Monday, November 9, 2009

I Gotta Go to Work Today or Selling Azteks for Fun and Profit

Today’s the day. After 9 months of being unemployed, I’m going back to a “sales line” at a local car dealership.

I haven’t sold cars since May, 2003. Until January of this year I was a consultant and trainer to car dealers. I represented the manufacturer and worked with the dealership on practices that would help them be more profitable (inventory management, etc.) and did sales training.

Lest you think I’m some sort of ogre teaching people how to be sleazy, how to bluster their way through a sale or how to manipulate a customer into a corner which guarantees that they get the shaft and the sales person gets the money, let me just say here and now that my number one message was always “never, ever lie to a customer”.

Let’s do just a bit of math, OK. A car salesperson averages about 10 sales a month. That’s 120 a year. If those sales average $20,000 then the sales volume for that person is $2.4 million for the year. How much commission do you think he/she makes from that? !0%? 5%? Either one of those would provide an incredible living. It’s more like 1.5 to 2%, a very modest amount. On average, an automotive sales person makes 25% of gross profit per unit—after “pack”, the amount added to dealer cost for things like administration, etc. That alone should tell you how little profit there is in the average new vehicle transaction (profit margins are substantially higher on used vehicles).

The rest of that story is that these people work a goofy schedule that typically includes at least one 12 hour “bell day” a week and half to two-thirds of weekends. Many dealers are also open 362 days a year closing only on Christmas Day, News Years Day and Thanksgiving.

Here’s a story I’ve told many times in sales training classes:
I was the top Pontiac Aztek salesman in the California Region for 2 years in 2001-2002. Remember the Aztek? It’s widely considered one of the ugliest vehicles ever made—right up there with the old AMC Pacer. And it was. (The interior fabric was even uglier than the outside too!) But it was also a really good vehicle.

When I first started selling Pontiacs, a customer would tell me they were interested either in SUVs or wanted to see this “all new” Aztek. I would take them to our selection—we’d have several on hand. Invariably the customer would say something about how ugly the Aztek was. Something like, “that’s sure butt-ugly”.

And I’d dispute that. I’d tell them things like, “It’s just the edgy styling of it that you’re not used to,” or “It really grows on you,” or “Naw, look at these lines. This thing is really cool.” The customer would look at me like I was just the “typical” car salesguy—you know a big BS’er. A lot of them would leave then because I had been arguing with them or blowing smoke at them about the car.

So, I needed to do something to slow them down. What I came up with was to agree with them and do it with humor.

“Well, sir,” I’d say, “I can’t say that I disagree with that but…you know, my sister was pretty homely too, but we loved her anyway. Let me show you some of the reasons why you’ll fall in love with the Aztek.” And they’d laugh. And they would get interested in the vehicle rather than shutting down their interest. I now had an opportunity to build value. And I sold a bunch of them. They were roomy, versatile, powerful, economical and u-g-l-y. But people would buy them.

As Zig Ziglar always said, “Buying occurs when value exceeds price.” That’s the only time when any of us buy anything—ever.

And here’s the rest it: We build value when we communicate with our customer about ourself, our product and our company in terms of what we do more, better and differently than anyone else. Those are the dimensions of value. And it doesn’t matter what anyone sells—clothes, insurance, vehicles or groceries—the only time a customer parts with their money is when value exceeds price.

It seems like I've spent a great deal of my life working my way "down" the ladder of success. Or, as I'm somewhat fond of saying, "I can take my Masters degree and $2.50 and buy a cup of coffee at any Denny's".

I didn’t want to have to go back to work selling cars. And yet, I should have done it several months ago to earn some money and to be doing something productive. I was never any “superstar” salesguy but I worked hard and was totally honest. In this industry, like any other, it comes down to integrity, honesty and ethics. Those may sound like an oxymoron when used in a context of automobile sales but they’re vital.

So, I gotta go to work today. Let’s hope it all works out.

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