World’s Greatest Car Salesman
I start a new career as a car salesman to prove that good marketing and treating people right can make a difference in ANY industry
“You will die in a fiery crash. Beheading is not out of the question.”
Yea, I know. Not a great way to start an article. Also not a great way, it turns out, to sell a car. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I was told last summer when I was dumb enough to step foot on the lot at a Toyota dealership in California.
Unless you’re dumber than Jessica, Homer, and OJ combined, you already know that car sales people are notoriously slimy and obnoxious. That’s why I avoid dealerships like A-Rod avoids urine tests. But when my wife finally convinced me it was time to trade in her six-year-old Sequoia, I was stuck.
First up, the Cadillac dealership. When we got there, I had apparently missed the 2 ½ foot directional signage and inadvertently parked on the used car side of the dealership. I know this because the cheesiest caricature of a salesman you’ve ever seen instantly appeared—mustache, gold chains, chest hair, and all. Surely they don’t let guys like this sell new Cadillacs; yet there he was. He asked what we were looking for to which I replied the Cadillac version of the Suburban. The only word he heard was “Suburban” to which he replied (shocker) he had the perfect one for us.
Sure enough, he had precisely ONE suburban parked right there on the lot—black with pimped out chrome rims. It’s not like the vehicle was horrible, but it WAS used and WAS NOT a Cadillac. What a turn off for a dealership that spends all of is advertising dollars to tell us that service and sales presentation are of utmost importance. This is the same dealership that has a famous owner who wrote a book called “Customers for Life.” Today they would have to settle for “potential customers for 2.5 minutes.” We bailed out before ever actually seeing a Caddy.
Conveniently, the Toyota dealership was right next door. This is where fire and death come into the equation. Upon hearing that we were even considering a Suburban, the Toyota salesman almost had a heart attack. He informed us that he was a former police officer and in 21 years of duty, he “couldn’t tell us how many times he arrived at the scene of an accident involving a Suburban wherein the people were already dead.” Suburbans, he went on to explain, don’t have good crash safety ratings; they flip over, catch on fire, and on occasion, he let it slip—even behead passengers.
Naturally, my wife was mortified. Not that we had just been verbally bludgeoned by officer CHiPs, but by the possibility that our family would end up somewhere between original recipe and extra crispy. After all, Ponch told us he never saw any such carnage in 21 years involving a Toyota product. Here’s a good “BS” test for you. If you haven’t seen something covered on 20/20 or 60 Minutes, it’s probably not true. Do you really think Stossel would let a story THAT good go unnoticed? Me either.
A trip across the freeway to the Chevy dealership and subsequent check at online confirmed that both vehicles’ crash test ratings were just fine. Guess what, SUVs are more likely to roll over than a car—Suburban or Sequoia. At least they had free hot dogs at the Chevy dealership. After visiting three dealerships I still wasn’t any closer to buying a new car.
But I was closer to a new profession. As I sat down to think about how rotten I had been treated, I decided that there HAS GOT to be a better way to sell cars than lying to people and beating them over the head. And that’s when I decided to become the World’s Greatest Car Salesman. The last man to hold the title was the famous Joe Girard, but his amazing run of leading the world in new car sales ENDED 32 years ago. I think it’s time to crown a new champ.
It wouldn’t really be that hard to pull off—several core innovation and marketing principles are all that will be required. Things like treating people fairly and not being a lying scum bucket are obvious. You’d probably also guess that I’d have to leverage the internet in today’s wired world—and I will. But what you’ll see as you read the 14 steps that follow is a simple execution of the our marketing system system…innovating, educating, and having some fun.
So with that backdrop, I present you with my plan to become the World’s Greatest Car Salesman…in 14 steps. This week I’ll concentrate on steps 1 through 6, and pick up the last 8 steps next week.
Step 1: What Convinces Is Conviction
The first step is to choose the right brand to sell. There’s a quote from Lyndon B Johnson that says, “What convinces is conviction. Believe in the argument that you’re advancing. If you don’t, you’re as good as dead. The other person will sense that something isn’t there, and no chain of reasoning, no matter how logical or brilliant or elegant will win your case for you.”
I believe that quote to be the gospel truth, and I know that most car salesmen don’t. They just go to whichever dealership happens to offer them a job with the best commissions. In order to become the world’s greatest car salesman, I am not going to work wherever the commission rate takes me. Instead, I’ll go where I feel the best about the vehicle.
I’ll start with a “consumer grade” brand… which simply means I want to choose a car that sells in high volume anyway so I have more fish in the pond when I start. I’m sure that Porsche is a nice brand, but I’m also sure that Honda, Toyota, Chevy, and Ford outsell it by a huge margin..
Within the “lot of fish” category, I’ll meticulously research each brand and it’s flagship model—Honda’s Accord, Toyota’s Camry, Ford’s Focus, Chevy’s Malibu—as well as their main trucks, SUVs, and economy cars. I’ll grade each car on looks, interior, engine warranty, reliability, online user reviews, gas mileage, etc.—and choose whichever brand comes out the best across all of the categories.
Once I decide on the brand, I will buy one—an absolutely fully loaded one. Why? Because a big part of this step is going to be me looking at the prospect and saying to him, “See that car right out there. That’s mine. I drive it, and here’s why.” There’s a huge credibility issue if you’re not driving the car you’re selling. To become the WGCS, I’m going to have to go “all in.”
Step 2: Understanding The Numbers
Step two—understanding the numbers—is the most important step. I’ve got to get out my calculator—the marketer’s most important tool—and see what I can afford to spend to get to the top. On the average car, dealerships will gross about $2,500 to $3,000. And the average marketing budget for a large, big-city dealership is about $150,000 a month during normal times… no doubt scaled back more recently.
The average salesman sells about 12 cars a month and makes about $300 a car. Doing the math that comes to $3,600 a month and roughly $40,000 a year. A good salesman will sell double that—20 cars a month—and make about $350 to $400 per car because he will also earn bonuses. The more cars he sells the more bonuses kick in the more money he makes.
Because the best salesmen are recruited with signing bonuses and negotiable commission structures, I’m going to walk into the dealership of the brand that I’ve chosen and negotiate with the sales manager. I’m going to offer him the following commission structure:
• If I sell 20 or less cars in a month, I earn regular commissions of $300 per vehicle.
• If I sell 20 to 29 cars a month, I want a $400 flat rate per car. The dealership will be able to take advantage of me on some of these sales because some of these sales would have resulted in higher commissions under normal circumstances.
• If I sell between 30 and 39 cars a month, I want a flat commission of $550 per car.
• Finally, if I sell 40 or more in a month, I want $700 flat per car. Now I’m in territory that’s very, very uncommon. Nobody sells 40 or more cars a month. It just doesn’t happen. The sales manager will agree because in his mind, he has nothing to lose. He thinks my chance of actually doing it are zero…and in the off chance I do make it to this lofty plateau, he’ll be making a ton of money off me himself.
Why can’t anybody sell more than 40 cars in a month? Time is the number one excuse. It takes time just to deal with people and to write up the sales. But it also turns out that about 75% of a car salesman’s time is sitting around doing flipping nothing—looking on the internet or reading the newspaper—with his thumb up his proverbial backside waiting on a prospects to wander onto the lot.
So here’s my goal: I’m going to sell 50 cars in a month, and I’m going to make $35,000 in monthly commissions. Not a bad salary for a car salesman…and as you’ll see in this model, the amount I actually pocket and take home will actually be quite a bit less because there will be expenses involved. But I’ll also be able to tack on another $5,000 to $10,000 dollars a month as I get into some joint ventures that I’ll discuss a little bit later.
Out of that $35,000 a month I will spend $10,000 as follows: $3,000 for an assistant, $2,000 towards future promotions (which I’ll talk about later), $1,500 towards car payments (which I’ll also discuss shortly), and $3,500 a month towards marketing costs. Believe it or not, I’m actually going to spend some of my own money out of my own pocket on marketing. That will give me $25,000 a month of profit, plus whatever I can make from joint ventures, which should be a lot. Everything listed above will be deductible on my taxes as a business expense. I think you’d agree that $300,000 to $400,000 a year is pretty good compensation for the heretofore miserable car salesman. I’d guess that Mr. Chest Hair makes a tenth of that if he’s lucky.
Step 3: Introducing The World’s Greatest Car Salesman
Now that I have my numbers calculated, let’s move to step three: creating a brand identity. I’m not talking about an identity for the car; I’m talking about a brand identity that instills that I am in fact the World’s Greatest Car Salesman. How did we know Muhammad Ali was the greatest boxer? He told us so! Sure he backed it up in the ring—just like I’m going to back it up on the lot—but like with Ali, there’s something magic about somebody who claims to be the best in the world.
So first things first. I will officially anoint myself “The World’s Greatest Car Salesman.” I’ll put my audacious title on my cards, on my website, on everything. Then I’ll let cognitive confirmation bias do it’s job. What’s that? It is one’s tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions…while avoiding information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs. Stated otherwise, if I tell people I’m the WGCS, they’ll believe it and look for evidence to support it, and discount any evidence they see that contradicts it.
Besides merely being clean cut, friendly, knowledgeable, transparent in all my transactions, low pressure, and respectful, I need prospects to identify me, recognize me, and revere me as literally The World’s Greatest Car Salesman. If I don’t cap my great inside reality off with the monarchal world’s greatest car salesman title, people aren’t going to pay quite as much attention to me. And trust me, I need people to pay attention to me if I’m going to sell 50 cars a month, month in and month out.
Step 4: Build A Case For The Cars
Now that I’ve started to brand myself, it’s time to build a case for the cars. I already researched the cars when deciding what brand to sell…and now I need to create a printed report for each category (compact, full size, SUV, etc.). I’m actually going to have it designed, laid out, and printed to become, in essence, my own consumer reports. It will contain plenty of evidence collected from car magazine reviews, editorials, Edmonds.com, cars.com, crash test comparisons, fuel consumption reports, etc. I will also include testimonials from drivers and my customers.
The information that you could normally expect to get from car salesmen mostly comes from two sources—the car brochure and their big, fat, flapping traps. The same flapping trap, mind you, that also yaks about pulling a bunch of headless bodies out of Suburbans.
A basic marketing principle is that people tend to believe what they see more than what they hear, and a marketing tool in the form of a printed comparative report is going to go a long way toward enhancing my credibility and adding clarity to the prospects’ decision making processes. I will send this report out to my prospects in the mail (as you’ll see, they’ll be setting appointments with), make it available on my website, and keep a few copies on hand in my cubicle at the dealership.
Are you starting to see why step 1—choosing the right car—was so important now? If I’m going to be showing which car is the best, it had better be the one I’m representing. I don’t want to go through this whole process and say, “Hey the Maxima really is better than the Camry, so why don’t you go get one of those.” I’ve got to create a defendable position.
Since I am trying to sell an unheard-of 50 cars a month, step four doesn’t stop at the just the marketing tool. Remember the $1,500 a month I budgeted for cay payments? I am going to lease or buy the top two competing models in at least two categories. In other words, if I’m selling Toyotas, I’m going to own a Toyota Camry of my own (per previous discussion) and I’m going to buy a Honda Accord and a Chevy Malibu. I am also going to buy two more cars in a different category (compact, truck, SUV) for a total of five vehicles.
For what purpose? So my customers can compare them, take them for test drives, and see exactly what my marketing tool is describing. I’ll park these cars onsite if possible. If my sales manager won’t allow it, I’ll just park them offsite and use the test-drive car to drive over to the other car location. I will find some place close by to put these things regardless. This step is absolutely critical, so finding a way to handle the logistics is of utmost importance.
$1,500 a month may sound cheap for four car payments…but check this out: even though my plan calls for buying a fully loaded Toyota for myself, it only demands base models from my competitors. Inside these cars, I will hang signs to point out their deficiencies. This is important. Not only will I educate my prospect with a report, I’ll offer up the cars for comparison and continue highlighting their deficiencies inside of them. Do you think cognitive confirmation bias is going to start doing me a favor? The answer is you had better believe it.
Think it sounds like I really might be the world’s greatest car salesman? I’m only getting started! But let’s quickly review what I’ve done so far: I’ve given my prospects a report with definitive information in black and white. I’ve already researched everything for them. I’ve even let them test drive other brands of cars on my lot. And what should I do if they’re interested in buying a brand/model that I don’t own a comparison car of? Easy. Since most of my appointments will be set in advance, I’ll borrow a car from a friend or simply drop my prospect off at the competition’s lot. He’ll be counting on me for a ride back to his car at my dealership, so it’s not like he’s going to buy the competitor’s car before I get him back. I’ll figure it out. Remember I need to sell 50 cars a month, not a paltry 20. Extraordinary results demand extraordinary efforts.
Step 5: Consumer Advocate
For step five, I will step over to the customer’s side and expose the typical car lot’s tactics. I will document the biggest ways car dealers or car salesmen rip off and cheat customers and teach customers how to identify the tricks in a 4 to 8 page brochure. Working at a car dealership exposes these tricks really quickly. Price transparency is the quickest way to unveil the cheats. Car prices are all about the same if you strip away the tricks. When car manufacturers sell the cars to the dealers there’s a little bit of pricing latitude possible and volume affects pricing some, but overall they’re about the same.
Because customers expect to be cheated at a car lot, the lowest price isn’t their primary concern surprisingly. People just want to know that they are being dealt with in a forthright manner. If I’m that salesman, they’ll quickly love me. They can even take my brochure to any other car dealership. Heck, I’ll even drop them off so they can see for themselves. Inevitably, all the other car dealerships are going to hate my freaking guts. I’m okay with that. Even other salesmen at my own dealership will start to wish me dead. I will deal with that, too.
Step 6: Relentless Follow Up
Now it’s time to create a hopper system. Anyone who crosses my path goes into my hopper system. Every “Up” (that’s car salesman lingo for a prospect who walks onto the car lot), every person that I know, people I play basketball with, my neighbors, my friends, the guy that’s at the drive-thru at Wendy’s or anybody that I can get my hands on are going into my hopper system. And I’m going to gather as much information on them as I can. I’m going to find out what kind of car they drive and how long they’ve had it; I’m going to find out when their birthday is, I’m going to find out what their kids’ names are, I’m going to find out when their anniversary is; I’m going to find out anything and everything I can. I’m going to find all of this information out, and I’m going to plug it into my hopper system.
Then every two weeks, I’m going to send standard emails that will educate them about cars, the buying process, and financing. Where do you think I’m going to get this information? Right out of the reports that I’ve already written—the car reports and the hard dealer tricks and price transparency report. I’m going to make sure that the WGCS branding shines through—absolutely shines through—so that everyone starts to believe I really am the World’s Greatest Car Salesman.
Also, every once in a while, I’m also going to send special emails. I will categorize the context by interests. Are my prospects interested in business, cars, sports, movies, music, etc.? Whatever it is I’m going to have my assistant spend a couple of hours a week researching some interesting things on the Internet. Then I’m going to send interesting articles to the right people. On their birthdays, anniversaries, kids’ birthdays, holidays, and all of these kinds of special situations I’m going to send special emails, too. These people will hear from me about once a week on average.
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