Many moons ago, I sold cars for a living. Old cars, new cars, red cars, blue cars – I sold them all. A lot of them. But the first day I walked into that Suzuki dealership to start my short but illustrious career in auto sales, I knew nothing about cars, other than put the key in the ignition, turn it and pray it goes. Fact is, I’m a bit of a Luddite so overhead cams, fuel-injection and 16 valves could have been part of heart surgery for all I knew. Yet somehow I got lucky and sold my first car that day.
Right after I closed the sale and the moment of elation faded, I realized that if I was going to make any money in this business, I was going to have to put my big girl pants on and figure out what the hell I was doing.
So I decided to get to know the vehicles. Intimately (no, not that way). When things were slow on the floor, I’d head into the shop to chat with the mechanics, asking questions about the engines, how things worked, just what the heck WAS a double-overhead cam and why did it matter. I learned and then brought that knowledge about our cars to my customers. And it worked. Within a couple of months, I was the top seller and got lucky again when the Nissan dealership wooed me to work for them.
Because Nissan was a fabulous company, with excellent vehicles (and much better profit margins). But most importantly, they believed in educating their sales teams on not only about their own vehicles, but about their competitors’ offerings as well. Pure genius.
So once a month, we’d attend a full-day workshop with other Nissan dealers where the morning was spent going over all the specs of each vehicle – where ours dominated and didn’t. Jeep, Toyota, Ford – we picked each one apart from tip to tailpipe, the good, the bad, the stuff they’d rather not talk about.
But after lunch is when the real learning took place, when we got behind the wheel of each vehicle and test drove them in succession and into submission. We spared no mercy, especially when we were comparing the Nissan Pathfinder against the Jeep Cherokee, the Toyota Forerunner and the Ford Explorer. They let us loose on a farmer’s field with hills and mud (which probably seemed like a good idea on paper) to see just what kind of abuse each 4X4 could withstand (quite a bit, apparently).
Once back at the dealership, I’d share all this fantabulous, first-hand experience with my customers. I approached each client with a fearlessness, because I was confident in my knowledge, my experience, my ability to discuss how superior my product was in meeting the client’s needs.
“I know you’re not just looking at the Pathfinder,” I’d say, ” because you’re an informed consumer, so when you head over to the Toyota dealer, notice how the Forerunner is basically the body of their pickup truck made into a passenger vehicle. Feel how rough the ride is compared to the Pathfinder, which has been engineered specifically as a 4 x 4.” Etc. etc. etc.
Customers were shocked. Here, instead of the typical “sleazy” sales pitch, was a thoughtful, informative discussion about the various product options. I was viewed by my clients as an expert, not someone trying to turn a quick buck. They trusted my opinion, they trusted my knowledge, they trusted me. So they bought. Then they recommended me to their friends, and they bought. And then they recommended me to their friends, and so on and so on and so on.
I learned the secret to fearlessly selling that day in the 4X4 – know your product, and your competitors’, inside-out. Nobody likes to be sold to but everybody wants an expert to show them what is best to help them.
Be the expert. Don’t sell…show.