Pest Control Door Knockers

This evening I received a call from one of my longstanding pest control customers who was met by a summer door-to-door pest control salesman. These kids who do this work are motivated by one thing only – a fast buck. They may or may not have a license, but one thing is sure. They are flung into this work, having no prior field work exposure. They have been revved up by the prospect of making lots of money over the summer, so they can kick back during the school year. Often, these young people have few plans at all other than getting away from small towns and narrowly focused lifestyles in which they were raised. They do not have the customer interest at heart.

What these kids don’t understand is this. Yes, they are being trained in the sales trades. But they are being trained in the mode of used car salesmen. They are very imaginative kids who knock the competition, whether true or false. They slash prices to a level that will earn the commission, if successful, while creating new accounts that are at best border-line profitable. They do the industry an injustice by portraying a pest control service as a mere commodity product.

The consumer does not benefit when their service is transferred from a company that has provided good quality services throughout the years, in favor of shabby services with half-baked add-on solutions that very often exacerbate pest problems. Instead of a win-win situation, where the consumer receives a quality service at a reasonable price point, they develop a lose-lose-lose situation. Who loses? Obviously, the prior company loses a customer relationship and a revenue stream. The customer loses when they find that what the summer pest control salesman offered reflects the price, but not the level of service previously experienced. Eventually, they often realize that the relationship with the new pest control company is fundamentally different. That is when it becomes a lose-lose-lose scenario where the new company loses the customer after paying enormous commissions to the imaginative door-to-door pest control salesman a la your local used car dealership.

The companies employing these kids are in a cut-throat commodity game. They play on the sympathies of consumers for an honest looking, clean cut scholar. But that is not what the consumer gets.

Well, I’ve got news for these companies. Pest control is not a commodity. Customers want skilled technicians that they trust on their property and especially inside their homes. They want real people and a real company that understands their needs. They don’t want or need a company that is looking for a commodity sale and views the service cycle with mathematical precision, devoid of human considerations. Pest control door knocking kids are infamous for their tall tales and the trail of pest control accounts that quickly disappear when the pest control company can not meet the demands of fast growth and low margins produced by these cut-rate accounts. In this economy, the pest control company that attempts to grow through such door-to-door sales will eventually suffer the most by having attracted people who feel compelled to find the cheapest service. These accounts will not last. I repeat, not just some, but large numbers of these door-to-door acquired accounts will be lost. That is when they will receive the punch line of the joke.

It’s wonderful to know that I have customers so devoted that they are able to come to me and talk with me about the insane offers they are being presented. It is wonderful that we have developed such trust that they will totally shut down these offers, with the knowledge that they are provided high quality service at a reasonable price. The truth is that in a very anonymous world, one in which people are constantly being taken advantage of, the public wants to believe that relationships are real. Watch this Hearts Pest Management customer video and you’ll get my point!

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22 Responses to Pest Control Door Knockers

  1. Rick says:

    Your discussion about the “door knockers” was very well put. These kids, and that’s what they are, don’t know anything about our industry. They typically are college students, from out of state, that are put up in housing and they make very good money when they sell accounts.
    A few years ago, while at one of our pest control conventions, there was a company that trained these kids. The owner of the company was trying to get California pest control companies to sign up with him. His company received a percentage of the yearly value of the sell. It didn’t matter if the customer was happy and stayed with you for a year or more. In fact, it didn’t matter if the customer quit shortly after contracting with you. His company still received a percentage of the total yearly sale. And that percentage was a whopping 75%. Can you imagine that? How are you to support a pest tech, gas, chemicals, insurance, etc, with only a 25% profit margin. Of course, in all fairness, if the customer remained with you for over 1 year, then you would start to recoup your loss.
    And, you are right, Gerry, they will promise the world to the potential customer. Why, you ask? Because that is the only way they make money, is by actually making the sell.
    Thanks for the article.

  2. Gerry says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for contributing the discussion. I’m sure the readers will appreciate the first hand information you were able to share. Every pest control company has the right to acquire customers as they see fit and there is nothing illegal about what the door-to-door companies are doing, so long as they have licensed people and are not inspecting. But I think you agree that it’s important for the industry to understand the impact these types of sales have on the profession.

    I don’t think the companies that sub-contract for door-to-door summer salesmen have good statistics to back up the benefit of their service. They feel it is the job of the contracting pest control company to retain customers. But who is overseeing “the promise machine” that the door-to-door guys weave?

    Did you see the Hearts Pest Management video? I love this woman. She has been a wonderful customer for 8 years. I did my first total rodent cleanout at her home in 2002.

  3. Thos003 says:

    You can use a hammer to build a house and you can use a hammer to tear a house down. Or you can bang that hammer against your head… Not recommended.

    Recognize the tool and use it appropriately. If the hammer isn’t your tool of a choice then use a screw driver. But both have their benefits.

  4. Gerry says:

    Ok, good! I don’t want everyone to agree. Definitely, door to door work has its’ place. Obviously, as someone representing a company that is on the defensive against these tactics, it concerns me. None of us really care when someone new is introduced to pest control, but of course we get upset when door-to-door salesmen come after our customers with aggressive offers. Clearly, the salesmen know that they have a better chance at a sale from someone who already gets pest control with another company.
    On the one hand, all is fair in love and war. In organizations like NPMA or PCOC, we try to create an atmosphere in which there is some ettiquete about how and when we compete or cooperate. In the field, we have some unwritten rules about fair competition. It helps, because we all know that what goes around comes around. I think the door-to-door teams get very excited about their own sales and just don’t have a long term perspective. Even the companies that employ them sometimes feel pained by tactics used during the summer direct sales process.
    I don’t like the door-to-door approach. If I was good at it, I’m sure I’d use it. I just hope I would have the wisdom to think about how the sale is made, keeping it honest and thinking of the long-term profitability of each account acquired. I’ve heard many sob stories from companies who attempted to use this method. Then there are companies that swear by it. As I said, I strongly believe that growing and profiting from it in a down economy is going to be tough.

  5. Thos003 says:

    =) Bulwark is not immune to door knockers either. We get hit by competitor knockers as well.. and we don’t win every time. You make excellent points that any marketer can appreciate… 1- competing on price, will limit your profits, and attract the wrong kind of customers. Further, it limits what you can pay your technicians. Which you just wrote about as well. 2- Untrained salesmen sale something that cannot be delivered. This can create worse problems for the company image. Properly training salesmen isn’t easy, but a properly trained salesman is essential for long term success.

    You are a smart enough guy that if took the time to develop a sales program then I am sure it would work for you. It’s all on trail and error. Looking at it objectively you already see the flaws. Fix what doesn’t work for you…. Of course all of this takes time. Time is our most precious commodity. Spend your time where it gives you the greatest return.

  6. In our area we arn’t really competing that much on the regular service price.It’s the new start up customer that getting taken by these guys.We have a start up price like most companies that is higher than the regular service price.
    the summer sales people cut that price and tell the new customer what a great deal they are getting on the startup.then they hurry thru their pitch and tell the new ccustomer they will be back in 30 days to treat again to”break the egg cycle” and charge them again ,which at least doubles the actual cost to the customer to start a service.if you service the customer right the first time the product will take care of the new bugs hatcing in 30 days.when you get a chance to show the customer they will pay twice over the first 30 days they feel taken

  7. Gerry says:

    David, thanks so much for contributing to the conversation on door-to-door pest control sales teams. Your comments on pricing are interesting. There are different philosophies on the value of “the initial.” To charge it or not to charge it, that is the question!
    One thing is clear, the summer sales team will find something to undercut. They have to because they need to hook the prospect. Now there are reasonable cuts and unreasonable cuts. But what you are saying is that there really is no cut price from the door-to-door pest control salesperson. They have simply back-ended the charges. …and obviously, that isn’t going to be mentioned to the prospect or they wouldn’t sign on the dotted line.

    David, I went on your website and in doing so, I came up with an idea that will help you and me. But you have to go to my newest post to learn more.

  8. […] reviewing David Wheeler’s comment on door-knocking summer pest control salespersons, I decided to check out his website. It has some nice features for reaching the intended audience. […]

  9. D Byrd says:

    I work in the security alarm industry and I had no idea this was a problem in your industry as well. I had one of the door to door sales-kids come by today. They seem to have a surprised look when I tell them I don’t do business with any door to door sales people.

  10. Gerry says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on door-to-door salespeople. Likewise, it’s interesting to see that it is happening in your industry, not just the pest control sector. These kids can sell anything to anyone, with no moral obligations to anyone, just to their own financial betterment.

  11. Do door to door pest control guys leave bugs if you don’t sign up?
    A friend of mine says they got a LOT of new bugs after they told the pest control guy that they didn’t want to sign a contract.

  12. Gerry says:

    While I would not be surprised any many exaggerations stated by door to door pest control sales people, they simply don’t have the time to play the type of games that you are describing. They are going door to door very aggressively and can not waste time taking vengence on those who don’t buy or carrying convincing pests conveniently in their storage pouch. No. I don’t see this happpening.

  13. Mel says:

    @Bedbugkiller Some door to door sales people will carry bugs to show customers what they have in their area especially if its scarey like a hobo spider, black widow, recluse or scorpians. I also doubt they would drop off bugs. What I suspect happened is a prospect is told ” your neighbors signed up for service and all the insects from their home will be flushed from their home to the yours,”. The prospect begins to notice insects he or she would not have seen previously because the the insects never bothered them. . All of a sudden they have a pest problem created by the power of suggestion.

  14. Brian Schermerhorn says:

    Interesting post. I myself am in the door-to-door sales business and I think that this is a very egocentric post with not much sympathy, or understanding for the otherside.

    “They do not have the customer’s interest at heart.” – How can you make such a presumptuous statement? Everything the nice lady in the video was saying is everything a “quality” salesman would ask and say to a potential client.

    One of your reasons is that the salesman has no work experience and essentially only has money in mind. Are you insinuating that your customers can’t tell when the salesman knows less than you do about how they will be taken care of? Obviously if they’re switching over it means they feel they will be in a better situation. Maybe you’re not doing what you preach by giving them the service that is “so much better” than a door-to-door pest company.

    Many of these companies (at least the one I work for) is owned by a resident of the state and has lived there for 10 years, which has made it his life’s work to dedicate service and quality work to that particular region.

    I understand that you’re a salesman too (everyone is in sales right?) but it’s rather bothersome when it’s so blaintantly one sided. It’s as if you aren’t in it to earn money too.

  15. Gerry says:

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m glad to have you come forward to defend the door-to-door trade. I certainly appreciate your willingness to provide feedback. My blog is an advocacy blog. I do and will always take positions in this blog.

    To the extent that you make the door-to-door trade an honorable profession – I commend you.

    So as a salesman – this may be hard to do. I ask you to be honest with yourself. And yes, we all are salesmen in our daily lives and especially in business. We are constantly selling ourselves. The door-to-door pest control salespeople sometimes return summer season after summer season. Many of them have perfected the technique and established their own businesses based on the door-to-door model. When they do that, of necessity, they learn the service component that requires good sales that stick. But by and large, we are still talking about kids out of high school, maybe with some college education, who have heard that you can make a lot of money establishing pest control accounts. They haven’t been in the field and really don’t have an understanding of the difference betweeen good and bad service. If they don’t sell quickly, they are sent back home. They are not paid hourly wages or if so, very little, because the goal is not to make these salesmen comfortable. There’s no time for them to be comfortable. The goal is to make them very UNcomfortable, so that they are like hungry dogs ready to devour the next opportunity to gain an account.

    Many of these kids come from religious homes that have sent them off to sell religion door-to-door. They have experience playing with the emotions of prospects and turn that talent to capitalist pursuits. You have to give these kids credit for their perseverence and ability to take rejection. But whether you are talking about saving someone’s soul or making fast cash, you are looking at a sell that likely involves a lot of manipulation.

    I know from experience how many accounts are undersold to levels generally not regarded as profitable. I also know that many lie about the square footage to obtain a sale that might not otherwise be competitively priced enough to get a conversion. I certainly know many companies who have sworn off summer door-to-door sales help because the ratios of cost to accounts that is already high sours in the fall as accounts are lost because “that’s not what was promised.” As for the customer in the video, take her at face value because no comments were solicited. There are things about summer door-to-door sales I don’t know – but you know what? I think I know enough.

    “Are you insinuating that your customers can’t tell when the salesman knows less than you do about how they will be taken care of?” Yes, this is often true. Why do salesmen have pitch lines? They have them so that the conversation is guided. The door-to-door salesman does not want the conversation to get steered into a direction where their ignorance shows, so that they have the maximum chance to convert a customer. Why do you think the expression, “Buyer Beware!” exists? Successful door-to-door salesmen are often masters of the con-job, playing on numbers and emotions that are hard to resist. Best selling films have been made about shady door-to-door sales for a reason.

    I hope you are better than all that. But somehow, that you buy the arguments of those with strong door-to-door craft, I’m not so sure.

    What a silly statement – “as if you aren’t in it to earn money too?” Brian, there are all sorts of ways to earn money within a profession. There are countless times I have told my employees that there are ways I do not want them to earn money – because sales ethics count. Maybe the problem here is not that I am also a salesman. Perhaps its’ that I detect a guilty conscious? Can it be?

  16. Brian S says:

    You seem like an intelligent person and appear to care about the prestige of your market and business.

    I think you’re spot on with a lot of your observations with the door-to-door sales industry, however, I couldn’t help but laugh at your last line of a guilty conscious. I have done the “summer sales” job for 3 years now, and the first company I was with (being home security systems) I left because the office I was with was unethical and manipulative in their approach of sales. I lost money and time by going out to sell with them but I could at least sleep at night. I can with all knowledge and consciousness say that no, there is zero guiltiness in my mind in that regard (not professing to perfection).

    I think you have a lot of good points that I certainly can not defend for everybody, seeing as how each person acts accordingly as he or she sees fit at the door and have different concepts of integrity by which they live. I can even say that my own family experienced the adverse end of misrepresentation from a salesman at our door.

    I simply wish that you were not so general in your statements as to infer that all D2D salesman hold themselves as you imply in your statements. I’ve met more dishonest ones than good ones, but the honest ones do indeed exist and credit should indeed be given as it is earned.

    Forgive my ignorance but I don’t understand what you mean by saying that simply supporting D2D means I might be dishonest or sketchy. I assume that you as a business owner enjoy your customers and would be willing to oblige them in order to keep their business, as well as possibly getting to know them on a first name basis to establish a stronger foundation of care and trust. How is any of that forfeited by first meeting them at the door? Are all of those connections perhaps not even increased by meeting in person instead of them just being a name in your software on the route? I’ve been invited to dinner and even birthday parties by my customers because they enjoyed me and the service we provide. I even once had a mother ask me if I wanted to go on a date with her daughter once.

    We’re both paid on commission. The company we both are with stays where we are and isn’t trudging around the country selling off our accounts like marketing companies. We make our stake, put up a flag and diligently work to earn a living. I’d say we’re more similar than you might think.


  17. Gerry says:

    Brian, I applaud you for the maturity of your craft and the service mentality that you imbed into your D2D work and the accounts you derive. No doubt many good relationships are formed at the door.

    Just this week at Hearts Pest Management, the pest control company I own (along side my separate Hearts Consulting Grooup), had its’ EcoWise Certification renewal audit completed. As part of the process I was required to provide two customer sites for the auditor to review. I chose to bring the auditor to the home of a retired police officer and wife, who have been my clients since 2002. That year, I had acquired Hearts Pest Management, then a one man company. Buying the company with the owner as my guide into the industry, I had to quickly double revenue to support the old owner and myself. One way I did that was to take on work at low cost with contracts from the major home warranty companies for pest control ($45-65 a pop). It gave me a chance to get in the door. If the customer liked my service, I had a chance to convert the customer from the home warranty program to monthly service at $33. I went into the home of this same retired police officer back in 2002. I still remember the warm welcome he gave me and the conversation we had over a cup of coffee in his home. I rarely refuse a prospect who wishes to be hospitable. So now 10 years later, that relationship that began with a home warranty service and conversion to our program helped me renew my EcoWise Certification. I couldn’t have asked for a more loyal customer to represent me during this audit. Yes, there definitely is something unique about the friendships that can be formed at the door.

    The best to you in your chosen work and methods. I trust that you are one to keep service and sales to a high caliber. Train your D2D people to be no less secure that sales and ethics can go together successfully. The pest control field has many people that thrive in a low pay – even lower professionalism mode – dispite the hype that we are “pest professionals.” We need to be out there doing those things that raise the profession to levels we can all be proud of.

    Perhaps we are more alike than I thought.



  18. George says:

    I found this article and comments below very ignorant and narrow-thinking. It’s again when I am meeting Americans who are just too shallow to think twice that stereotypes do not run our world. It’s a shame that I need to live between the people like author of this creepy review. Why? Just because you cannot look at these kids in other way. Your mental filters don’t allow you to see these people individually. So what’s the point to get into serious discussion if you cannot give these people space to fail? And also these comments about where they were raised? Are you insane? Once again showing that judging about the cover is your domain. Very, very ignorant. However it is up to you, how you perceive the world. I wish you more humility in life and a more understanding. Remember that it’s not the suit that is making you a professional, but the experience my friend. 🙂

  19. Gerry says:

    George, think twice about your own words. I took great pains not to mention specifics about these kids, beyond stating that they came from out of state and mention that sales skills where developed while doing door-to-door work for a religious order. There are severel religious orders that go door-to-door. The vast bulk of the debate here is about the harm done by door-to-door sales people to the pest control industry … as well as other industries mentioned by one or two comments.

    The emotional nature of your comments tells me that you are reading between the lines where it is not necessary. Of course we are all individuals and I can see individuality as much as you can. I make that clear with some of my responses. But people do act as groups – in organizations and roles. If you don’t see that, than you can’t admit that groups cause people to act for the better or the worse. We are social animals and do not exist in a vacuum.

    If you are going to use words like “very, very ignorant,” “narrow-minded,” “creepy review,” why don’t you be more specific?

    I grew up exposed to a very large number of individuals, cultures, languages, religious, races, and worked in a huge numbers of capacities, from business owner to farm laborer… and may I add door-to-door newspaper salesman at age 13.

    So what’s really on your mind?

  20. BIlly says:

    I have been a manager for four years training and recruiting “door knockers”. The fact of the matter is companies exist that have “door knockers” that do very well and keep a high retention. The company that I work for requires EVERY SINGLE rep to get the same certifications of a technician and this is in California who has one of the most stringent certification requirements in the nation. It sounds to me like your company is losing customers to door to door knockers and either doesn’t have the resources to compete in this manner or doesn’t want to innovate but to suggest that these companies are second-rate is ridiculous.

  21. Cenzy says:

    I am doing door to door sales this summer and I honestly can’t stand people like you. I am working very hard and it is a job where people do seen to have this stereotype. I am honestly selling a service that has great results and if people would take just two minutes and listen when I knock than they know that. I do not lie to people and I am a good kid. I am just trying to make a good honest living and pay off student loans while doing it

  22. Gerry says:

    First, thanks for contributing your opinion to this website.

    It is unfortunate that others who have preceded you have not operated with proper ethical values. I don’t know if you have done this work before. Tell me, what do you hear from your peers who are selling door-to-door? I know that incomes for good door-to-door guys is very good and that the bad ones are sent home. There is a lot of pressure to perform.

    I certainly understand that you are doing a job for the people who pay you and that’s well and good. But there is another side to this. It’s highly unlikely that you have much of an understanding of the pest control industry, but have been trained to find fault with competitors where you think you can find it. And let’s be honest. You won’t be around to know how well your team services the accounts. You will know that a certain number of the accounts “don’t stick.” Many pest control companies who employ summer help whine afterwards about these lost accounts. Furthermore, many of the companies that employ summer help to build these accounts are simply in it to buy, buy, buy for three years before selling it off. There really is no long term commitment to good service…. only the appearance of good numbers for a quick sale. That said, there are a few companies employing summer sales kids off the campuses, where the companies do in fact stick around and grow. It’s a mixed bag.

    I wrote this post a long time ago, but just the other day I had a call from a customer that considered going to a company who had such door-to-door summer help. What the customer told me was ridiculous. Her service was bi-monthly and she was considering a quarterly service from a door-to-door guy because the service wasn’t doing the job, as if less service and fewer inspections was really going to improve service! Listen, your teams are selling price points and picking on little items that you see around the yards that are normal this time of year and sprout up between service from any company.

    Yes, you are doing what you are being told to do and I congratulate you for making your way through college. I have no argument with that. My opinion has not changed that your kind are damaging the industry, undercutting prices that prop up all companies for Walmart type pricing and perpetuating a separation of sales from service that creates a situation where pest control is thought of as a commodity rather than a very serious decision related to home, health and the environment.

    Good luck in your sales and along the way, do your best to honor ethics as you imply you do, because ethics and business actually can go together.

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