Salesmanship 101

Cops like to see themselves as straight shooters—literally and figuratively. Well, they just may have to start appealing to their more diplomatic side.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

OK, so it doesn't say "Fuller Brush" on your patch and unless you're moonlighting—and in this economy, you may very well be—you're not apt to say "Avon calling" at your next door stop.

Nonetheless, you've entered a phase of your career that is going to make demands of your salesmanship skills.

Regardless of where you occupy the food chain, it's going to be harder to get the things you want to get done, done. A vicious cycle of job layoffs, diminishing revenues, and eroding tax bases has undermined the ability of many municipalities to hire, train, and equip their ranks as they'd like to. This also finds promotions delayed, coveted spots unfulfilled, and applicants not hired. In this sorry-assed economy, competition for that shrinking American pie is fierce.

Consider, too, that many agencies are looking for excuses to get rid of some of the dead weight. True, seniority may count for something, but historically observed amnesties may well become a thing of the past.

From what I hear, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering extending the probationary period of its deputies from one year to five. What's driving this? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that so many of the problems generated by deputy personnel involve those with less than five years of experience. (Two of the top things getting deputies in trouble? DUIs and domestic violence.) Extending probations makes it that much easier to fire problem children.

It follows that just as agencies are looking for ways to rid themselves of perceived liabilities, so, too, will they be placing a greater premium on those they can rely upon to put their best foot forward on a variety of fronts.

One of these fronts is being a proficient promoter, someone whose skill set can be exploited for advocacy, arbitration, and amelioration. How do these skills come into play?

Here's one example: Say that an agency wants to purchase a license plate recognition system, one capable of scanning upwards of a thousand plates an hour and programmable so as to screen for all manner of wants and warrants. Do you think the city controller is going to want to pony up in this economy? Probably not. Here's where the salesmanship starts.

A good advocate is going to hit hard with the usual cost-benefit analysis: The system's ability to readily identify outstanding wanted suspects and vehicles. The system provides a streamlined means of getting bad actors off the streets, which in turn can result in saved man-hours. It'll help foster improved community image, officer safety, higher arrest rates, and streamlined operations. Finally, suspects in custody won't be out capering, generating bad blood in the community and paperwork for the troops.

All this and more can be laid out on a sheet of paper or communicated via e-mail. But the person who can sell it face-to-face and streamline the attendant Q and A process intelligently and enthusiastically will be the one with the greatest chance of swaying the fence straddlers and getting some buy in.

And even if he or she doesn't close the deal, the person's passion, interest, and initiative will not go unnoticed (unappreciated, maybe, but never unnoticed).

Should the current state of the union fail to give you the incentive to hone your salesmanship skills, it may well force the opportunity.

I guarantee it will find many of you in any number of forums wherein your ability to deal with less hospitable settings will be put to the challenge. This will force you to stand your ground in increasingly unfamiliar territories, sharpen your ability to think quickly on your feet, and develop your acting chops.

Already there are more and more incidences of aggrieved former employees acting out of control, families imploding, people violently sublimating their frustrations at having their cars repossessed or houses foreclosed. And who is expected to keep the peace?

Such situations are why the ability to de-escalate situations—both on the home front and at work—and having a personality that allows one to move seamlessly among ever greater segments of society are two invaluable commodities.

Still not feeling thespian enough to keep the peace? Fair enough. Let me appeal to the more mercenary part of your nature.

For should you feel too constrained to adopt a degree of empathy, compassion, or outrage when called upon to do so, you will simultaneously limit your ability to work a variety of assignments, especially those with undercover requirements—such as vice and narco—as well as hurt your chances for promotion.

And why the hell should it hurt my promotion?

Because in most police agencies an oral exam is part of the promotional process.

And believe me, if you don't shine in the BS department, some other silver tongued devil will.

Rare will be the cop who doesn't find this economy forcing him to be flexible, to try new and different ways at resolving conflicts.

It's been said that you have to have more than just a hammer in your tool box. The odds are those other tools you need are already there. After all, you probably used some acting skills to get hired in the first place. The tools may be a little rusty, but probably nothing a little work and some mental Borax can't clean up.

If nothing else, these trying times will separate those who exhibit a wonderful sense of opportunity from those who exhibit a great economy of thought.

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