Sadly, I’m in the market for a new car. I am less enthusiastic than I wish to be… it was my hope that, when the time came to buy or lease a new vehicle, I would be excited about it. I’m not. Frankly, I don’t really want to spend the money, I really love my current tank of a car (a “darling” 2005 Toyota Sequoia with 200,000 miles, a bunch of dings and scratches and things that don’t work… but, alas, we’ve been through a lot together) and, most annoyingly, I really don’t want to deal with the stereotypical haggle of negotiating the purchase.
All that said, imagine my delight in meeting Gary Levin for the first time just a few weeks ago!
Gary is the husband of Cathy – Cathy who catered my wedding a little more than 19 years ago, my son’s bar mitzvah just a few months ago and several other family affairs over the years. She’s wonderful and has played a critical and important role in ensuring lasting memories for so many families.
After our most recent work together, I received an email from Gary that read simply, “My wife has only good things to say about you. Do you ever use volunteers in your business?” Well, I’m no fool! I immediately invited Gary for coffee!
During our introductory coffee, I learned that Gary spent 25 years in the car business. It was 25 successful years. When I asked what made him so successful, he said this, “I have been in sales for my entire life. I came to realize that what makes a person successful in sales is not any different from being good at any business that involves interaction with people. It’s all about establishing rapport.”
Gary’s insight was this: It turns out so many [car] sales professionals just want to sell. Hey, we all want to sell, right? But, there is a difference between effective (those who stay in their industry for decades) and ineffective (those who survive for just a few months) pros. The effective sales people focus on making their clients feel comfortable, they don’t try to sell them anything they don’t want and they allow their clients to guide the process.
In Gary’s world, most transactions started with meeting someone who was stepping out of their current car. In most cases, Gary said that stereotypical salespeople would approach these prospective customers with the same old lines… “So glad you’re here!” and “What kind of car are you in the market for?” Etc.
It’s my understanding that only 10 to 20% of customers actually buy a car from the first sales person they encounter. But, Gary wanted to sell to his customers while he had them there. As such, he sought to find a different opening line and overall approach to the sales process to increase his chances a sale. Plus, because the customer was on a car lot, he was always pretty sure they were there to buy a car; seemed to him, his initial question need NOT be, “What car can I interest you in today?”
Rather than putting the customer immediately on the defensive, forcing them into an “I am just looking” or “I am not buying a car today” or some various combination of the two, when Gary first met a prospective customer, he never talked about cars. Instead, he always chose something, anything else to get their mind off why they were there and on to something to make them forget the bad experience they had read about or had with other salespeople. Most of the time while he was just shooting the breeze and establishing rapport, the customer would TELL him what kind of car they were interested in by physically wandering over to it!
This philosophy of putting the client at ease does not have to be reserved for car sales alone. Whether you’re in car, home, financial services, retail or consulting sales or any other industry, building rapport and giving people comfort is so important. It’s critical to understand that customers do not want to feel pressured or threatened when they are in the market for anything. They want to know that the person with whom they are dealing cares for them, wants to fulfill an unmet need and is ready to listen when they are ready to talk.
Oh, Gary, would you be willing to come out of retirement for just one more sale?