They believed in themselves. And they believed in their ability to do whatever was necessary to get the job done, feed their families, and make a living. They got used to the ten- to fourteen-hour days, the constant rejection, the lack of respect from their neighbors and peers, and the uncertainty of working on a purely commission basis. They learned to ignore the customer's reflex "No," overcome the endless complications, smile when they were exhausted, and make the sale. And with only a few exceptions, most of them were highly successful. That's why I admire salespeople.
A while back, I talked about the five different types of customers. Well, there are also five types of salespeople. These are: Regular Folks, Gamblers, Car Geeks, Naturals, and Control Freaks
The largest group, by far, are the "Regular Folks." These are just honest, ordinary people trying to make a living. There could be several reasons why they went into sales. First, they may be retired but don't want, or can't afford, to stop working. They may live in a community without many opportunities and get into sales because of the promise of a good paycheck. They may lack education and feel that sales is their way up. They may view sales as a transitional job, something they do while they complete their education, or search for their life's calling. Or, they may view sales as a career. The one thing that unites all Regular Folks is the desire to make a better paycheck than what they can make in a typical blue collar job.
Car geeks are a different breed altogether. These are guys who live and breathe automobiles and get into sales because it gives them a chance to be around cars all day long. You can count Motor Trend editors Carlos Lago and Mike Febbo in this category, and this is also the category I happen to fall into. Most of us are shocked to discover that sales has very little to do with cars, and is more about people and human psychology than horsepower ratings.
The Gamblers are a large group. I don't know a single person in sales who doesn't have a bit of the Gambler in him. If you get a group of salesmen together, they're bound to be betting on something -- anything -- to wile the time away. That SUV that just pulled into the parking lot? I bet they're going to Service. Nope, they're here for Parts. $5 says you're wrong. You're on. Or: the manager says "Congratulations, you just made a $200 bonus. Want to double it?" And then he pulls out his loaded dice. You'd be surprised how many "green peas" fall for that.
But is any of this surprising? If you think about it, making a living off selling cars is a gamble from the word go. When I first told a friend I was thinking of going into car sales, they said "Are you nuts? You're going into a job that's strictly commission? What if you don't sell enough to cover your bills?" Well, that's a chance every car salesman takes every single day. My stepfather, who sold cars in the 60's, used to say "I wake up every day unemployed." What he meant was that a salesman doesn't make any money until he sells a car. It takes a rare breed, one with a supreme amount of self confidence, to roll that dice, day in and day out, based on nothing but a belief in yourself and your ability to get the job done. The closest analogy I can think of is the tightrope walker, who knows one wrong step could send him to his death. Of course, we're not talking life or death here, but for many salesmen, it's not just themselves they're gambling with, it's their whole family. Most people would crumble under that kind of pressure. The car salesman thrives on it.
The fourth group is a type I call "the Naturals." The fact is, there are some people who are just natural born salesmen. They can sell anything. It doesn't matter what it is. It could be shoes, pharmaceutical supplies, cellphones, timeshares, men's clothing, sand in the desert, ice to eskimos -- whatever it is, they can sell it. Call it "the gift of gab," or being "good with people." Whatever you call it, they have it in abundance -- and it's a skill that cannot be taught. Watching one of these guys work is a beautiful thing, like watching a great artist paint a painting.
The last group is the group you want to stay away from, if possible. I call these folks the Control Freaks.
Sad to say, there is a type of person who is attracted to car sales simply because they like to control people. They get off on manipulation, and the sense of power it gives them. Now, before you imagine some horrible, Hannibal Lecter type of individual, let me tell you there's no way to spot a Control Freak. In fact, they're usually some of the most charming people you'll ever meet. Not only are they socially adept, they're too socially adept. If you ever find a salesperson treating you like a lifelong pal after just a few minutes, be wary. You are may be in the presence of a Control Freak. "Instant intimacy" is something they're experts at -- and it will last right up until the instant of the sale.
I used to work with a guy, who later went on to become the General Manager of a dealership, who used to practice lying to people in front of a mirror. Two or three times a day, he'd go off by himself where he couldn't be observed, and take out a small pocket mirror. He'd hold that mirror up to his face and repeat certain phrases, watching to see if there was anything he was doing with his eyes or his facial expression that would give him away. "Yes, ma'am, that's our best price," he would say, over and over again, looking for the slightest twitch of a facial muscle, or any other tiny "tell.". I guarantee you that if you met this man today, there'd be no way in the world you could tell if he was lying or not. He's that good.
People tend to think of all salesman as being the same. But we're not. The truth is, the world of car sales is as diverse and as full of different types of characters as . . . well, as the rest of the world is.