My Favorite Commercial

This is one of my all-time favorite commercials. The nebbish-looking young man, who has all the confidence in the world, is visibly shaken when he has to cross paths with guys like me. I love it.

The Most Feared People in America

Let's face facts. No one likes to come see us. I mean, people like to come see me, but not us. To a lot of people, we are the enemy. We are the people that are trying to get them to pay more for a car than they should. We are the people that smile to their faces while trying to work them for the most money we can get out of them.

They're right.

Our income depends on us getting you to buy the vehicle for what we're asking for it. Do you go to McDonald's and ask for a discount? How about Wal-Mart? No? Then why would you ask me? My personal income depends on you buying the car for an amount that lets the dealership and myself make money. There isn't a ton of markup in the vehicles that we sell, at least not usually. Couple that with the Internet making things tougher for all of us, and you have the makings of a situation that is rapidly becoming no-win.

Why are people afraid of us? I don't know for sure, but I have a few theories. People know that salespeople work on commission. We don't make any money unless we sell something. The sheer amount of personal self-belief and self-reliance that makes us able to not only do that, but to thrive doing it makes people uncomfortable. When I say thrive, I'm not talking about your cousin Benny that tried his hand at selling cars, moved a little bit of iron, and decided that it wasn't for him. No. I'm talking about guys like me and the guys I work with that have carved out their own piece in the barren wasteland. I've sold for three years. If you can sell cars for three years and not file bankruptcy, you're doing something right.

People also might be afraid of us because we are the greatest actors outside of Hollywood. People have a lot of built-up defenses to us, so we have developed our own. A lot of salespeople, before they greet a customer for the first time, take a deep breath before they do so. We call that "putting on the face". We don't know if that customer has ever been to the dealership before, so we need to give them the best first impression that we can. And that, I think, is what people are afraid of the most. They are afraid to meet someone that they believe likes them, but in actuality couldn't care less.

I have a handful of customers that I genuinely like. It's not a long list. These customers have not only purchased, but have brought people to me, as well. I have a young married couple that I would count in the top five of my favorite customers. They're under 30, both of them. They have decent paying jobs; the wife works for an insurance company and the husband works in the factory. They just had a handsome little baby boy. In three years, they have bought 3 vehicles for themselves, and also brought their parents and neighbors in to buy, resulting in 2 sales. That's 5 vehicles in three years. If they needed me to run through a wall for them, I would. In a heartbeat.

Those wonderful people are the exception to the rule. Most customers, to be honest, are pricks. Example: I helped this guy out one time, it was during my first full year selling. With his wife, we spent 2 hours searching for and driving new pickup trucks. He was polite, cordial, and even had the odd off-color comment. We sat down to write up the deal. I went into the manager's office and came back with the deal write up. This customer, who had been laughing and joking with me not 10 minutes prior, snatched the write up out of my hand before I could set it on the table. After 3 seconds of analysis, the guy stood up and said, "You guys aren't giving me shit for my trade!" His jovial manner was gone, replaced by some ogre. "Come on, let's go!" he said to his wife as he stormed out the door. His wife gave me a momentary look of quiet understanding and apology, then got up to follow him out. I sat there, shocked. This asshole just wasted 2 hours out of my day. Time is money. It takes a nanosecond to lose a customer to another hungry salesman, and who knows how many customers I didn't get to talk to because I was dealing with that stronzo.

But not every customer is like that goofball. Thank God.

Why I'm Here

"Why are you here?" 

I get asked that a lot. It's obvious that I'm college educated, though I don't think it is for my habit of humming the Michigan State University fight song absentmindedly. I spent a lot of time digging myself in debt to obtain the vocabulary that I possess, and it shows. Most of the other salesmen know I went to MSU, so they're curious.

A lot of the service technicians are curious, as well. They all think we make a ton of cash selling cars; sometimes they're right, most often they're wrong. They believe that ending up at a dealership is a last resort. And really, it is. I didn't plan on being here, but the positives that I've found in working here outweigh the negatives.

I'm working here because I like it here. After a while, the shared experiences from 3 years together in sales galvanize a sales force. But it is both that simple, and more complicated than that.

I'm working on something, and that something is me. The experience of being a car salesman helped me to grow up. Most people graduate and start in some cushy business job. Not me. I graduated and am clawing my way up from the bottom. Working in a dealership is a great way to get to know yourself. You can make a lot of money in a very short amount of time, and that has a way of magnifying your natural impulses. When I was in school, my checks from the cafeteria would average $150. My second check from the dealership was over $1,000.

You get to work with people from all walks of life; I've helped teens buy their first car, elderly people buy their last (seriously, two customers of mine died in 2009) and everyone in between. It is a inelegant cross-section of humanity, one that you would not get to experience outside of the retail or service industry. The person working 9-5 in an office cannot possibly have the opportunity to interact with as many people as I do.

Remember how I said that the service technicians think we make the big cash? Sometimes we do. I've made over $10,000 in a month before. What people don't know is that was preceded by a couple $1700 months. A lot of salespeople are just scraping by, making a little bit more than minimum wage. It's not the ticket to wealth that a lot of people think it is. Now, don't get me wrong; there are salespeople making $300,000 per year. Those poor souls work even more than I do. But those people are the 99% percentile. No one gets in this business to get rich.

So why am I here? Because I want to be. I hope that's a good enough answer for you.


Required Watching for Salespeople

If you are a salesperson, you will understand what everything in this clip is about. If you aren't, then you'll probably be so freaked out about what Alec Baldwin says that you'll never want to talk to a salesperson ever again. Sales is about balls. I wish I didn't have to be crude, but it is. If you don't have cojones, you won't get anything. You have to get off your butt and get something. It's all about the attitude. Anyway check out this clip.

The Revolving Door

The sales department of your average dealership is a revolving door. Guys come in, make a decent living for a while, and then disappear. Some get jobs at other dealerships, others get jobs in other industries, still others get fired for a myriad of reasons. I've been at the dealership for more than 3 years at this point. I've seen no less than 10 guys come and go, some of them more than once. 

I left and came back myself. I had posted my resume on Monster.com prior to my interview. A credit-card machine processing company sent me an E-mail asked if I was still looking for a job. The dealership job was supposed to be temporary anyway, I figured. The company told me that I would be selling their machines to businesses, and there was the potential to make upwards of $400 per presentation. There was also a gas reimbursement plan (I had to use my own vehicle), and a $1,000 "fast start" bonus. 

So I left the dealership. I said my goodbyes to the other salesmen, some of which had become friends.

After two days, I was back.

A word of warning to anyone who is thinking about selling credit card processing machines to businesses: don't do it. The company, which was supposed to provide me with "qualified" leads, sent me to people's houses that were running home businesses instead of actual, legit, brick-and-mortar businesses. Now, I'm not saying that a home-based business isn't legitimate. What I am saying is that a home-based business really has little need for a credit card processing machine. Most of the people who were "qualified" either didn't know I was coming or thought the company was doing something else for them. I still remember the presentation I gave to this poor schmuck who thought that the company was going to be doing advertising for him. Like I said, don't do it. After two days of this crap, I was back at the dealership, to friends, to (somewhat) steady income.

Most guys don't come back. Most go about their separate way and you never hear from them again. A lot of guys are lifetime car salesmen who just move from dealership to dealership, looking for a good fit. We've had a couple guys come from the biggest dealership in the metro area. They complained about long hours and unfair business practices. One couldn't hack it in our store and left to sell building materials. The other is probably on his way out.

I don't want it to sound like I'm callous. I'm not. I'm realistic. I have beaten the odds by being able to support myself in this industry. I mentioned before that car sales is like a blast furnace. The way management has set up our working life contributes to that metaphor. Our hours are horrific. 50 hour weeks are normal. 60 hour weeks are commonplace. During big sales (tent events, 72 hour sales, etc), I've put in 70 hours. I don't have a wife (just a very beautiful and supportive girlfriend) or kids. I don't have a ridiculously large network of close friends. In other words, there aren't very many draws on my time. But I've seen what working like we work can do to people over time. I remember one salesman, who helped train me, suddenly went AWOL. Literally vanished.  We never heard from the guy again. The worst part about it is the guy had a little girl. He foisted her upon her grandparents.

Normally, guys don't do that. They put in their two days' notice and take off. We don't do 2 week notices unless you're going to be taking a manager position somewhere. If you're just going to another store to sell, you only need two days to handle what you need to handle, sign your papers, and leave.

The story about that AWOL salesman reminds me of another guy that disappeared. His disappearance hit a little closer to home for me, because I was training him. The guy had potential; he had sold for another automaker a few years prior to showing up on our doorstep. We gave him a shot. The guy had a propensity for mindless chatter, so we nicknamed him "Talkie". I didn't mind his blathering; I don't really talk too much, so I didn't care if he talked. He only had to listen when I was talking. He didn't have natural skills in salesmanship, but those skills can be taught. He managed to sell a car once. It was a lucky sale, and I had to help him close it, but he still got the credit for it. A couple days later, whoosh. Gone. No note. No phone call. "Talkie" had had enough, I guess.


Hmmm....where to start

Exactly what it says on the tin.

I guess the beginning is a good place to start.

I never thought I'd be doing this. Not in a million years. Selling cars was the last thing on my mind as I was walking across the commencement stage at Michigan State University in 2006. I had my degree in Criminal Justice. I was ready to conquer the world.



Welcome to Compression Ignition.

This blog is an homage to the stories, lessons, and tribulations of a life in car sales. If you are familiar with cars, you'll recognize that compression ignition is how diesel motors work; fuel is literally squeezed as hard as it can (sometimes up to 21,000 psi)  before exploding to power the engine.

If you're familiar with car sales, you know how that can relate. We work in one of the most stressful professions during one of the most stressful times in American business history. We have a code. We work under pressure; pressure from our families, wives, girlfriends, managers, and each other. It's dog eat dog out there.

This is a small glimpse into our world. You might read something that you don't agree with, and that's fine. You may not agree with it, but it's real. Our world can be cruel, but it can also be very rewarding. My stories will run the gamut.

I hope you enjoy what you read, and if anything, I hope that you think of us a little bit differently.

(All persons and establishments have been renamed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.)