Verax arrived at the Doppelgänger Furniture Store on a cold damp blustering early November day in the Twin Cities. It was Friday at about six in the evening and winter's darkness had already cast its opaque pall like a shroud upon the region. The area was bracing itself for its first hibernal storm of the year. A stray cat darted across the store's asphalt parking lot. Earlier the cat had looked a dull dingy white but at this hour in keeping with the Spanish saying that at night all cats look gray, its whiteness was no longer discernible.
Verax appeared to be thirtyish. Standing about six feet two inches tall, slim and wiry and straight, slightly broad at the shoulders and narrow at the waist, and with features that seemed chipped from granite, Verax could have passed as a trainer of raw military recruits. Despite the nipping chill in the air, Verax was wearing cuffless taupe khaki trousers neatly pressed, a heavily starched long sleeve white shirt, black oxford shoes with matching socks, and a light yellow tie that fell just below an ebony leather belt with its small golden buckle. The yellow tie blended perfectly with Verax's Nordic complexion and blond crew cut. A gold pen was clipped to his left shirt pocket. Wearing neither jacket nor coat, this robust person was apparently unaffected by Minnesota's seasonably cold weather. Verax's steel blue eyes framed by high cheekbones, a slightly aquiline nose and thin yellow eyebrows appeared capable of seeing through walls.
At the moment Verax entered the store, six of its eight salespeople were with customers. Two were out with the flu, so no one was there to greet Verax, not even the store receptionist to judge from her unattended counter which lay about ten yards to the right of the entrance. Had someone been there to greet Verax, he or she would have noted that Verax was noticeably neither male nor female in appearance. Verax was a highly advanced robot, entirely asexual, but otherwise perfectly human looking, and the latest in a long line of experiments conducted by the finest international scientific minds assembled at Dotcom University in Boston Massachusetts. Verax had been programmed to excel in retail selling, especially in furniture sales. The robot was equipped with an unbelievably advanced computer chip inserted in the robot's electronic cerebellum.
Verax possessed all the requisite skills, knowledge, and even attitude that any of Doppelgänger Furniture Store's customers might need. Verax was also programmed to be a consummate interior designer not only in its basic aspects of harmony and mood but also in the two customer fears a trainer by the name of Tobler had pointed out, namely, the customer's fear that designers will force their tastes for style on their clients and customer's fear that designers will try to induce their clients to purchase only the most expensive pieces of furniture.
At the same time Verax had been programmed to understand the five mindsets of preconceived notions customers generally have about retail furniture salespeople, the very mindsets and preconceived notions which formed the foundation of a selling system called "The 35 Principles of Professional Selling," by an obscure author named Marino.
Additionally Verax was programmed to possess John F. Lawhon's Five Groups of Knowledge so that the robot knew every specification, or as salespeople call them, every spec of every piece of furniture that had ever been or was being sold in any retail store in North America. Verax also knew every furniture store's inventory, every store's ads, every store's credit system, and every store's policies and procedures, all of which were continually being updated by Dotcom University's Teletrophicometer.
As for the selling skills, Verax had been flawlessly fed everything ever written about selling from Elmer Wheeler to Zig Ziglar, with a special emphasis on one of Zig's favorite sayings: "You can get everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want." Verax also was programmed to place a strong emphasis on Michael LeBoeuf's marvelously simple formula for selling: "Customers buy only when they are glad and not when they are mad, sad, or scared.
In spite of being a robot - or perhaps because of it - Verax was incapable of lying. In fact, the robot had been equipped with a back-up mechanism that would cause it to disintegrate if Verax were ever to lie.
This saying had been inserted into the robot to serve as a mission statement.
So, armed with the ability to communicate fluently in thirty languages and assigned the last name of Dotcom, this was the Verax who had entered Doppelgänger Furniture Store and was now looking for assistance. As Verax strode towards the receptionist's counter, the robot was unaware that Ann Holden was on all fours behind the counter looking for fax paper. Verax noticed her name legibly displayed on the counter's surface. Suddenly Ann stood up and as she did so, their eyes suddenly met. She was a petite young woman in her late twenties whose general bearing, even though Verax had caught her unawares, portrayed an air of service. As Verax walked up to the counter, Ann greeted the robot: "Good evening,, how may I help you?" Her eyes were now riveted on Verax's features, strong and intelligent and strangely different. "Good evening," Verax replied in an almost undetectable whining tone the Dotcom University had not succeeded in eliminating." "I understand you have an opening in sales."
"Yes, we do Si...." Ann suddenly stopped and barely caught herself in time to keep from calling Verax "sir." Having noticed that Ann was blushing, Verax quickly interjected with, "My name is Verax Dotcom. May I see the store manager?"
"The store manager? Oh yes, Mr. Conrad," Ann replied, beginning to regain her composure. "I'll take you to his office."
Having arrived at the manager's office, Ann knocked on his door. Anytime his door was shut, Ann knew that Mr. Conrad must be very busy, ordinarily he kept the door to his office open.
"Come in!" he hollered out. Ann opened the door.
"Joe, this applicant is here about the sales opening."
Joe, who appeared drowned in paperwork, gave Verax a discerning look meant to size up the applicant as quickly as he could.
"This is Verax Dotcom," Ann volunteered and then waited to see Joe's reaction. With a half-way silly grin that indicated he was being set up for some practical joke, Joe replied: "Verax Dotcom. I never heard that name before. Got any sales experience?"
"Scores of years, Mr. Conrad."
"Scores you say," Mr. Conrad replied. "What stores have you worked in?"
"None , sir. I've never worked in any store."
"So, you've never worked in any store.... but you've got scores of years of experience?"
"That's right, Mr. Conrad. I know I can sell. All I need is the opportunity to prove it."
Joe looked at Ann, then at Verax. "Look," he said, "I usually hire.... in fact I've never hired anyone to work for me who didn't have at least some sales experience... I mean actual sales experience on a sales floor. But you caught me at a bad time. Tomorrow we go into the biggest weekend sale of the year, our 50th anniversary sale. Two of my best salespeople are out with the flu. Can you start tomorrow?"
"Yes sir. At what time?"
"Be at our store meeting at eight sharp. That's eight in the morning, you know."
"Thank you Mr. Conrad."
"Ann," Joe continued, "get Verax a folder of all the information needed to get started, including an application form." Then he turned to Verax and said: "You can write, I imagine."
"Yes, sir, even calligraphically when I have to."
"What ever that is, you won't need it here. Fill out the application and return it to me in the morning."
"I'll have it ready for you."
"Ann, show Verax around the store and answer any questions."
"Sure, Joe. Verax, follow me please. I'll take you around the store."
About half an hour later, Ann walked Verax to the exit. She was amazed to see that the newly hired salesperson was intimately acquainted with each piece of furniture on the floor, as though Verax had sold that merchandise for years. At one point while Ann was showing this latest sales staff member around the store she found herself listening in wrapped attention as Verax romanced one of the store's exquisite dining room sets, describing in detail the rich historical background against which that style had developed.
At the exit Ann decided to walk Verax into the parking lot anxious as she was to see what kind of car this stranger was driving and halfway expecting Verax to get into some spaceship. After they exchanged their quick good-byes, she watched the robot walk toward a brand new shiny black four door Lexus. Verax then drove away. Ann rushed back into the store. She couldn't wait to tell the salespeople about the new salesperson.
"This guy is something else," she muttered to herself as she entered the store. Ann had no idea how really something else Verax was.
Verax's first day on the job was extraordinarily successful. So was the first day of the weekend anniversary sale. Everyone but the stray white cat showed up. The store had its highest volume ever: Two hundred thirty thousand dollars worth of business. Joe was ecstatic. The two owners, Mr. Solomon and Mr. Caputo were thrilled. Both called to congratulate Joe and the sales staff and even sent the four women on the sales staff and Ann a dozen red roses each and a twenty five dollar coupon to the men to be used at one of the local restaurants.
Meanwhile what really excited Joe was Verax Dotcom's sales performance, Verax had done sixty percent of the store's volume, half of which he had shared with the other salespeople. Everyone, customers, salespeople, and Joe, were astounded by Verax's five groups of knowledge. Verax seemed to know every competing store's procedures and policies, every store's credit system, every store's merchandise, every store's inventory, every store's ads. Amazingly, the robot was able to answer every customer's questions about any mattress. One of the customers, an engineer who had done her postdoctoral work in steel coils, couldn't believe her ears. Yet, Verax always honored the principle in what one author had written: "You can never know too much about your product, but you can tell your customer too much about it." In short, Verax was a wizard at qualifying. Because of that, each feature, each benefit the robot used to support the customer's needs was relevant.
Verax had a medley of apt sayings such as "When you buy quality you cry only once" and "Make sure in life that you always get yourself on a good pair of shoes and good bed because you're always going to be on one or the other.
Above all, Verax knew a principle of selling taken from Brian Tracy regarding product knowledge. The real reason for having product knowledge is not to raise the customer to the salesperson's level of knowledge. That's not normally feasible in the case of a salesperson with excellent product knowledge. No, the real reason was to win the customer's trust, first in the salesperson, next in the salesperson's store, and then in the store's product, always in that order. Within that selling principle lay the basis for the saying that customers go from store to store until they find a salesperson. Therein lay the explanation of why Learning International, a part of the training organization called Achieve Global, places the emphasis it does on the salesperson as differentiator.
The following Sunday morning, an hour before the noon opening, Joe was in the store. Already the phone was ringing off the hook. Most of the calls were for Verax Dotcom. Joe smiled as he heard customer after customer refer to Verax Dotcom either as he or she or Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. or Miss. It seemed that Verax had been programmed to leave all that to whatever made the customer feel comfortable.
"Who is this guy?" Joe kept asking himself. In studying Verax's application, Joe had seen no mention of prior sales experiences in any store. Joe had tried in vain to contact the number Verax had listed for Dotcom University. All Joe could reach was Verax's voice mail, "OK," Joe told himself, "So this guy's some kind of exotic nut, but I've never seen anyone sell like this nut. Besides, customers are already clamoring for this guy, whatever he or she or it is. And the guy has only been with us one full day!"
At twelve sharp, Ann opened the doors. The customers poured into the store like water cascading into a dam. One after the other they kept asking for Verax Dotcom with the exception of several "be backs" who asked for one of the other salespeople.
Joe was worried. He knew he had to keep peace among his salespeople. How could he possibly do that if Verax consistently ended up with the lion's share of the business? To Joe's utter amazement Verax again turned over half of the sales to the rest of the sales staff. The robot would introduce customers to the other salespeople with the following words: "I'd like you to meet so and so. He/She is my partner. We're here to provide you with the information you need to make the best buying decision. Is that alright with you?" Each customer replied that would be just fine.
By the end of the day, the store had written two hundred seventy five thousand dollars of business. In the next several months, business increased more and more, even during the Hanukkah and Christmas season (which happened to coincide that year) a usually slow time for retail furniture stores. The two owners, Mr. Solomon and Mr. Caputo respectively enjoyed the happiest Hanukkah and the merriest Christmas they had ever had.
Six more months passed and the sales kept rising. One would think that the rest of the sales staff (now numbering forty) would be elated with Verax who continued to share sales. The manufacturers' reps who did business with Doppelgänger Furniture Store certainly were. The salespeople were making more commissions than any of them had ever dreamed of making.
But then it happened. An air of malicious rumors began to spread about Verax and Ann. At first there were only subtle whispers. Gradually the whispers grew louder and louder until they broke out in open and brash accusations. Rumor - that foul thing, half human, half beast, with as many eyes as the feathers that covered its body - skilled at mixing truth and fiction, spread its gossip like toxic fumes that choked any chance that truth might prevail. Verax and Ann, the lurid story ran - were having an affair. Now the truth was that Verax and Ann had become close friends. Ann, who by now knew the full nature of this robot, of course realized that Verax was absolutely incapable of carrying on a sexual affair. Verax was programmed to be absolutely asexual. The two were simply good friends.
Ann was completely won over by the robot's total inability to tell a lie. She had observed on more than one occasion how Verax had answered those customers who inquired into the truth of sales proclaiming 40 to 70% off. Verax always answered truthfully: Yes, the store had put a few items on sale at 40 to 70% off; No, all the rest were still at their normal every day price. Yet, Verax never failed to sell any of those customers who had inquired about the sale.
Ann was deeply impressed at the consistency of customer comments on Verax's cards handed out to each customer who had made a purchase. Every card attested to Verax's honesty. One of the cards read; "Verax is the salesperson who cannot lie."
In the meantime, Verax continued to share every sale. Soon the parking lot held seven more shiny black four door Lexuses as well as fifteen other prestigious cars, all of them belonging to salespeople.
But the rumors refused to die. They became even more toxic. Verax, they contended, was dishonest and was stealing some of the other salespeople's customers. The fact that there was no truth in these rumors did nothing to stop them. The spreaders of these rumors knew how to mix their lies with unrelated truths. Joe did his best to ward off the rumor. Suddenly he became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. The store hurriedly hired a new manager to replace Joe, the new manager was skilled at mixing fact and fiction. His name was Sinon, the same name as that of the notorious liar described in the ancient Roman poet Vergils "Aeneid," Sinon, who had so expertly and cunningly woven his lie by which he deceived the Trojans into allowing the wooden horse to be brought into their city.
One thing led to another. The new manager enlisted the aid of the other liars on the staff and together they managed to bring down Verax, after threatening to sue the two owners. Verax was fired.
In his hospital bed, Joe wept. He had seen all this coming. Broken hearted over how rumor had cast its greyness over the truth, Joe perceived that all truth, like cats, appear grey when mixed with the shadows of fiction. That night Joe passed away. Ann was so distraught over what had been so dishonorably done to Verax that she quit the store and moved to Arizona. Within six months Doppelgänger Furniture Store closed its doors and was sold and converted to a video store.