I walked into the CEO’s office and said, “I will outsell your top car salesman in two months or less.” He looked at me with astonishment, grinned, and said, “You’re hired.”
He went on to say, “I’ve been waiting for a kid like you to walk through my door for 20 years.”
A few minutes later, I drove off the lot of this mega-dealership in a brand-new Park Avenue. (I left my car a couple of blocks away – but that’s another story.)
The next day, I returned to the dealership – with somewhat less confidence this time, because I’d had time to think about what I’d promised.
The CEO waved me up to his second-floor glass-enclosed office and invited me into a meeting with his General Manager.
“Marc said that he would outsell our top salesperson in two months or less,” the CEO said. “What do you think about that?”
“More power to him,” the GM replied with a cocky grin.
The CEO told me that he was leaving for Barbados in the morning, and that he would be back in about a month. He said we could sit down then to see where things stood.
“I know you’ll be our next superstar!” he said.
A month later, the CEO returned from his vacation, tanned, rejuvenated, and ready to “rock ‘n’ roll” (as he put it). He called the sales team into the conference room.
He started by regaling us with stories about his Barbados adventure. But then he got down to business. He pointed to the almighty “leader board.”
The leader board was an erasable whiteboard that hung on the front wall of the conference room. Each salesperson’s last name was listed down the side. Across the top, there were 12 categories: new cars sales, used car sales, financing, body trim, soundproofing, warranties, and so on.
My name was at the bottom of the leader board – with a “zero” in every category.
“Well, well, what do we have here!” the CEO exclaimed with a smirk on his face. “Looks like Marc is not exactly burning down the house.”
The room erupted with laughter.
The rest of the sales team was excused, and the CEO called me over to his end of the 20-foot-long conference table.
“You’ve got one week to make a sale – or you’re fired,” he said tersely.
“Okay,” I said. “But I’m not costing you that much money. I’m only working on a draw plus commission.” (I should have quit while I was ahead.)
“What the hell are you talking about?” He yelled. “Everyone on this property is either making or costing me money. Period!”
I was shell-shocked. I went home with my tail between my legs.
That night, I pondered my bleak future as I looked out into the cornfield behind my house. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I thought of Don Peterson – the dealership’s No. 1 salesman.
Don was about 50 years old, overweight, and his shirttails never stayed tucked into his pants. But he was a selling machine. Almost every dealership in the state had tried to woo him. I was told that prior to coming to our dealership, he had sold more than 550 new cars in a 12-month period!
I was inspired. I pictured myself watching Don sell cars – and learning at his feet.
The next day, I went into the dealership with a mission. Rather than continuing to try to sell cars, I would shut up, watch, listen, and learn from “the master.”
I didn’t waste my time asking Don to help me. But he made it clear that he had no interest in training a fledgling salesman. So here’s what I did. Each time Don approached one of his “ups” (prospective buyers walking onto the lot), I scurried a few cars away so I could hear every word he said. I made it look like I was polishing cars.
By watching and listening to Don, I quickly realized that he would push his mother to the ground in order to sell a car. But I also learned many techniques that enabled me to sell a lot of cars – and turned me into the dealership’s top salesperson in about two months.
What’s more, Don’s lessons became so embedded in my mind that I’ve used them to sell millions of dollars worth of products and services in other industries too.
Here’s what I learned from Don Peterson …
Whenever Don was trying to close a deal, he would always ask the same question:
“What can I do to make this work for you?”
I know that it sounds like a tricky ploy to get somebody to do something – but it’s not. In fact, there’s a lot of wisdom in that question.
If you know what it takes to make a deal work, and how to construct the offer so it never comes undone, you’ve got yourself a goldmine.
I’m not talking about selling stuff to people who don’t want it. I’m talking about selling products and services to qualified prospects.
The first key to selling anything is to have a qualified prospect. And Don Peterson worked only with qualified prospects. The people he approached were at the dealership because they wanted a car. Most of them had purchased cars in the past, too – so they qualified for financing.
Every time Don asked “What can I do to make this work for you?” the prospect ALWAYS responded.
Sometimes, they would make ridiculous requests – like a no-interest loan, double the trade-in value for their car, or $5,000 off the sticker price. But most requests were quite reasonable and specific.
Don would stare at the prospect and remain completely silent for several seconds. Then he would slowly repeat what the prospect had said:
“If I do [blank] – that would make this work for you?”
Invariably, the prospect would say “YES.”
“Yes” is music to a salesperson’s ears.
But most salespeople don’t think in terms of making a deal work for the prospect. They are concerned about what they themselves need. If you track the performance of people who sell like that, you’ll notice that a high percentage of their deals unravel.
On the other hand, if you build an offer around what it takes to make a deal work for your prospects, you’ll close a lot more of them – and they will stick.