In January of 2022 I was on a job hunt. Left and right I was submitting my CV to places online until one day I got a phone call from a company. It was quite vague to say the least, with the job position being described as a “customer service” and “customer facing” role interchangeably. All I needed was to be comfortable talking to people, as the role was entry-level. It sounded good. But because of how many places I’d applied to, I eventually bit the bullet and said, “this is embarrassing but I don’t remember applying to a customer service position”. To which they responded with “you didn’t, we matched with you on a CV library.” Fair enough. I had uploaded my CV to a couple of online libraries and so, although it was a little weird, I agreed to go in for an interview.
An interview with a Devil Corp.
A Devil Corp is a direct sales company – the type of sales that involve face-to-face discussion with the customer (in my case door-to-door sales) – that puts workers on self-employment contracts so that they don’t have to pay them an hourly rate, bases their pay instead on commission, and has them out of the house for 10-12 hours a day earning next to nothing. In short, the company receives near-free labour from employees who are overworked. It is a company that networks with dozens of others operating in the exact same way and is a trap.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I agreed to go in and what follows should be a warning to all as to how these companies operate and manage to sucker people into such dire positions…
The Interview stage was split into three parts. After receiving my phone call I arrived at the office for, what I thought, was going to be a traditional interview. But then another candidate arrived. Then another. And another. And then five more. After much chatter with the admins in reception over the music roaring out of a nearby Alexa, one of the two owners eventually comes out to greet us and explains this is going to be a group interview.
In truth calling it an interview at all was a stretch because what actually happened was we sat around watching him give us a very long presentation about the company, filled with all the business jargon in the world, and then had an opportunity to ask questions afterwards. No mention was made of self-employment contracts or that the job we were being set up for was a sales position at all. Basically, all we knew was that this was a marketing company. A couple of older candidates asked one or two things at the end but the rest of us did nothing. Afterwards, we all went home.
The next day I got a phone call from the receptionist again. Apparently, I had really distinguished myself in the group interview and they wanted me to come in for the one-on-one. Immediately I was surprised as only two people, neither of which were myself, had spoken a word the previous day and my first thought I had was how on Earth they determined my eligibility. I almost asked them this but, regretfully, bit my tongue. I needed a job and thus agreed to the one-on-one interview.
This was the second stage of the interview process. The most odd thing about it was how open the owner was that anyone who came back for the one-on-one interview was already guaranteed the position. Strange as it was to go through a traditional interview knowing this, I did have the context that the company was a little desperate for workers because the Covid lockdown had almost sunk them, and so I just viewed all this as a formality. But, in a similar way to how the jargon of the first “interview” had drowned out any questions I might have had about the role, so too did that context drown out a lot about this one. Essentially all I figured out was that the hours were 9:30am-6:30pm, Monday-Friday with optional Saturdays. Just happy I finally had a job, I shook hands and agreed to come in on the following Monday.
Though not named as an interview, that Monday really wasn’t my first day at all, but the final part of the interview stage. The candidates had been narrowed down to a number of people my age, with the older two who had asked questions notably missing on this day. We all sat around a table and learned that this was a door-to-door sales position (as opposed to, y’know, what we had been told it was), and that we’d have to sign self-employment contracts and be paid on commission. We all got emailed the contract while sat around the table together, as the boss leaned against the wall casually smiling at each of us. There was a real sense of urgency to sign; a type of smug “take your time, but remember everyone else will be waiting while you read all of those pages” attitude from the owner that had us all signed up in minutes. Well… That and the promise of earning £400-£800 a week after a month!
As an entry-level job, one of the things this company prided itself on the most was the training it offered. The training came in the form of various systems designed to maximise your sales output… So we were told.
Of them all, two stood out the most as the holy grail of sales. They were put forward to us as a life hack in that you could apply these systems to convince anyone to take any product and they would work. The lesser of these two monumental, mind-blowing systems was the law of averages. The idea was that for every 100 customers you met, only 10 of them would be positive. It was those positive people we needed to seek out and get our sales from.
The second was the five steps to a successful pitch. You do an introduction, presentation, short story, close and rehash. In each of these steps, you’d give an ice breaker, introduce yourself and qualify the customer was eligible for our product, explain a problem they have that our product could solve, sign them up and make sure we leave them with a good impression. It was sold to us as a structure we could adapt that wasn’t as rudimentary as a script telemarketing companies used.
Finally, we learnt about the product. We were giving away cavity wall insulation that the customers had technically already paid for, as a percentage of their bills had gone towards funding a government scheme that allowed some people to qualify to have their house insulated in order to bring down the carbon footprint of their home. And then we were told that we didn’t need product knowledge. No joke. If we had the five steps we didn’t need product knowledge. If we followed the law of averages, the 10 positive people we found wouldn’t need convincing using product knowledge. All we were taught by the owners was how to identify homes that had cavity walls and whether or not they had already been filled. If a house was a cavity and had unfilled walls then we were to knock and give them the pitch using the five steps, hoping the owner of the home was one of our 10 positive people.
To my surprise, I was handed over to a lad my age who would train me. Having been there two months, it was his opinion that product knowledge did matter and that, after having seen how the surveyors of the homes qualify people more professionally than we entry-level bozos did, he knew a little more about it and was happy to pass on his knowledge. He told me a lot of people would tell you insulation causes damp and if you didn’t have an answer to that, you’d lose a potential sale. From him I learned about all the materials used when insulating walls so I could explain to sceptical customers how insulation no longer causes that. It was from him I also learned what to say to customers who were worried about the process and how the surveyors did their work. This wasn’t taught to me by the owners because, as far as they were concerned, product knowledge was an irrelevant factor in getting sales. It was kind of an unspoken thing that we Brand Ambassadors – a fancy name for our salesmen roles – all spoke about this sort of stuff when the owners weren’t about.
And so, with the most bare-bones and simplistic training week of my life over, I was ready to be put-
In the Field
We were all dropped off in our own neighbourhoods with designated territory to sell in. If we ran out, we could ask a team leader – like the guy who gave me all that product knowledge – for more. The first couple of days I was buddied up with someone to see how it works and it became increasingly apparent that the five steps weren’t a flexible structure after all, but rather the very kind of script the owners preached it wasn’t. I saw two other more experienced guys both doing their pitches and, while both had different pitches, both said the exact same things in the exact same order to every customer. And when I was on my own, I did this too. The reason being that, when you figure out you’ve got a pitch that works, there’s no reason to say anything different than that.
I also found the law of averages was a bunch of rubbish. It sets up the idea that 10 of your customers will be positive, while the rest will all be negative. It’s a very slippery slope into thinking the worst of people, and that 90% of the people you meet will be weirdos and recluses. But the truth is that 90% of people I spoke to, regardless if I got a sale from them or not, were very friendly, willing to listen and just normal. The law of averages gives you the impression that 90% of customers aren’t worth our time, and we need to knock on more doors as fast as we can to reach the other 10%. But it fails to account for people who simply aren’t interested – that doesn’t mean they’re negative, it just means they don’t want it. It fails to account for people who’ve worked from 9am-5pm and don’t want some salesmen pitching them something in their precious hours before work the next day. It doesn’t account for people who can’t or won’t answer the door because they’re cooking, in their back yard, have ear phones in or any other reasonable and justifiable reason a person wouldn’t answer the door… But even that wording I have used is a trap; I am not entitled to have every person answer the door to me. I am at their house and they don’t have to answer even if they are perfectly able and have nothing better to do. But the law of averages assumes they must answer, or else they’rea negative.
Being in the field means knocking doors, hoping for an answer and following a script until the home owner says yes or no.
This is the main pillar of any Devil Corp and, indeed, of the company I worked for. It is grounded in a reasonable, acceptable way of thinking that is applied by the owners to such a level that it becomes absurd to consider.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to come into work every day with a positive outlook so that they might, hopefully, be inspired to work a little harder that day. That is the reasonable way of thinking in which positivity was grounded at my place of work. But to them, it was so much more than that. By their way of thinking, your positivity held a direct correlation to how you performed in the field. I even got told once that there is no skill involved in convincing someone to take our product, only a positive attitude mattered. So if you didn’t get any sales, that was your fault. And while I do agree negativity can certainly affect a person’s work ethic, it is taken to a truly absurd extreme here.
On my second day alone in the field it was early February, pouring with rain. I couldn’t use my clipboard to keep track of homes I’d visited because the paper would disolve under it, couldn’t wear gloves because I needed to keep using my phone to both keep track of that information and sign people up, and could barely use my phone at all anyway because the watery screen made it so hard to click on anything. It was so windy and cold that my fingers hurt to move and I was walking at a snail’s pace. These were the conditions I worked in for 6 hours with no breaks. The reason I didn’t just say “screw it” was because I was on commission. Without successful leads I wouldn’t get paid. And if you thought my day was bad…
Two other lads on the team had to go outside of designated territory because all the houses were already insulated and customers had told them that they’d received the exact same pitch for the exact same product only a couple of weeks earlier. The territory for selling was, objectively, awful. Needless to say that the attitude we all had that day was highly negative, and was something that one of our owners picked up on during our catch-up session after we got back to the office.
The next day we received a slap on the wrist. We were lectured to for 30-40 minutes about how our negative attitude resulted in no sales and that we needed to do better. It wasn’t the fault of the five steps because they have worked in the field before. It wasn’t the fault of the law of averages because we didn’t knock enough doors to find our positive customers. Ironically the abysmal weather and cold wasn’t mentioned. Most of all it definitely wasn’t the fault of the territory, which the other owner (who is also her, this owner’s, boyfriend) designates and gives to the leaders to split between the team. It was our fault for being negative, and she was going to make damn well sure that we knew it. As punishment for criticising the territory, we’d all have to designate our own territory.
The result was that I ended up in bad territory again because what the hell did I know about it? I successfully found a cavity area but was unaware the cavity walls in the neighbourhood were too small to be insulated, and thus the three leads I got that day were null. An owner asked a surveyor to see what I was doing, and the surveyor told me that if every house in a given area isn’t insulated, then there’s probably a reason why and that, although it looks like a good area to pitch, I should probably go somewhere else. All I could think is that I should have been told that in my training week – seems like a product knowledge kind of thing.
On the way back to the office two leaders – one who had drank the kool-aid and one who hadn’t – got into an argument about territory again. One thought the territory was bad and the other was on the owner’s wavelength, even going as far to say “there is no bum territory, only the bum in the territory.”
So, to summarise, the company nor it’s systems were at fault. We were at fault because we weren’t happy working for 6 hours in the freezing cold and pouring rain.
It’s easy to read all this, and even for me to look back on it, thinking how much earlier I should have left the job, or just not joined the company at all. But the truth is that it is hard to leave, psychologically, because of the business model. Understanding why isn’t as straight forward as you might think.
I was a twenty-two year old desperate for any job I could get because I was relatively new to living in the area. Despite my young age I was also the second oldest salesman in the office. Another lad had recently been made redundant and needed a job as soon as possible. Another had been negatively affected, mentally, from his previous job and wanted something fresh. The pattern is that the people the company was hiring were all young, impressionable, in need of money and in desperate need of a break. So we get put into this long interview process and are promised £400-£800 a week. To that, we can’t say no.
We get taught the five steps, the law of averages and 20-30 minutes speeches about how to maintain a positive attitude every single day. We are required to make notes about it too – pages upon pages of notes writing down the same thing over and over again, building on those notes and then restarting the process every morning. We recite the systems. We repeat them to owners and younger trainers. We do this because these systems can not fail. They will not. And if you say those two things long enough, and if you’re enthusiastic about those things for long enough, people will believe it. Especially young, impressionable people who don’t have a reference for how a real company is run.
Because, at the end of the day, this was an “opportunity”. One owner would frequently get in front of us and make snide remarks about people working on an hourly rate because they don’t know how much money they’re missing out on. He’d mock people studying marketing and selling on legitimate university courses because they were getting into all that debt for nothing, ignorant to the fact all the success those people would ever need was inside his office. People who left and quit were routinely made examples off after the fact. “X quit because he just didn’t get. He wanted to know too much about the process and over complicated it”. “X quit because he couldn’t put the work in. I used to go around in the snow, making £500 a day”. Any normal office would disencourage this type of gossip, but here it was used to tell us how ignorant the world was for failing to understand our opportunity, and how intelligent we were for standing in the office.
When I say “standing”, I mean it. There were a lot of chairs up in reception, but only a handful where employees spent the morning before heading out. The idea was to keep up on our feet ready for the day, but I always found it suspicious more than anything. Here we have two owners who preach about bringing their office back from the brink that was the Covid lockdown, and telling us they were searching for twenty or thirty other new people to soon be in there with us. Cool, but where are they going to sit? Hell, where are they going to stand? This office literally consists of two rooms and the kitchen is occasionally shared with some staff who own another part of the building. There is one singular toilet. Are we growing? Ever? Doesn’t look like they plan on it. The music is also playing all day every day. Max volume. If it’s not on, you know it’s going to be. The office is designed to give you the impression you’re in a start up company that will be very different in a few months… But nothing ever changes.
And though a smaller part of the whole experience, just seeing the fancy reception and glass walls/doors to the owners’ joint and done-up office compared to the literal void of the employee area was perhaps the most obvious piece of foreshadowing I should have picked up on during the interview process. If these people were capable of earning the money they claimed they did, wouldn’t there be more to it than that? If the money, assuming it was being earned, was going to the right place then yes, I’d hope.
There comes a point where we all have to face reality. That day came to me on my second day working in another city because the 6:30pm end of day was taken very literally. We had driven an hour and a half to another city and couldn’t stop pitching until 6:30, at which point we’d have to drive back, get into the office, speak to the boss and then make our ways home. It was bad enough getting home at 8pm on a normal day, still needing to shower, feed my cats and cook before bed. I’d often have to eat separate from my partner, who’s a nurse and also works long hours, every day because of this; I had to be awake at 6:30am to get ready. Difference is she works these hours three days a week for an honest, reliable wage. I didn’t. While driving to another city, I wouldn’t get home until 9pm if I was lucky, was expected to be in 5 days a week minimum and was working for breadcrumbs.
So there I was, in this other city, having done 4 hours of pitching for absolutely nothing with two blisters on my feet making it hard to walk. Something awakes inside me (common sense, I think), and I decide that I’ve had enough of walking 20,000 steps a day. I go to the pub and order a Coke. The barmaid sees my badge and jacket, and asks what I sell. I tell her it’s wall insulation. She tells me it’s all a scam that you don’t pay for at first, but do after you leave the home. I didn’t know (and still don’t) if this was true or not, but tell her that “I wouldn’t know, they’ve probably got me drinking the kool-aid”. She laughs, nods and goes off to serve other customers.
Something in me clicks in that moment. When I look back I realise that pretty much all of it was, in all but name, a cult. The reciting of the systems, insistence on sharing a specific mindset and being punished should it falter. Making examples of past-employees and dismissing valid criticism before it’s even been levied. Recruiting the way they do, feeding false promises if you just “work a little more”. The distinct lack of older workers and anyone who did have questions in the interview stage, and the way the absurd hours absorbed your free time until nothing was left but work and sleep. It was what it was. I spent the rest of the day job searching on my phone until I got picked up.
The next day I phoned in sick. On that very day, my team leader phoned me to tell me that he had quit and highly encouraged me to do the same. He had discovered what type of company that he was working for; a Devil Corp. He realised everything he didn’t like about the job aligned with what he had read online about these typesof companies. He sent me a link to this website, detailing everything about Devil Corps.
I’ll admit to being sceptical at first as even involving the word “devil” sounded a lot like hyperbole to me. But the more I read in my own time, such as this FAQ about them on a site that also features interviews with ex-employees, and this documentary on YouTube called The Slave Circle, the more I realised how real and horrible the whole thing was.
I quit the next day in what was an exodus of every person who had been recruited to the office at the same time as me:
During the first week an owner took three employees on a trip down to the south of England to sell solar panels. One employee returned with the others choosing to leave. A day prior to me leaving, three others left and, to my knowledge, I was the last. That’s not counting one of the more long-time members of the team also leaving. As far as I know, I was the last of the bunch. Every single face of salesmen in the office was completely different when I quit. I didn’t recognise anyone other than the admins and the owners.
Normally when you quit a job it’s a big thing you’d ought to explain to everyone. But I left this one with the full support of my girlfriend, my parents, my grandparents and buddies I had made. And I wasn’t disappointed to be back on the job hunt; I was happy. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders as though I were free to live my life again.
For three weeks I had been taken advantage of and exploited for near free labour, alongside my colleagues. I only made £100 for all those hours. I had also been running my life at a significantly higher deficit than when I had been unemployed, accounting for the public transport I needed, new smart clothes I needed and lunch I purchased. Why didn’t I bring my own lunch? Because we all carpooled with one guy and couldn’t return to the car to eat anything after we got dropped off. I could eat my own sandwich in the morning, but anything after and I’d need to buy something. After that I’d have to wait until I got home, which would be anywhere between 7:30pm and 9pm, to cook.
Look at me digressing about lunch… I suppose I am now one of those disgruntled employees the owners bitch about to the others because “I just wasn’t cut out for it”. But I’m not mad about that. I’m proud. That job, that workplace and the conditions were all insidious.
At the time of writing this it’s been a week since I left, but maybe a few days longer by the time you’re reading. I’ve already had an interview for another position. During that interview I was asked why I left my previous job so quickly and I straight up told him I was lied to and taken advantage of. When I went into more detail, the interviewer knew what I was talking about and was able to identify the kind of company I had come from. He asked for the name and where it was, and noted it down on his clipboard for himself. The last I spoke about the company to him was to say I simply wanted an honest and reliable job. He responded by assuring me that, if I got the role, I’d have to comfort of knowing I worked for a real company. Ouch.
So if you thought my story was bogus hyperbole, and that my linked sources were too, just know there are people out there who are familiar with these companies, how they work and share the lack of respect we should all harbour towards them.
With that in mind, if you think you work for a Devil Corp then I’d highly encourage you to leave. If you don’t, you’ll be milked dry and out the door sooner or later anyway, with nothing left but the ‘I told you so’s‘ of your friends and family. Because the truth is that, in a technical sense, these companies are not a pyramid scheme. But what they are is a networking chain of disingenuous liars who prey upon the impressionable, the desperate and the young. In all but name they are a cult.
Wow. Yeah, those sales jobs really are the worst. Another great bit of journalism Alex! Kind of story that needs to be told. I think you have a book in you.
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Thank you for the kind words. The more people who know about these compaies the better, most certainly.
Truth is I have several books in me – it’s keeping them going that’s the hard part!
Wow, I am so proud of you Alex, you have highlighted an issue that others may not have known how to. Experiences like this need to be told and companies using these practices shamed.
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Thanks. The more people that know the better, so their time and money isn’t wasted. As I said, from the outside it might seem easy to avoid but getting stuck in this type of situation is easier than people might realise.