Other stories: I used to be a terrible salesman, Part II

As previously stated in my previous story, I was a terrible car salesman.

I had no clue what I was doing. In hindsight, I probably should have listened to all the advice countless co-workers gave me. Now that I think about it, those sales workshops might have been helpful, too.

But I wasn’t passionate about selling cars, so I didn’t really care to learn how to do the job. Those bits of advice and classes would have made me better at my job, but that job was selling a minivan to a woman who calls me Jim for two hours or a brand-new, luxury truck to a guy whose price range is in the “$13,000 ballpark.”

There are two days that are burned into my memory from my salesman days. Last week, I talked about my first day.

This week, we talk about my salesmanship and my worst sale. First, let me explain my selling method.


It sucked!

As a salesman, I was basically a scarecrow in a shirt and tie. Two kids standing on top of one another in a trench coat could have done a better job at selling cars.

I didn’t know anything about the cars I was supposed to be selling. I didn’t know what the rebates were. If we didn’t paint the prices on the windshield, I would have been screwed.

My days as a salesman were very stressful.

“Do you know anything,” a customer jokingly asked on a test drive one time. His wife bumped his arm with her elbow and they both chuckled. I nervously laughed with them in a cold sweat, as I had nearly given him a serious answer of “no.”

But I did make sales and for that to happen, two things needed to occur.

First, my cousin/manager Mike needed to give me step-by-step directions on what to do from start-to-finish. Nearly all of his directions were given with his eyes closed and his index finger and thumb pressed against the bridge of his nose.

Second, I needed my customers to be 99 percent sold on the vehicle by the time they came in.

Most of my customers sold themselves. I was just along for the ride. I would throw in a basic fact now and again, like, “Yes, seatbelts come standard,” or “Today is Monday.” But most of the time I sat in silence, which was my best sales tactic.

Here is a basic idea of what me selling a car was like:

It’s me and a couple — usually in their late-40’s-to-early-50’s — standing outside in the parking lot. They’re interested in a new truck. We just finished the test drive. They know everything about the truck and they know how they’re going to finance the vehicle. All they need to decide is what color they want.

“I’m torn between black and navy blue,” the husband says to his wife, and maybe me but I was never really sure.

“Well, both are going to show dirt,” the wife says in reply. “If you’re okay with that, either is fine with me.”

In a wide stance, the husband stands in silence for a moment and ponders his options.

“What do you think, Tim?”

I, being startled that someone is asking me a question, give my opinion as an 18-year-old who is in way over his head.

“Black is dope.”

They both laugh, as I probably remind them of their son and we walk inside. They buy the truck and I walk around with an undeserving sense of accomplishment for the rest of the day.

“I bet you’re trying to make money off of me.”

That’s how a business works, dumbass.

Selling a car can be a real battle because there are times when the customer doesn’t like you. The salesman is a necessary evil for them and instead of coming into the sale with an open mind, they come right out of the gate and make it known that they’re onto you.

“I bet you’re trying to make money off of me,” says a customer.

I never knew how to respond to comments like that because my knee-jerk reaction was always, That’s how a business works, dumbass. But apparently, that’s not “polite.”

There were plenty of times when I nearly ground my teeth down to the gums when I dealt with difficult customers. But no customer was worse than Barb.


Barb and her husband Bob came to see me during my third month on the job.

Bob was a World War II veteran and the nicest guy in the world. He was a short, frail man with cargo shorts pulled up to his heart of gold. His smile was infectious.

Barb was Bob’s wife. That’s about the nicest thing I can say about her that’s not a lie. She was several years younger than Bob and she was the human equivalent of ramming a fork into your eyeball. Her rude comments were draped in a serendipitous tone.

“You know, this car isn’t worth the price you’re selling for,” she said. Those were her first words to me after “Hello.”

The car she was referring to was a 2-door, Pontiac G5. It was the summer of 2009 and Pontiac had just gone under. So, there was a fire sale of the last remaining models on the lot. If you needed a new car cheap, you needed a Pontiac that summer.

With factory rebates and the dealership discounts at the time, you could buy that car for about $7,000 less than the sticker price. Add in their $3,000 trade-in and it’s $10,000 off a brand-new car.

To read more about trade-in’s, click here.

So, it’s a great deal. Unless you’re Barb.

Barb was the type of customer that wanted $10,000 off a car, followed by an additional $5,000 and the blood of my first-born son. She was the epitome of the phrase, “The customer is always right,” a phrase that is incorrect (As explained in the above link about trade-in’s).

After two hours, we came to the make-or-break point — the handshake. Bob and Barb could either agree to purchase the car or they could walk away. The final deal a brand-new car for under $10,000, five free oil changes and free car washes.

“Do we have a deal,” I asked them. Bob was ready to shake my hand. Barb was not.

“Hmmm,” Barb said. “I just feel you could meet us more in the middle.”

I nearly bit my tongue off. I went over what she was getting three times, slapping the back of my left hand into the palm of my right hand with every single thing she was getting.

A brand-new car for $10,000 less than the sticker price (SMACK), $3,000 for your trade-in (SMACK), five free oil changes (SMACK), free car washes (SMACK).

By this time, I was completely unaware of my temperament. I was so focused on seeing this lady to buy this car or get hit by a bus that I was unaware of how I looked and sounded.

During my third round of hand smacks, I saw a coworker about 10 yards behind my customers. His eyes were the size of dinner plates and he was doing the cut-it-out hand motion at this neck.

Barb finally agreed, adding that she liked me and didn’t mind paying a little more. With blood nearly coming out of my eyeballs, I thanked them both for the business and sent them on their way.

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