For me, 2019 not only marks the start of a new year, but a new career. Naturally, I’ve found myself wandering down memory lane.
It was April, 1996.
After getting the briefest taste of the politics of coaching, I said “Goodbye” to the university and football, and set-out to find a real job. Responding to an ad in the paper that read, “Our Average Salesperson Makes $35,000 Per Year!” — which was more money than I could imagine at the time — I found myself interviewing at a large multi-franchise dealership with a seemingly disinterested general manager named Greg.
“Why’d you leave this one?”
Greg was looking at the multiple positions listed on my first attempt at a professional resume. He pointed to the top listing.
Preening to see to what he was pointing, I replied, “That was a Summer job.”
Emotionless, robotic, Greg moved his finger down one line, “Why’d you leave this one?”
“Look, the point here… I was attempting to show that even though I was a full-time student, I always held a job, often multiple jobs at the same time. I’m a hard worker.” The mental note was well and forever established: prospective employers do not read resumes like prospective employees write resumes.
Greg shot a sideways look at the other managers gathered in the room. Was he trying to hide a smirk?
“OK. I want you to pick anything in this room and try to sell it to me.”
“Ugh,” I thought. Improv was not exactly my thing…
I spotted a basketball displayed among some other sporting memorabilia on a credenza behind Greg and to the left. Walking toward the ball, I pointed, “May I?”
Unimpressed, (was he holding back a yawn??) Greg nodded in assent.
I grabbed the ball and moved back to the center of the room. I had no idea how to sell anything. But I was certainly comfortable with a basketball in my hands.
“Here we have a genuine Spalding basketball, in the popular shape of ‘round.’ When inflated to the proper (squinting to read the small print) 8 psi — that’s ‘pounds per square inch, in case you didn’t know — the ball will return to your hand after hitting the floor. Some call this ‘dribbling.’”
Trying my best (and assuredly failing) to not look and sound stupid, I starting dribbling the ball in front of the assembled managers. Right hand, switch to the left hand, behind the back returning to the right hand, between the legs back to the left hand.
“This ball is so well balanced, it practically handles itself.”
Taking the ball in my right hand, I spun the ball and landed it on my tall finger, the ball perfectly balanced as it spun.
“And all this can be YOURS for the low introductory price of $19.95.” Letting the ball fall, I caught it with both hands and held it out with my best Price Is Right modeling pose and cheesy smile.
I thought I had spied a couple of smiles from some of the managers. Greg was obviously still unimpressed. “Anybody want him?
The managers turned to look and gesture at each other, mostly shrugs.
“I guess I’ll take him,” one of the managers spoke, more resigned than excited.
And a car salesman was born. My friends joked that I had found my true calling.
Here’s where, looking back all these years, I now know that I was actually pulled into a pretty good situation: training.
Training started on a Monday. The plan was to keep the new hires — turns out there was a large batch of us — in the conference room learning sales process and dealership procedure through Friday, then report to the floor on Saturday for our first day of actual selling. This training structure introduced many automotive concepts, including the concept of the 6-day work week, which turns-out would be the norm for many years.
One of the great ironies of my life up to this point was that while for the most part, I didn’t like school, I did, in fact, enjoy learning. As long as there was some type of practical application, I was eager to learn and experience new things.
Having been an English major in college, sales training was completely new and foreign.
“The four components of a sale? Sorry, I really don’t know.”
Something to sell, a place to transact, a time to transact, and of course, the price. How simple! How practical! Simple concepts always resonate the best — another life lesson.
The sales process was almost as simple, yet practical.
Meet-n-Greet: “Hi, I’m John, and you are?” Extending the right hand…
Qualify: “Are you looking for a vehicle for work or pleasure? How many miles a year do you drive?”
Selection/Pick: “This unit matches your needs. Let me show you a few things.”
Hood-and-Trunk/Product Presentation: “These are called ‘crumple zones.’ Engineers actually design how they want the metal to fold in case of a collision…”
Demo: “I’ll drive first and show you a few things.”
Trial Close: “Why don’t you park it over there in the ‘Sold’ line?
Negotiation/Close: “Why not now?”
Delivery: “Enjoy your new ride, and don’t forget to give me a perfect score on the survey!”
Delivery was the most important. I didn’t get paid until the car was over the curb.
Practical. Efficient. Simple. I took to it like a fish to water and wondered how automotive salespeople got such a bad rap with such an innocuous process.
The week went quickly, and Saturday arrived. Despite the excellent training, I found myself hiding in my cubicle that first morning, a tad nervous.
The showroom itself was a decent size, about 50 feet by 50 feet, easily fitting 8-10 vehicles. On each side of the showroom, 6 dark bluish-green cubicles framed the floor. The cubicles were about 6 feet wide by 6 feet deep, and those (kind of ugly) cubicle walls were about 6 feet high.
Each cube was identical: a small hanging shelf/console with a door big enough to hold a few small stacks of brochures over a small desk. Catacorner was a small round table with a wood-looking laminate and rubber edge, just big enough for a salesperson to seat two customers and review a worksheet. Most of the time, there were three red chairs, unless a salesperson took a day off, in which case, someone inevitably borrowed a chair. My cubicle was the second-from-the-front, on the right side of the floor after walking through the front door.
“Who’s up?!” bellowed a manager.
I stood-up, met the manager’s eyes, and approached my first customer. Time to stop hiding, and get on with it.