard and fast rule never to sign a contract or agreement at the time it is first presented to us. We know we need to escape from the alternate reality of the presentation and examine claims made in the proposal against true reality. Salespeople know if they don’t close the sale at the end of the presentation, they have lost the deal, unless they have a highly competitive product that meets real needs and/or solves real problems. People who represent those types of products will gladly allow the prospect time to review the proposition. They know that a careful evaluation will only give the prospect more reasons to make the purchase.
Pressure to sign at the end of a sales presentation should be considered a red flag that you may not get a good value from the product. You don’t want to be sold. You want to make a purchase that is consistent with your long-term financial goals and is true to your budget, one that fills a need or solves a problem and gives you good value. You deserve the time to make that evaluation. Demand it. If the salesperson refuses to give it to you, walk away. You won’t regret it.
K.C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based Lifestyle, Double-Dome Publications, 224 pages