Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kapowee! God I Wish it Were That Damn Easy

It’s been a little over a week since I went to work at a car dealership in Carlsbad, CA selling new vehicles. An interesting week.

First, the schedule can be a little bit brutal. Today from 2 to 8:30 I’ll be on my 6th consecutive scheduled day. A 6 ½ hour shift is easy. Tomorrow is what’s known as a “bell day”—from opening bell to closing bell, 12 hours. It’ll mostly be spent hanging out, on my feet. I’ll spend time working on certification for the new car line—product knowledge so I know what I’m talking about. I’ll spend more time working on product presentation skills. Still more time on follow-up of prospects and very little time actually talking to customers out on the lot or demo-ing or doing write-ups.
After a week and a half, I have yet to sell a car. That means that so far my income is a big fat goose-egg.

I haven’t worked in car sales in nearly 7 years. I spent 6 of those years training people how to sell cars and consulting with managers and dealers on how to optimize their operations. It ain’t easy putting the “skills” back into practice.

There’s product knowledge but more fundamental is the technique by which the product knowledge becomes useful to a customer—especially since many customers come to a dealership with a tremendous amount of information. The sales guy’s job is to make it relevant and valuable. Plus, customers know a lot about pricing—too much, in fact, to the extent that often they’re dangerous in their misinformation and perception. A new $25,000 car might have $1500-2000 in available profit which the customer wants to have discounted. And, the salesperson might make $200 on it if he or she is lucky. It ain’t no picnic.
And then there’s the Neanderthal way most sales floors are managed. We use a software system called “Advent”. Advent does not provide any sort of tutorial so you’re on your own. This is what is used to input a customer’s information on which follow-up is based or on which a credit report will be generated. So you fumble through it.

It’s kind of interesting when you have a customer in front of you and you’re trying to be professional all while you’re mucking through an unfamiliar piece of software. It doesn’t inspire any confidence that you know what you’re doing and are trying to work together with a customer.
So you do your best, port it to the “desk” (the manager) who tells you that you’ve done it wrong and that you’re a nincompoop. The “desk” generates a “proposal” (that’s my term because I hate using terms like “first pencil”) and then sends in someone else to work the customer and try to close her. Without knowing what her “agenda” is and without really caring. This proposal is “packed”. “Full pop” on price. “Back packed” with a warranty. Reserve on the interest rate and a term that’s longer than standard. But all structured so that the payment the customer wants is achieved.

And she walked. Why? Because she was smarter than that and we didn’t spend the time to work with her, justify the value of our product and create a situation where we were making money but she was also getting a reasonable deal.

So, I’ve got to adjust my style. I have to figure out how to “work the desk” and get proposals I can work with. It’s like gathering intelligence. I’ve done it hundreds of times and just need to get into the right patterns of questions to the customer and how I present the information to the desk (my manager only wants the briefest of bullet points—anything more and you get chewed).

This management style of providing only cursory guidance and then ripping into you when you don’t get it right is both “old school” and incredibly inefficient. I spent years trying to work with dealerships to embrace different approaches—and was paid quite well to do it. But that’s no longer my role.

It’s nearly 11. I have to be at work at 2. My legs feel OK today but my hips are still a bit achy. The good news is that I’ve got Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. That’s an every other week thing. But I’ll probably work Saturday to get more prospects and have something to work on the following week for follow-up. The way the retail side of this business is structured, you really don’t get every other weekend off. You need to work at least one day on either Saturday or Sunday. Especially since, as the new guy, I won’t really be seeing any “spoonies” (easy deals given by the manager) for a while.

I’m a grown-up. The older I get the more I resent when management treats anybody with condescension or disrespect. Especially when you have to approach customers with confidence and just the right amount of enthusiasm to be successful. But those are things you have to do by yourself with some occasional help from your co-workers who are also suffering from the same insecurities and frustrations.

But, I'm working. Doing something productive. It's something honorable if done with integrity. And that's what I bring to it. I can't do it any other way. It's not an easy job. Few jobs are.

(Now check out the Muppets doing a Jim Croce classic).

1 comment:

  1. Hey Wally, You sound kind of dis-heartened about your new careen? I'm in the RV sales industry now and it's about the same thing here too. Brother Tom is selling Hondas at a big dealership in LasVegas, he's the internet manager and he is doing really well. You might want to look into selling RV's, not motorized so much as travel trailers and 5th wheels. I didn't know crap about them when I started but I learned real quick and it is fun selling. Give me a call 800-354-5102 or email to talk about it.
    Jerry MacMillin