The International Writers Magazine: The Take-Over System
A common enough sales technique in American car-dealerships, it is how condominium time-shares are sold in Latin America. The airport is where time-share 'takeovers' often make first contact with their prospects. Arriving tourists (couples are usually the target, spousal absence not an objection easily overcome) have passed through passport control, baggage check and customs, and are pulling suitcases through a terminal lined with desks. Behind a desk where a placard reads: INFORMATION, sit English speaking foreign nationals called OPC, or OUTSIDE PUBLIC CONTACTS. As the tourists get within range, an OPC will shout: 'Do you have a hotel? Do you need a taxi?'
The Take-Over System
The TO sales system or 'take-over sales system' exists in all capitalist countries. The concept is simple: in a prearranged rotation sales people ('takeovers') attempt selling the same thing to the same customer.
By referral an OPC can provide hotel and taxi service. Their real task, however, is soliciting attendance for time-share sales presentations held inside a hotel banquet room. As inducement the tourist is offered discounted bus or theme-park tickets, free meals that may include 'educational' movies, or whatever might entice.
The OPC is also found on busy downtown city sidewalks. Seated two or three behind the INFORMATION placard, they offer basically the same inducements found at the airport. In fact, a street OPC may also work at the airport.
Once the tourist agrees, date and time are set for the sales presentation. It is inside the hotel banquet room where the tourist is usually switched to the second takeover team member, the LINER. Using audio and visual aids, a LINER extols the ecstasy of owning, if only for a week a year, newly built condominiums or hotel rooms converted to condominiums. The LINER makes sure to create a sense of urgency; time-share space is limited and sells fast. Buy now not later. Hurry!
The tourist is then escorted to the actual condos for sale, or shown models of those same condos, and sometimes taken to a building site, often a hunk of undeveloped land overlooking a beach. After that, everyone returns to the banquet room where the LINER discusses down payment, sales fees, etc.
Now the stage is set for the team’s third member, the CLOSER. As their name implies, the CLOSER consummates the sale. The LINER introduces the CLOSER as knowledgeable in everything previously discussed, along with, if it comes to that and it usually does, an expertise in creative financing.
CLOSERS weave their magic inside a luxurious office at the hotel, or if large and nice enough, the hotel´s lobby. At Cancun resort hotels, for example, it is not unusual to see tourists seated in golf-leafed chairs leaning over glass tables as the CLOSER explains timeshare documents, juggles finance figures, and stresses the exigencies of time. The CLOSER will sweet-talk, badger, compliment, and do whatever it takes to get the tourist’s signature on the dotted line. The CLOSER moment is the moment of truth. The CLOSER is the real star of the TO system.
Along with that sense of urgency used by the LINER, the CLOSER stresses obligation. Implicit to his pitch is all that has been done to please the tourist; free food, free drink, free movies, free information, and lots of personal attention given by lots of waiters, bellboys, chefs, bus drivers, etc., not to mention the TO sales team. It has been all take and no give. To balance things out and ensure everyone is happy, the tourists need only purchase a reasonably priced timeshare.
Although the aura remains friendly and cheerful, the pressure is now palpable, the CLOSER leaning more and more forward in their seat, the tourists moving more and more backward in theirs. The CLOSER is often dressed formally; if a man, a suit and tie; if a woman, a business suit augmented with tasteful jewelry. The tourists wear shorts or swim suits, brightly colored shirts and blouses, and leather or rubber sandals.
I’m not claiming anything new in TO practice south of the border; it’s a variation (or variations) on a sales technique that exists wherever time-shares are sold. It is the way many resort properties in the United States are sold: prospects are bused to a luxury resort to eat a free lunch, listen to speakers, watch promotional movies, and finally be turned over to a CLOSER that sells them a week or more ownership of a hotel room per year.
The manipulation involved in the TO system is not a pretty thing. Neither is the life of most of its practioners, particularly those in Latin America.
I use 'most practioners' advisedly, because a successful timeshare salesperson in Latin America can make well into six figures per year. But as in all occupations, the extremely successful are a fraction of the total. The OPC earns on average $400 a month. When commissions fall below that figure, the OPC vanishes.
A LINER earns more than the OPC, but by far the highest earner is the CLOSER, who do very well until either 'burning out' (high pressure salesmanship is exhausting, particularly when tourists are in town for a 72 hour discounted stay at a hotel), or enter management and therefore have limited public contact.
I should point out that most people in this TO system begin as an OPC, a few are promoted to LINER, and the exceptional then promoted to CLOSER. Commissions are based on the price of the timeshare, the commission percentage increasing as the salesperson advances to the second and third step.
OPC training is a short affair, usually a two week class sponsored by a local association of hotel owners and developers. Graduates are assigned to members of the association. Because of the limited training, the beginning OPC knows little about condominiums, much less about time-share laws, these learned on the job or by attending required classes.
Following graduation the OPC is thrown out onto the street to prospect for the timeshare presentation. 'Hey, where are you from? 'they shout at the tourist, in hopes of starting a conversation. If they succeed and tourist attendance is assured, the OPC have done their job.
It’s not easy being an OPC. You need a quick wit, a gift of gab, and the ability to separate the garrulous and lonely from the real prospect. It also takes energy inherent in percentage selling; so many conversations lead to so many prospects turned over to the LINER, which in turn leads to so many sales, etc.
It’s impossible to know how many conversations result in tourists being turned over to a LINER, much less that lead to an actual sale. Certainly the percentage is small. Tourists quickly realize they should avoid chatty foreign nationals sitting behind information signs. The OPC know this, and it´s not surprising they develop a mechanical irritating 'charm.' A duel ensues: the OPC asking more and more questions while tourists feign deafness, quicken their step, or sometimes answer back sarcastically. The OPC cannot win these verbal battles since winning means 'putting down' the tourist and that means no sales presentation.
For obvious reasons, constant rejection doesn’t do the OPC much good psychologically. It does, however, improve their geographical knowledge. It may also mean more effective conversations. Once an OPC learns Duluth is in Minnesota, they can start talking up the warm weather in Acapulco, Cancun, or whatever resort they are selling.
Don’t think OPC conversation is restricted to geography or meteorology. An OPC can pose as an expert in native dances or architecture, local flora or fauna, whatever might interest the tourist. Nothing is excluded except sex. Condoms and Condos apparently don’t mix. Errands after business hours are a different matter. An OPC will do all sorts of favors for the tourist, eliminating hotel surcharges by carrying clothes to dry-cleaners being one, delivering tickets to hotel rooms another. For such service the OPC receives no expense account money, although, of course, tips are accepted.
Unclear to the outsider is what percentage of OPC makes it to the LINER stage. That continuing parade of different faces sitting behind information signs cannot all be due to promotions or job site exchanges. After all, many an OPC is broke when they begin hawking on the street corner, and cash advances or 'draw' are neither common nor very large. Often the OPC must leave 'commission selling' for low salaried jobs that provide tips at time of service, such as a waiter or bellboy receives.
Yet, in a kind of paradox, the OPC is the last hope of the uneducated English-speaking Latino. Although not speaking English is a serious handicap, becoming a lawyer, doctor, or engineer, indicates your family has money, and few Latino families have money. Many an OPC has learned English in primary grades, or by living in the United States, or from menial hotel jobs requiring contact with Americans. This qualifies someone for bartending, waitering, taxicab driving, or clerical tasks, but not the professions and big money.
So being an OPC gives Latinos a chance to escape their circumstances. But selling is selling, and the Latino OPC is in some ways not all that different from their American counterpart. Working without salary creates fear regardless of locale. The difference, however, between a poor Latino and a poor American is enormous, often the difference between 'not having made it', and going without food or shelter. This fact gives the Latino their only advantage: a driving need that springs from economic insecurity. There may also be the need that someday, somewhere, they too will be asked: 'Hey, where are you from?'
© James Morford May 2006
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.