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.

What I was not ready to do was spend 3 months unemployed after my campus job told me that I wouldn't be allowed to come back to work after graduation. I had worked in the cafeteria of one of the residence halls for 6 years, including high school. The cafeteria stayed open for the summer, but with my non-student status, I wasn't eligible to keep my job.

I spent the summer hanging out with a new girlfriend (she didn't care about my unemployed status), taking care of the family dog and working odd jobs for family members. Somewhere in those three months, she and I had gotten into watching "King of Cars", an A&E TV show about a massive Dodge dealership in Las Vegas. The show centered on Chop, the dealer principal of the dealership, his managers, and his crew of salesmen. If you've never seen the show, it was an entertaining watch (it was cancelled after the second season). Chop let the cameras roll on several car deals, showing the general viewership the inside information about the car business. Looking back on it now, the show was harmless. There weren't any shady doings caught on camera.

During one fateful viewing, I received a call from Jerome, one of my college roommates and best friends. He was working at a midsize American car dealership. He wasn't setting the world on fire, he said, but he was making decent money. Upon hearing about my lingering state of joblessness, he told me that I should come down to the dealership and interview for a sales position. They were always hiring (I found out later that they are always hiring because salespeople are always leaving), he said, and I had a good shot at landing a job.

So I did.

A dealership's hiring process is as much random chance and clairvoyance as it is scientific. In my experience, managers aren't looking for what you say as much as how you say it. How you say the words you say can have a greater impact on a customer than the words themselves. A good manager can identify when a prospective salesperson has a skill in persuasive speech. I assume the same can go for managers in any profession, but car sales is more about psychology that people give it credit for.

After filling out the application, I spoke with all of the managers (Used Cars, who was responsible for hiring, New Cars, and the Finance Manager), one after the other. After the last manager, I was introduced to the Dealer Principal. A youthful-looking 50 year old descendant of Middle Eastern immigrants, he gave off the air of a person that was at once fanatical about his fitness level and fanatical about his business. We sat down with the General Sales Manager in his office. After two seconds of pleasantries, the Dealer Principal got down to business.

"Where did you go to school?" he asked.

"Michigan State"

"Why do you want to sell cars?"

"Well, I've always loved cars, and I need money."

"Can you sell?"


He handed me my Michigan State interview portfolio, a green leather zip-folder embossed with the Spartan logo. "Sell this to me." he said.

Oh crap. This is what I was afraid of. I had never sold anything in my life, and here I was in the office of the big boss of the dealership and he was asking me to sell him something I myself didn't know the value of. Still, I had to give it the college try. I needed this job.

"Well, what we have here is a genuine leather-bound interview portfolio." I began, without hesitation, making everything up as I went along.

"Go on." he said.

"It has this handy zipper, so that when you're carrying it, papers won't fall out." I was beginning to warm up to my task. I picked up the portfolio, doing my best to display the leather cover and zipper.

"Ok, I'll buy a million of them" he said, taking the portfolio out of my hands. Remember when I said that what you say isn't as important as how you say it? It wasn't until later that I found out (through experience) that he wasn't listening to what I was saying, but how I said it. Car sales is a blast furnace. Either you succeed, and become a useful implement of sales skills, or you break and get fired. There is no in-between. If I had hesitated during the presentation of my portfolio, how would I perform with customers?

The Dealer Principal shook my hand and thanked me for coming in. The General Sales Manager followed suit. I was lead back to the Used Car Manager, who scheduled me for a drug test. No problems there. A couple days after my drug test, I reported for my first day as a salesperson.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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