How I Got Into Sales Part 2: A Lesson In Customer Service

The Interview:

HerbWhen I walked into the dealership for my interview, I was met at the front door by one of the senior sales people.  He seemed mildly interested in me as a potential customer, but I could tell, as he eyed my Dockers and skinny tie, that it was pretty obvious to him that I was not going to be his big sale of the day.  The store was your stereotypical old school Lincoln Mercury dealership.  Its 1960’s style showroom with wood paneled walls housed a few other sales veterans standing at the entrance dressed like they were getting ready to audition for WKRP in Cincinnati. I told the salesman who greeted me that I was there for an interview with the general manager.  He immediately turned around and yelled across the showroom to the two other salesmen sitting at their desks, “He doesn’t count!” and then disappeared into the back office.  I felt awkward, like a lost dog, standing in the middle of the showroom not sure which way was home. 

Finally a friendly face came out and said hello. I told her who I was and she then walked me over to the General Managers office.  I stood at the door as he proceeded to finish his phone conversation or, better yet, his grinding session with a local advertiser for some print ad mistake.   He got up immediately shook my hand and closed the door.  He did not waste a single moment.  He looked me in the eyes and got right into the interview.  He talked about how much he loved the car business and everything that went along with it.  He talked about all kinds of things about the business including his desire and intention to own the dealership one day.  He talked about the thrill of closing a deal and, of course, the financial rewards that can follow.  He assured me that succeeding in this business would be all up to me.  This was exactly the kind of passion I wanted in a job. I kept thinking to myself about how great it would be to get that excited when talking about what I did for a living.  I didn’t have that for anything in my life.  Throughout the interview I didn’t really get to talk very much and thank god I didn’t because this guy was on a roll and I certainly didn’t need to blow another interview for myself.  Despite the chaos of sales people coming in and out looking for his help on deals, we finished the conversation and the deal was done. Yours truly was going to test his metal and learn to sell some cars.

First day as a Sales Consultant: 

MoreSalesIt was a Monday morning, I showed up at the store at 8:15am gearing up for the weekly sales meeting.  I’m sure anyone can relate to this feeling, it was one of those moments in my life where I felt the most vulnerable; uncertain as to how everything would work itself out.  The idea of the auto industry defining who I would become and the path my career would take was so far out of mind I might as well have gone through the day with a blind fold on.  There were two other guys starting with me so at least I was not the only new kid on the block.  I was one of 7 sales people, 6 of which had been in the business so long you would think they were around slinging cars the day the earth cooled. 

We all piled into this tiny conference room around a rectangle table covered in donut dust and half used pink and blue sugar packets.  The room felt as old as the stained and worn out white board on the wall next to the door.  I looked around the table feeling like the odd duck because everyone around the table wore a sport coat except for me.  I had to wear the same outfit I wore 3 days prior in my interview. I had nothing else to wear and couldn’t afford to buy any clothes because I blew all my money buying the $50 1979 Toyota Corolla that drove me to my interview.  8:30am on the nose the GM walked in the room, stood in front of everyone and said “Good morning everyone!” The staff returned the salutation in an unmotivated tone.  He paused for a second and glanced around the room clearly annoyed at the lack of enthusiasm.  He turned and started to write on the board, he wrote in big letters “Customer Service = More Sales“.  He began to tell a story about how he lost 3 potential sales in one day because he was so concerned about the next deal walking through the door that he would lose focus on the deal he had in front of him. He talked about how he was so concerned about the next “up” that he would skip steps in the sales process.  Half way through telling the story he stopped, turned to the door, opened it, stuck his head out, looked both ways and shut the door again. Then he pointed right to me and said in one of those sarcastic locker room tones “Leigh!  What was the best blow job you ever had??”  I was stunned; everyone in the room was looking at me as to how I was going to answer this crazy question.  If you’ve ever seen a horror movie when the camera zooms in on the character and everything behind the character zooms out, that is exactly what it felt like. 

So what did I do?  If you can believe it, I actually took him seriously.  I sat there and thought about it.  I wondered was it her? Oh no, maybe it was her?.  Finally, the GM stopped me mid-contemplation and yelled “The one you’re having right now!!!”  This may sound crazy and some of you may be thinking, wow! How unprofessional and you would be right.  However, that was when I really got it.  Not only did I get it, I got it on day one of my adventure into the world of automotive sales.  You can’t think about a past or a future sale.  The best sale you’ve ever had is always the one that is right in front of you.  Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten it any other way.

The purpose of that meeting was to get everyone to understand that the customer experience needed to be enhanced and if you are to succeed among your competition it is your responsibility to make that happen.  I walked out of that meeting not knowing how to sell a car yet, but I did know that I would embrace every customer interaction as if they were the only one on earth.  It would never matter how fruitful the next opportunity appeared.  Each customer was the only customer. That level of service resonates with the customer.  It guarantees more success; whether you close the deal or not.  This has proved itself to me time and time again.  This one lesson of service became the cornerstone of my career. Now, I don’t encourage using that analogy in today’s overly sensitive, politically correct world, however the moral of the story speaks volumes as to what kind of sales professional I would be in the years to come.

How I Got Into Sales Part 1

HyperkidIf you were around in the early 80′s and stumbled across me as a child you would have come to the conclusion that there would have been no way someone like myself could ever succeed in life let alone a career in the field of sales.  I was a troubled child from a poor family living in a duplex in Lowell Massachusetts, my mother working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s and my father pumping gas while trying to complete school.  I was your typical kid; however everybody around me saw an out of control hyperactive wild child.  If psychotropic drugs came PEZ flavored my PEZ dispenser would have had a giant “R” for Ritalin while everyone else had Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.  To make it all worse the Ritalin that I was prescribed was causing me to have a seizure disorder.  Throughout my entire childhood all the way up through high school I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy, even though looking back it was clear as day that it was caused by the medication I was taking at the time to keep me anchored.  I have no medical evidence to back this claim up; however the moment I stopped taking the Ritalin so did the seizures.  Don’t worry I’m getting to my point.  Growing up on the rough side of Lowell Massachusetts was tough in itself then you add a seizure disorder and learning/ behavioral problems to boot growing up is not exactly going to be a lot of fun.  Scholastically I was a mess, scoring in the lowest levels when it came to any math, reading comprehension or standardized testing.

In my earlier years the schools did not have a clue as to where to put me.  I remember sharing classrooms with children with Downs Syndrome and speech impediments.  That’s no hyperbole, I really did!  If you were to put all of these short comings in a big soup can and stick it on the store shelves it would be called “FAILURE IN A CAN”.  There were certain realities I needed to face about my educational abilities, I simply learned differently than other kids.  This was a fact that I did not want to accept; I spent most of my childhood and teenage years refusing to accept it and desperately trying to change it only to see myself fail time and time again.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t escape the behavioral and learning traits that came along with an attention deficit disorder. 

After high school I really wanted to go to college and try to make something of myself.  I wanted desperately to break the mold of who I was going into my adult years.  I had a lot of doubters around me, too many to count then again I didn’t exactly prove to anyone either that I was capable of doing anything constructive.  Again, being stubborn and rebellious I refused to accept that mold and sought to reinvent myself.  I started going to school part-time at Rivier College that first semester after high school.  I could only afford to take two classes so I did and got two “B” grades.  I took those B grades and I applied for Plymouth State College now Plymouth State University and was quickly rejected.  I guess you could say my next move would have been my first field sales call.  I took my two “B” grades got in my car and drove to Plymouth State College unannounced and forced myself into a meeting with the head of admissions.  Not sure if I could pull that off today, however surprisingly my ambition paid off somehow during our exchange I was able to pull a Jedi mind trick on the guy and convinced him to admit me as a full-time student.  I tried the best I could, however my grades were mediocre at best and my finances were becoming grimmer.  Three years into my college experience I made a decision to take a year off and pay off some bills fully intending of course to return and finish.  I did everything I could to stay in school; I even ended up having my car repossessed in the process. 

During that “year off” I was working two jobs one waiting on tables while the other working part-time at a youth detention center.  I was working out at the gym one day and a gentleman that I ran into all the time sold cars for a living at a Volvo dealership.  He always drove around in a fancy new Volvo and I thought it was great that he had a new car every other week and seemed to be making a boat load of money doing it; well it was a boat load to me at the time.  That was when I started to consider getting into car sales but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it.  So I combed the newspapers for dealerships that were looking for sales people.  It was the mid 90′s and the country was coming out of a recession so finding dealerships that were looking for sales people were fairly easy.  I was so excited to have interviews lined up, had no I idea what I would say or do but boy was I excited.  Interview after interview in my Dockers, Button Down Oxford and thin Oak-Tree tie was told thanks but no thanks. They all wanted someone with experience, I was a little disappointed to say the least. 

JobSearchWhile I was working at the local Country Club I stumbled across an ad from a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in town looking for a sales person.  At this point I was ready to just give up but I drummed up enough motivation to pick up the phone and inquire about the job.  I dialed the number and it turned out that the general manager picked up the phone.  Without missing a beat I said “I saw your ad in the paper, I have no experience and never sold cars before.  The only thing I’ve ever sold was a bottle wine.  So far nobody wants to talk to me, so I don’t want to waste your time.  Is it worth me coming in and filling out an application?”  If having the worst pitch for a job was an Olympic sport I would’ve gotten the gold-medal that day.  Something was different this time though.  The person on the other end of the phone paused for a moment and said “OK…. hmmm… Leigh you know what selling cars is no different than selling a bottle of wine or a fancy meal; it’s just on a bigger plate. Come on in!

Whoa, what just happened?  Did I just land an interview?  Yes, yes I did and here was where the roller coaster of my career began…