Don’t Ever Try to Tell Me it’s Easy to Become Extraordinary

I knew something wasn’t right. The delightful client on the other side of my desk gave me her credit card and signed the purchase agreement, but I wasn’t comfortable.

I gave the purchase order to R, my boss and mentor.

“What payment does she want on this vehicle?”, he asked.

I blushed. I didn’t know. I only knew that she had budgeted $30,000 and that she wanted a loan for some of it.

“Ok. I see she wants a three row minivan. Does she need captains chairs in the middle?”

This time I sat down, defeated. Again, I didn’t know.

R chuckled. He is always straight with me, but never mean.

“You’re so good at getting people to like and trust you that they’ll just sign the agreement without even knowing what they’re going to pay for the vehicle!”

I Know Enough to be Dangerous … to Myself

This wasn’t the first time that week that I’d been uncomfortable. In fact, I had been running around with tense shoulders and sleeping fitfully for several weeks.

Why?

If you want to be really good at something, you have to work hard at it. In this particular case, I had been focusing on the elements at the top of my priority list.

  • Build good relationships
  • Behave with integrity
  • Be as transparent in the sales process as possible

Not only are these qualities important to me as a person, but they are also important in an industry where people have been trained to mistrust salespeople.

And I’m getting good at it. My clients like me and they trust me to do the best job for them.

Uh oh… can I do the best job for them?

I’m a broker in an industry with 1700 different car models available at any given time. Each vehicle comes in a variety of trim levels. They have hundreds of features and new ones are coming out all the time.

Not only that, but there are many financial arrangements to acquire these vehicles.

People are trusting me to do the best job for them. What if I let them down?

Sales is Very Hard, but Not the Way You Thought

The resolution to this particular problem is for me to stop thinking I am ready to do this on my own. I still need R to mentor me and catch my mistakes before they affect my clients.

This isn’t always easy for people. Grownups like to be self-sufficient. In fact, we used to have another salesperson who insisted he didn’t need to be mentored or follow the system R set out for us. That salesperson is gone, thus making my point that we cannot learn difficult skill sets on our own.

A salesperson in another industry recently said to me, “Sales makes you face every insecurity you’ve ever had a trace of,” and she is right.

If you want to be good at something, and I don’t think it’s just sales, you have to face a lot of fears. Sometimes it’s fears you didn’t even know you had. What if I am letting people down? What if I am encouraging them to trust me with all the good intentions in the world and then letting them down?

The first step is recognizing the fear. The second step is making a plan, just like my dad taught me.

The third step is consistent action. And the fourth step is repeating this process next time an uncomfortable fear comes up.

I can do this. But don’t ever try to tell me it was easy. The only people who believe it’s easy to become extraordinary are people who have never tried it.

 

 

Learning to be a Salesperson – Year Two

Congratulations to me! I had an anniversary at my place of employment. It’s been one year of working in a situation where I’m being mentored.

It’s been good. I think I’ll stick with it another year.

I learned a lot in this first year. Want to know what it was? Let me tell you.

The Importance of Building Relationships

I got it into my head that I wanted to be a master salesperson about two years ago. Luckily, I am already good at one element of that process… making friends.

In another part of my life, I had joined a business networking group in 2016 to promote my freelance content business. I got tired of writing other people’s content, but I don’t regret a second of my involvement in the group.

Why?

Because not only is that how I made the connection that got me hired on as a salesperson in a place I wanted to work, but I also built relationships with other business people. When the people I knew learned I’d gotten into sales, they started sending me referrals. They already knew me and trusted me, so it was natural to send me people who need my product.

I was surprised! I had no idea I was going to get into sales when I joined that group. In fact, I had sworn I’d never take another job again.

The moral of this story is that you never know where life will take you. Fundamentals, like building relationships and developing good people skills, will take you places you don’t even know you want to go yet.

You Must do the Same Thing Over and Over

“You and me,” lamented R, my mentor. “We’re going to drown in opportunity.”

Like R, I’m an “idea person”. On a good day I have several good ideas every hour. This is great fun.

You know what it is not? It is not a great way to get anything done. All those ideas get started and never finished.

I learned this year that the key to finding customers is to do the same thing over and over. Make calls. Send notes. Write blogs.

Do whatever the strategy is, but do it consistently.

Sometime in the fall of 2019, R got the idea to use a system a lot of realtors use. We started making a certain number of phone calls, writing a fixed number of notes and stopping by a given number of homes to drop off little gifts we made.

(“Gifts? Really?”, you say. Yes. We made a video of ourselves making candles and then gave away the candles. Next, I made little bags woven from strips of old clothes and put oranges in them. But that’s another blog.)

The results of all this consistency were a bit shocking. After six weeks of trying to figure out who to call and what to say, the number of referrals coming my way suddenly doubled. I’m not saying I sold any more cars in that period, but I sure did have the opportunity!

The moral of this story? Consistent effort works, but it also may show you the other skills you need to work on.

What will Year Two Bring?

I don’t know what comes next, but I’m sure it will be more hard work. That’s ok. I like to work and it’s very satisfying when I make sales and get paid.

I’ll just keep pecking away at it, like a chicken in a lettuce garden, and take the new lessons as they come.

My First Car Sale

If you’ve been keeping up with my adventures in sales then you know I took a job as an auto broker in January. I figured I could make more money per sale selling cars than selling shampoo and I liked the idea of learning from experienced auto sales people.

I do like to make sure it’s clear that the auto brokerage does not use the same sometimes-underhanded methods as some car dealerships. I’ve discussed those methods elsewhere, but you should know I’m learning about them by asking, not as part of my training. Several of the people I work with have worked at brand dealerships and they don’t mind telling me their stories, which I then pass on to an unsuspecting public.

Anyway, let me tell you about my first sale!

A Used Car Dilemma

A prospective client called me and explained her problem.

“We spent about $3000 on a vehicle for my 17 year old, but not it needs more repairs than its worth. We want to buy another car for him, but we only want to spend about $8000,” she explained.

“Ok,” I said. “Would you like to come in tomorrow and talk about it?”

When you talk to me about the vehicle you want to buy, I’ll always ask you to come in to the office. Why? Because we want you to see all the details. I’m going to run your budget through a calculator and I want you to see where the money is going to go. We also want you to see the data we use to determine what you can get for the price.

We can do the best job for you when you feel you can trust us and the best way to do that is to be transparent with our information.

Other Options

When you come see us, we’re going to give you financial options. The auto industry is big and complicated. Asking everyone to understand how to make the best car-buying decisions isn’t much different than asking people to make the best investment decisions on their own. It helps to have an expert on your side who understands the big picture.

I’m not quite an expert, since I just started in January, but my boss has been in this business for nearly 20 years.

“We could try to find you a good car for $8000, but if you can go to $11000 then we could find one with some warranty left on it, ” he explained as the three of us discussed it. “Another option would be to lease a vehicle. It would cost about the same over three years if you consider the cost of likely repairs on an older car.

The client was curious about buying a vehicle with some warranty left. Ten minutes of research revealed a 2016 Kia Rio in that range. We could have bought that particular vehicle on the spot, but she still wanted to know more about what was available for $8000 or $9000.

Charts and Graphs

I have a strange personality. I love socializing and can do it all day long, but I also love details.

“Nice,” my boss nodded approvingly, looking over the research I had put together. “I don’t know that I would have had the patience to make a chart like this.”

“To each his own,” I thought.  If you ask me, putting the chart together was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

I had researched subcompact used cars that were rated well by Consumer Reports magazine. Then I looked into the average retail prices for those vehicles in good condition. You can do this too. Call your local library for the Consumer Reports data and use a website like NADA.com or KBB.com to get the typical retail prices.

Next, I looked at what was available at the auto auctions, like Adesa. Auto auctions are only available to licensed dealers. I used the auction data to look for the cars that met our qualifications from the chart I made. I only looked vehicles that had never been in an accident.

The Results of My Search

I discovered that it is possible to find a used car that met my clients criteria, but there was a problem.

Nearly every vehicle had body damage, interior stains and/or an odor. I found one or two that were in better shape, but they were far away and the shipping costs put them over budget.

The Advice

I brought this problem to my boss and asked what he recommended. Remember, he’s been doing this a long time and has come across nearly everything.

“Well,” he answered thoughtfully, “all used cars are a risk since we don’t know their history.”

This is true. Sometimes the Carfax information tells us about some of the maintenance, but usually the maintenance history of a used car is lost.

“I have a clean Toyota Corolla available that I bought from someone I know,” he continued. We don’t have a car lot, but we do usually have a handful of used vehicles available to sell.

“We can sell it to her for $3500. It’s about the same amount of risk as buying an unknown older car from the auction and she’ll have some of the budget left for the next car,” he concluded.

One More Option

I called my client and explained what I found and what we recommended she do. She was silent a moment.

“You know, I had another idea as I was walking the dog,” she said. “What would it cost to lease a small car? If I’m going to have nothing left at the end of three years then I might as well consider it.”

What she said is true. The chance that she would have to buy another old  used car in the next three years is pretty good.

The Cliffhanger

What did she decide to do? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you next week.

 

A Car-Buyer’s Secret Weapon

“Tell me,” I said to the team of experienced auto brokers, “what do you say when someone asks you why they should work with us instead of go to a dealership?”

We were having our weekly meeting and I had commandeered it once again to ask questions. This meeting is the only time during the week that all of the brokers are together and I am not shy about wresting control of the meeting for educational purposes.

“Well,” answered JP thoughtfully, “I usually compare our practices to those of dealer salespeople.” JP and some of the others had started their careers working for dealerships and they know all the tricks, the same tricks we’re afraid are being played on us when we try to buy a vehicle.

“For example,” he continued, “did you know that a dealership can raise the interest rate on your auto loan two percentage points above what you were approved for?”

“No,” interjected our boss without noticeable emotion, “it’s three points. They can raise the rate up to three percentage points.”

I stared at them, speechless.

“That’s… that’s legal??”, I finally sputtered out.

“Oh, yes!”. They both nodded. “They do it all the time. People don’t notice. They are looking at the monthly payments and gloss right over the details.”

And that’s Not All

Once I got over my shock, I ask them to tell me how dealer sales people work. There are many ways to sell a vehicle (or anything for that matter) and I wanted to know what strategies they are trained to use.

JP explained that the first thing the salesperson does is build rapport. Most salespeople do this, no matter what the product. We ask questions and make friends. That’s how we find out what you’re looking for and whether we can help you.

The dealer salespeople begin to diverge from brokers in the next step. They focus on emotions. They are encouraging you to feel attached to that particular vehicle.

Ultimately, the dealership wants you to buy a vehicle that day and they focus on your emotions and a sense of urgency to bring you to a point where you sign the paperwork.

Many of them would prefer that you don’t know what that car is selling for or what they bought it for. They certainly don’t want you to think about rebates and discounts they got from the manufacturer or what loan rate your bank would give you.

Just sign on the dotted line and go home with this car today. Don’t think about anything else.

A Broker is Very Different

A good auto broker has a different focus. We don’t want to sell you a vehicle on the lot today. We don’t even have a lot! What we want is for you to make a good financial decision and get a vehicle that fits well with your lifestyle.

For example, you may come in saying you want to buy a 2015 SUV. We’ll ask you some questions and show you the calculations on loans and leases for different vehicles. At the end of the appointment, you may still want us to search for the SUV or you may have decided to lease something completely different.

You make the decision, but we want to make sure you know your options and are making a decision you’ll be happy with once the initial excitement wears off.

The End of the Meeting

Just as the meeting was breaking up, I thought of something else.

“Wait! We don’t add anything to our clients’ loans, do we?”, I burst out anxiously.

They smiled.

“No,” our boss said firmly. “We certainly don’t.”

Now I feel like a super-hero. We’re like a secret financial weapon anyone can safely use against the confusion of buying a car.

There’s More Than One Way to Buy a Car

My father is a very precise negotiator and what we call a “tough customer”. In fact, until he bought a bottle of shampoo from me recently, I was pretty sure he would never be my customer for anything. I would usually either give up or cry before we could strike a deal.

He tried to pass on this negotiating savvy to me, particularly in the arena of buying cars.

“Know the value of the car when you walk into the dealership and what you’re willing to pay,” he sagely told me. “And walk out if they won’t sell you the vehicle at that figure.

I’m a good student and my dad’s advice works. I can buy a car from a dealership without being shocked later that I fell for some  cheap salesman tactic.

I Still Don’t Like Dealerships

Now you would think with that kind of training, I would feel confident about my ability to buy a car from a dealership.

Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

I only had to buy a car from a dealership once before I discovered there were other ways. Was I happy with that purchase? Yes, within reason. I bought a new Honda Civic and was delighted to have been able to afford a radio. It had what I had wanted, which is to say good gas mileage and a good record of holding its value.

I drove that car for 12 years and found it a good home with a friend who needed a more reliable vehicle before moving across the country. My late husband’s car was newer and I took that one with me.

Why I Wasn’t Comfortable

I was happy with the car, but I’ve never been happy with the transaction for two reasons…

  1. I had to walk out of several dealerships until I found a salesman who even spoke slowly enough for me to understand everything he was saying.
  2. I never understood the details of the transaction and to this day I don’t know if he took advantage of my confusion.

I didn’t buy another car for more than 20 years after that purchase (thanks to the inherited car) and by the time I was ready for another one, I had learned about auto brokers.

Buying from a Broker is Better

I bought my current car from a broker and was very satisfied with the transaction. Was that the cheapest way I could get a car? No, probably not.

Did I get something for the slight increase over a price I may or may not have been able to negotiate?

You bet I did!

Trent, my broker, saved me a huge amount of time. He spoke slowly, let me see all the data he was using and we wrote down options. He did not try to manipulate me into spending more or buying things I didn’t need. I know what I paid for and I didn’t have to waste a lot of time walking out of dealerships.

I got the car I wanted and was 100% satisfied with the transaction.

Ways to Buy a Car

All this got me thinking about how we buy cars. So far, I’ve discovered the following methods:

  • Go to a dealership and wonder if you’re being taken advantage of and if another brand of car would have been better,
  • Use a no-haggle pricing program at a dealership and wonder if you’ve paid extra fees or gotten a fair value for your trade-in,
  • Use a Buyer’s Agent to do the negotiating for you and pay her separately,
  • Find a broker and let her do the work for you without a separate payment

I explained this to a young friend the other day and she burst out, “Why do we always buy cars the hard way?? Why didn’t I know this could be so easy?”

Good questions. I didn’t know either, but I know now and so do you.

 

Where the Old Cars Go … The Auto Auction

Imagine it’s 1974 and you’ve just arranged to trade in your 1968 Oldsmobile and buy a new car. You’re excited! You bring your family to the dealership for the momentous transaction.

You park the old powder blue vehicle and everyone gets out for the last time. You proudly envision your family getting into the new car that you’ve worked so hard to be able to buy for them.

You all start to walk toward the office, but your preschooler won’t go. She is crying.

“What’s wrong, Bonnie?” you ask, surprised.

She sobs for a moment and then pushes out the following words between hiccups, “I feel sorry for the old car.”

And that, my friend, was the last time my dad took me with him when he bought a new car.

I actually remember this incident very well. I felt sorry for the old car because we were leaving it alone and it would know we didn’t want it anymore, like an unfortunate dog left at a shelter. That’s how it is to have a sensitive child, I suppose. My parents had to explain to me that the car was different from a dog and didn’t really mind that we were leaving it.

Nonetheless, I wondered what would happen to it. It took more than 40 years, but I finally found out!

Last week, I got to see the auto auction for the first time. That’s where the old cars go. You can see hundreds of them glittering in the lot, under the sun, parked in clusters with their own kind. Volkswagens here, Chevrolets there and a mile away across the huge lot you can see some BMW’s and Fords.

Some of them are cars that have been returned after a lease. The manufacturer brings them to the auction to sell them to dealers. Since this auction is in Colorado, we also saw hundreds of hail-damaged vehicles. If you want to know what a hail-damaged vehicle looks like, imagine what would happen if you parked your car in the middle of a golf course. I don’t mean a regular golf course, I mean one where it also rains golf balls from the sky. That will give you a pretty good picture of what these cars look like.

The cars and trucks and RVs are inspected and then auctioned off when their turn comes. I haven’t seen an auction yet, but it sounds like it works a lot like a livestock auction, except with VIN numbers. They bring the car into the bay and the auctioneer offers it at various prices while people bid.

Want to know what the best part is? As a Licensed Dealer Salesperson, I will be allowed to go and drive all the cars! Yes! I can go when there is no scheduled auction and find out what it’s like to drive any of them. That’s going to come in handy since I’ve never owned a BMW.

I’m excited to learn more. Even as an adult, I’ve never been able to bring myself to trade in a car. To this day, I find them good homes with friends when I’m ready for a new one. But I feel better knowing that they get to hang out with the other cars when they are in between owners.

And maybe, just maybe, now I’ll be able to convince my dad to let me go with him next time he trades in a car.

 

 

Why Authoritarianism Would Never Work Here – Half an Hour in a Waiting Room

“DO NOT pass the Curtain w/o an AUTHORIZED AGENT”, announced the sign. “Violating this WILL end up in Immediate Removal.” 

I read the sign and then carefully sat down, making sure not to disturb the curtain. A bell rang as a man opened the door of the storefront and walked in. 

He looked at me. “Is this where they do the fingerprinting?”, he asked. 

“I think so,” I responded. “But so far all I know is that you can’t go past the curtain.” 

“I had trouble finding it,” my new companion said. “It doesn’t even have a sign, just that sandwich board outside.” 

He paused and looked around.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I have 20 minutes until my appointment. I’ll be back.” 

“Yes,” I concurred. “Surely there must be something more interesting in this shopping center than this mysterious waiting room.” 

You could call it a “waiting room” or you could call it a “storage room with two lines of chairs”. Boxes were piled up on one wall. A clock did its best to blend into another wall. The lone table in the room did not hold a sign in sheet or any other indication that someone might be interested in knowing we were here. 

The shy clock said 10:15 AM, just five minutes until my appointment. At 10:20 a woman bustled out from behind the curtain. 

“Are you here for fingerprinting?”, she asked. 

“Yes, I am,” I replied, standing up to speak with her. 

“I’m going to ask you to sit down again,” she said politely, but firmly. “Someone will be out to get you in a moment.” 

Obediently, I took my seat again while she asked if I had my ID and if I was there for digital or hard copy fingerprints. I answered from my chair and then she went away again. 

I stared out the window for a few minutes and then a couple came in. They read the sign, just as I had, and then sat down. 

After a minute, the man got up and stepped over to a laminated TSA Pre-Check document tacked to the wall next to the curtain. 

“Stan!”, hissed the woman in an anxious tone, “Come back. It’s too close to the curtain!” 

“You gotta be careful around here,” I chimed in softly. “It’s a demanding sort of place.” 

“Right?”, said the woman, looking at me. “I don’t wanna get in trouble!” 

We all laughed as another couple came in. 

“Is this where we go for the name change documents?”, the woman asked with a serious look on her face. 

“Yes,” said the man who had been reading the TSA document. “See, it says so on the sign … if you can get past the commandment about the curtain.” 

“Oh, OK,” she said, nodding nervously. They sat down. 

After a moment she said to no one in particular, “They used to do this at the courthouse, so it’s kind of confusing.” 

“Yeah,” said the man next to me. “There they make you go through security before going in the building. At least they don’t do that here. … Although we don’t really know what they do behind that curtain.” 

The nervous woman’s face broke into a smile. We all laughed again. 

Eventually, an employee came to the curtain and called my name. I was now a bit reluctant to leave the security of the group in the waiting room, but I jumped up again and we went behind the curtain to her office.

We chatted amiably about how the fingerprinting process for sales licenses had changed and I had probably made the wrong kind of appointment and should go back to my office and make another, but I insisted and we went ahead with the fingerprinting anyway. 

Nothing much has changed at the intersection of government and commerce since Mark Twain wrote The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract  in 1867, has it? Maybe the technology has changed and services have been outsourced, but it’s still “very slow and very certain” and it  still doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that the government would have a “corn-beef division”.

What’s more, we still comply with regulations while refusing to be cowed. Today, just like yesterday, the Americans in the waiting room still band together and laugh at any aura of authoritarianism.

May it always be so.

Can a Computer Scientist Become a Master Saleswoman?

“Welcome, Bonnie”, said my new boss on my first day. “I just want you to know that I hired you because I believe in you.

That’s comforting since this still seems like the craziest harebrained scheme I’ve ever come up with.

What’s the job? It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. In fact, if you had told my childhood self that this is what I’d be doing in midlife, I would have run in terror.

I am going to learn to sell cars.

Yes. It’s true. I was a computer scientist and then I was an amateur chicken farmer (with ten hens in the city) and now I am going to learn to sell cars.

What can I say? I like variety.

The Project

Why am I doing this? Let me explain.

On the board that describes my vision, you’ll find this sentence:

“Become a master saleswoman and a master networker”.

It’s an important part of the vision because if I can do these things then I can teach other people to do them. That’s important because if you want a particular kind of life and occupation, it helps a whole lot to have good sales skills. That holds true whether you are trying to sell your skillset into a dream job or if you’re trying to sell a product or service.

I want to teach you how to do that, but first I have to learn it myself.

Sales & Marketing

What do you know about this topic? If I ask you this question, could you answer?

“What’s the difference between sales and marketing?”

Sales differs from marketing, but not so much as we often think. Sonia Simone of Copyblogger recently posted a good article about the relationship between the two. You still need both, even if you are doing business entirely online.

You could say that marketing builds the relationship between the business and the prospective customer. Marketing makes the first impression and builds trust.

Sales gets into the details. What does the customer need? How can we solve the problem?

Network marketing is a great training ground for learning about this and that’s exactly what I’ve done recently.

Now I want to know more.

Why Cars?

I took a job with an auto sales consultant this past week. It’s not a dealership; it’s a business that helps people figure out the best car and financing option for their situation and then matches them up with the right vehicle.

Why auto sales? It’s certainly not because I love cars. I’ve only owned a total of 3 cars in the last 30 years and one of them was inherited.

I chose auto sales because I’ve done a lot of networking and met a lot of people. I’ve noted that auto sales consultants and brokers really know their marketing and sales.

In fact, I bought my most recent car from a broker and it was the best car-buying experience I’d ever had. It wasn’t an adversarial relationship. The broker was on my side.

I want to learn how brokers do this. They build relationships with people, find out their problems and offer to solve them. Once the sale is complete, a good salesperson follows up and stays in touch. They make themselves a community resource.

Curious?

Are you wondering what this is going to be like? Can a computer scientist/amateur chicken farmer learn to to sell cars? Will she be able to talk to human beings? Will she bring chickens into the office?

Stay tuned. I’ll tell you all about it. In fact, sign up below for the mailing list and get the whole saga in your inbox, as it happens… chickens and all.