I am an admitted nerd. I mean, I remember when that was a bad thing, but as of late nerd has morphed into something different. I am not writing this to discuss the word nerd or how it applies to me. Although now that I am nearly 3 sentences in I felt like I needed to say that to justify my enjoyment of NPR, podcasts, and things some people might find boring.
Screw it; it’s 2014 and this is my first post, I’m gonna go with it.
Anyway, I am really into this podcast called This American Life. It airs on NPR, but a twitter buddy, Kate, turned me onto it before I ever heard a single actual broadcast on the radio. I was hooked.
Well there was a recent episode titled “129 Cars”. It was a long form piece on a car dealership on Long Island, NY on their quest to sell 129 cars in the month of October 2013 to end the month in the black, meaning in profit.
Kate wanted my thoughts on this one. I saw it sitting there in my podcast app for a little bit, wondering when I would get around to listening. Well today I did it. I listened to all 70 minutes of it.
So now if you have any hope of following the rest of this blog, you should probably spend an hour and listen. If you want to listen and read my notes to every section of it, feel free. I am trying really hard here to not have that Jerry Maguire moment where he puts all his thoughts out there and then is ridiculed and fired for them. I am going to give you my thoughts as I pull from my own, very short time in the car business. Am I the best salesman at my dealership? Far from it, but I strive every month to compete against myself. I will talk more about this later.
Anyway, go here and hit play, and follow along.
So when you meet this manager, I am blown away by his defeatist attitude. How is this guy a leader when he gives it a 50/50 shot at making their goal? I start to believe that he might not believe in the team he has. He might not believe in himself as a leader. I don’t understand how he operates.
It is true that car salesman work on commission, I think this is the way it has been since the dawn of time. I think working on commission enhances your strengths and weaknesses very very quickly. Mentally you either feast or you famine.
This manager talks about his frustration regarding the ever changing goals they get to make this “bonus” from Chrysler. Again this goes back to my opinion of this guy’s attitude. I don’t understand how he is letting someone/thing else dictate their level of success.
This particular dealership says that there are many car dealers around them. Competition is tough. But again he is playing another man’s game. He is playing someone else’s game. He isn’t setting his own rules. Of course they are in a do or die situation. They are only thinking one month at a time.
This isn’t just car sales. This is sales in general. This gripeing and carrying on is common across every single sales position I have ever had, except the one I have now. Where I am, I don’t ever get that defeatist attitude from my managers. These types of excuses can put you out of business very very quickly and hurt your bottom line.
So the idea of going to a car dealership for one car and leaving with another is actually quite common. Let’s think about it for a minute. A sale is when value exceeds perceived cost. No matter what you buy, this will always be the case.
So in this case a salesman did his job. He sold her a car. Great, but they keep you in the dark about how he did it. Was the car she went there for gone? Was it that she looked at the car that pulled her in and found out it exceeded her needs or didn’t fill them at all? They don’t expound, and this kind of sets up a typical scenario that paints the car sales industry with a negative light. I think this is all intentional. It is a produced radio show.
I think in every sales team there is a certain dynamic that involves some level of tongue and cheek kidding. Lots of times, in a male dominated industry, the level of kidding is a bit over the top. See also firefighters, police officers, and the military. Car sales is a male dominated industry. Why? No idea.
There is a certain truth to the fact that when a customer comes to a car lot, they are looking to buy a car. There are so many tools out there that let customers “window shop” at home. So when they get in a car, set time aside, and come in, you can understand the perception that the customer is ready to buy. When you get that customer, there is that stupid popular acronym, ABC (always be closing). Thanks Alec Baldwin for putting that out there for every sales manager ever to shove it down the throats of every salesman out there.
They talk about loading lips. I have heard this slung around. I haven’t had coaching like this, at least not phrased like this. Anyway, this particular dealership is a “negotiating store”. I have ZERO experience in this type of sales. Where I work we are an “UpFront Price” dealer. So our prices are set at the lowest we can sell them. What does that mean?
You can probably get a better deal down the road, but what you have to go through to get that deal is more than likely not worth it. We would rather give every single person the same deal, than make one person happy only to have to screw someone else to make up for it. I say screw a customer, because at anytime you try and trick, add in money, or not be as transparent as possible with your customer you are screwing them. The customer may never even know it, but the sales guy does know it. How you can do that to people is beyond me. How places like this even exist in today’s social media landscape is, again, beyond me.
One of the hottest points of contention with almost every single car deal is the value of the trade. Always. There are tools out there like KBB.com, Autotrader, and Edmunds.com, and N.A.D.A., and of course your Uncle “who knows cars”.
Here is how I handle trades. I am honest about it. I look over the car with my customer. Acknowledge the dents together. Understand what it is we are both looking at so when I give it to my manager to appraise, we both know the condition, so when he goes out there to put a number on it, there aren’t surprises. Also having the customer understand how you do business. How do we do appraisals? Well this is exactly how we do it. We don’t make things up. We look at what this local market is doing.
You’ll hear a lot in here about what the cars are “doing at the auction”. Why do you hear it? Because those are the folks writing checks for the cars. Call up Kelley at KBB.com to write you a check for the value they placed on it. KBB is a tool, but not the Bible on car values. But in the end, being honest to your customer is the only way to do business, the only way I will do business.
This idea that it is us, the car dealer, against them, the customer, is just a crappy way to do business. Who wants to come to work every day and look at everyone who walks through the door as an enemy? God, I don’t. Customers literally write my paycheck. They only pay me when they buy a car. Why would I treat them like an enemy? I want to them to come back eventually and buy another car. Maybe this US v THEM idea is why this dealership is in trouble.
So every team has a guy who has the least amount of sales. No matter how many sales there are, unless everyone is tied, then someone will always have more sales than everyone and someone will have the least.
I was last at one point in the past two months. I mean not last last at the end of the month, but there was a time I was the only person that had yet to sell a damn car on the 15th of the month. Why is that? I have the skills, I have the desire, but did I execute? Did I lay back somehow? Probably. If I could identify specifically what I did wrong I would love to see it. Some managers might have told me I wasn’t being challenged enough. Some managers might tell me I am not applying myself. Some manager might tell me I am a fluke. Or is it me telling myself that?
Most of the time when I get in a rut, it is 100% my fault. No one elses. I stopped doing something, or something I was doing that made it so easy the month before isn’t working this month. Instead of trying to change my approach I might start to make excuses. In the end, I get into my own head. This is when you need a good leader to help you out of your funk. A meeting behind a closed door. A colleague recognizing you’re down. In this case a manager basically says to the guy in last place, thanks for playing.
Many people respond to different things. I don’t respond to getting yelled at. I respond to someone taking the time to help me learn a new skill. 90% of sales is a mind game. 10% is skill.
What this sales guy is experiencing with his sales desk is something everyone who is new will ultimately experience. The manager gets a lead, he wants his best guys on the case. If you can’t prove you are one of the best guys, you won’t get it. Instead of looking at the sales managers and getting pissed, ask them what you need to do to get a lead like that. Learn, understand the expectations. In the corporate world they have these “coaching sessions” where the manager must communicate his expectations. They are pointless meetings. I hated being a manager giving one, I hate being the salesman in them. You need to understand what is what, ask questions. Then when they say, you need to step up and sell more cars, up your game.
This is where they show you the mental dichotomy of the worst guy in the place from the best guy in the place. It is 100% mental. You go from having a guy who isn’t tight with his sales desk to a guy who is on board with his desk, but in reality, he just sets goals.
This is when you will hear me refer to sales as a game. Once you mentally tell yourself you are just playing a game, sales becomes so much easier. The best guy in the dealership just plays his game. He puts on his blinders and goes to work. I am sure he does things his manager’s don’t like, but when you are the best, you may get some latitude to do what you want.
The best guy in the building doesn’t pay attention to the schedule. The best guy is always there. He is always hungry for the next one. The first week in the car business the General Manager of our dealership told us that the best feeling in the world is getting a customer to sign the buyer’s order and leave with a car. You get a high. Your brain gives off the best chemicals ever, and once they are gone, it shuts it off, and you turn into a junkie looking for the next fix. You see that whole thing at play. If you aren’t this passionate about your profession then what is the point?
The money they are talking about with car salesman isn’t far from the truth. Is it possible to make over $100,000? Yes, but you need to really want it. Is it possible to step out of the gate and make this money? Yes. But you need to hustle and want it. You can’t come in, punch a clock and make that kind of money. Impossible. You also can’t make that type of money in the real world without college degrees and year and years of student debt. If you can, you are the exception and not the rule.
This also moves you into the mantra you HAVE to say to yourself. Car sales is not a job. It is a lifestyle. You are fueled by adrenaline and caffeine. Most are also fueled by nicotine. Why? You are constantly stressing yourself out. Not in a bad way. I enjoy the level of stress I place on myself. But some people want to come to work, do what they need to do and go home. They want structure, they want the constant security blanket of a steady paycheck. Their paychecks don’t change no matter how much they work extra. I can’t do that. Maybe that is why I got so damn bored at the bank. I could work 55 hours a week and not get paid anything extra. Yeah sure the bonuses they gave you was extra, but to me, it wasn’t worth it. It didn’t satisfy my needs.
I when you talk to car salesmen enough, you will also find this type of theme throughout everything.
Mistakes happen. They do. Some dealers have checks and balances. There are a few levels of approval that need to happen. Do things like this happen? Sure. Rarely, but they do happen.
At our dealership here is how it works, no real big secrets. You come in, once you test drive and want to take that car home, we will fill out a buyer’s order. This is a contract. So when I sit down we fill all out together. I always ask name spellings. No matter how easy it is to spell Mark, I always ask. I might know your address and phone number and county, but I ask. Why? Because that way if something gets messed up we can look at each other and say, well we both got it wrong. When it comes to numbers, I like to work them directly in front of the customer. First of all, they know exactly what we are looking at. There are no secrets. Transparency. The customer can say, great looks good, I want to sign up and take it. I always always have the desk check the math first. Before anyone signs on the dotted line, I want someone to check me. 99% of the time I am dead on accurate, but that 1% can cost me, the dealership, and the customer a lot of money.
One thing I can say is that if a mistake is made in the customer’s favor, like this one, obviously we try and explain it, but if the customer pushes back, we make the customer happy especially if it got through a few levels of checks.. Easy as that. Isn’t that the way it should be? But this is why I have someone check it. Then once I know it is right, the customer knows it’s right, then we sign off on it and send it into the finance office to bank approval. It is really as simple as that. Seriously.
But mistakes happen. We are human. But selling the same car twice is something I never experienced before. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but where I work, our sales managers are on top of what was sold to whom. We put every deal a glass door so we all can see it. But in this dealership in this broadcast is a little disoriented by always having to scramble because they aren’t slowing down and playing their own game. They are playing someone else’s.
This is the last day. This dealership needs 9 and the GM is scared it won’t happen? I want to scream at him. I am just a salesman, I know, but I work in a dealership that wants to set the trends, not keep up with them. That’s why we have the largest inventory across all 5 of our dealers than our next 5 largest competitors combined.
This goes for any industry. Stop competing with the ghost of your competitors. Don’t be limited by anything but your abilities and desires. Put on the blinders and play your game by your rules.
At this point in the month this dealership is giving away money to their customers just to get them to move units. This is why the general public likes to come in at the end of the month. This is why at the beginning of the month the showrooms are barren. They know they get a better deal at the end of the month. What kind of business is this place running?
Again, we don’t do business this way. The only change in our prices from the beginning of the month are if the manufacturer changes the rebates or incentives. Really. No really. Even with all that, car dealers really don’t make all that much per car. Our dealership is no different. Where we are different is that we sell a large volume of cars. How do we do that? By treating the customer right. Being upfront. There are dealers who use this “UpFront” pricing as a gimmick to get you in, but if you push them, they cave. This is not a gimmick to me or my dealer. People enjoy buying cars from us. I haven’t heard a single customer of mine tell me they had a terrible time when they came to buy a car. Quite the opposite.
This whole act talks about the lifestyle of selling cars. It really is a lifestyle. You have to live and breath the business to be successful. Some people can’t take this. Divorces happen. Disagreements happen. But then this goes back to your communication level with the spouse. I am sure there is a time and a place where my wife wants me to take the day off and I can’t. But if there is an agreement upfront about what each other wants, then I don’t understand the problems. But this might be where my naivety comes in because I got into the business after a solid 1 year of unemployment. My wife is just glad I am working and making money, no matter how sporadic it might be.
But I think this is an important aspect a customer might need to know when coming into buy a car. Understand the person trying to make your car dreams come true is missing something with his family. Maybe you the customer don’t care. That is fine. But if you are a manger and don’t live and breath the car dealership, don’t do it.
I love my job. I clock a lot of hours some weeks, and I don’t mind it. But this career drains me so by the time I get home, I am so drained. This is how I know I am doing it right. If I come home with tons of energy, it means I missed something at work, I could have put just that much more into the day to make a sale, make that extra phone call, return that extra email. When I get home, sometimes I have an hour maybe 2 before I am in bed to rest for the next day. It sucks that my wife works and conflicting schedule than mine, but I think that is for the better. I put the kids in bed, and then go to bed. I don’t feel guilty going to bed early when the wife is at work. I feel terribly guilty when I go to bed early when she is home at night. I feel like I am missing something, so I fall asleep on the couch trying to stay up for her.
Again, I stress, this is a lifestyle.
Finally this is how sales should work. If you wait for a customer to come in, like it seems this dealership is, you will fail, like this dealership is nearly doing.
You need to get on the phones, work the social network. Our general manager says we are always running for election. Don’t ever let your friends and family forget what you are doing. This is how you make money. Are people tired of hearing that I sell cars? Probably, but that is why I try and mix it up. I get excited about things. I want to share them. I try and make sure you know I love my job, and people like to talk to people that love what they do. I really really love what I do.
Don’t be limited by the number of times the door swings. I can tell you with complete conviction that most of my sales come from you. My friend, who by this time might still be reading this epic blog. Not many folks can hang in for 3600 words, but you’re doing it well. You are the reason I can sell cars. If I was dependent on the number of times the door swings and I am there to help, I would be broke and unemployed.
I think as friends, we all want each other to succeed. I don’t want to be friends with a failure, and I want to support my friends and family, so it seems natural you need to make sure everyone knows what you do.
Oh the model of calm. All hell breaks loose and there is always that guy who is calm, cool, and collected. This is the perfect example of why it is important to play your own game. Set your own level of success. This guy likes to take car sales and dilute it down into digestible tidbits relating to war. Whatever you need to do to understand how to play your game, then so be it.
This guy talks about getting a customer to do what he wants. I like to think he is just giving his customers options. He is understanding what how his customer wants to be sold something. He is just being attentive. This is something you have to do. Not the same approach works every time. You have to be able to listen and respond. In the end if a customer doesn’t buy a car from you, it has nothing to do with whatever excuse you give yourself. It has to do with you. Your customer just didn’t like you, trust you, or maybe a mixture of both.
If you can relate to your customer and can make a friend, then that is all you need. Bend over backwards for them. Don’t walk to get the keys to the car. Run. Don’t just put them in the car. Educate them about the car. Don’t slam a competitor. Competition is good. Be nice. You are selling not only a car, but yourself, your dealership, your excitement, your knowledge, but this isn’t the car business. This whole podcast is not about cars. It is about people. The people who buy cars and the people who sell them.
I must remember that if a customer walks away without buying a car, they just didn’t like me. At least that is how I feel. Is it the truth? I don’t know.
If you got this far, thanks for hanging in there. This is where they wrap up the podcast. Yay the dealership made their goal. But they have a team that can hustle, imagine if they hustled like that every day and not just the last week of the month?
I am not the best salesman in the world. Hell a colleague of mine might even look at this and say, that I am full of shit by this point and that I might not practice what I am preaching here. Hell I might read this and say, hell if I did all of this, then I should be doing better.
But the car business isn’t about cars. It is about people. December 2013 I ended the month with 8 cars. The month before 4.5 (split a car deal with a colleague for helping me out). The month before that I sold 7. These aren’t the best months I have ever had in the car business, but I did learn this past month that I can sell cars without the need to check in with the desk. My process clicked. Now that it has, watch out. But then again my new found skillset might just be a false positive. But how I approach my days is on me.
Cars aren’t thought out purchases half the time; 90
5 of the time they are impulsive.. They are a phone call saying that they might need a car. My goal is to find you your next car when you come and see me and have you leave with it. I will tell you this upfront. It is up to you to tell me that you are ready or not.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. Let me know if you want to buy a car. I’m ready to help you.
In reality, customers are numb to advertising about cars. We could advertise a free car, you won’t car. Look at Kia, they give a free car away half the time. If you think it is all free, well, yeah it isn’t.There is a cost somewhere.
Any additional questions you might have, please ask in the comments, I am an open book.