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.