Looking back on my early experiences in selling and the automotive industry, I realise now just how fortunate I was. My first full time job in trainee car sales way back in 1984 was a gentle introduction to the ethos of building relationships with customers that ensure not just a sale, but continued repeat business.
The dealership was a family owned organisation, we saw the owner each day and my immediate boss had customers who simply wouldn’t deal with anyone else. What I initially found frustrating, I quickly realised was something to be admired. People trusted him and understood that while he made a profit, it wasn’t at the expense of a relationship.
It is a principle that has served me well over the years and whenever I feel at a loss what to do next in business, I refer myself back to those basics.
In 1984, when I told everyone I had been chosen as an apprentice, friends and family, almost without exception, said “But you don’t have the gift of the gab!” They were correct, I wasn’t exactly an extrovert when I was young and yet there must have been something that inspired my first boss, Martin Smith, to give me that break.
I was to find out that in fact, ‘salesman’s patter’ was the very last thing he was looking for.
We went on to work together for nine years at a time when Toyota was a rising star in the UK. The MR2 Mk1 introduced me to the delights of mid engined handling, while the original Supra Turbo felt like a jet fighter the first time I was trusted with one. Our customer base was incredibly loyal and when Lexus came along, we started to climb a whole new mountain.
My good luck was brought home to me recently when chatting to a close friend who had begun his career at the opposite end of the customer care spectrum. It turns out that though we had never met at that time and we lived 70 miles apart, we were conducting parallel careers. Only his could not have been more different. Employed by the aggressive AFG Nissan Group, he was inducted into the Pendle regime of selling. This American sales technique was diametrically opposite to my training.
The Pendle theory being that customers were to be treated like cattle, intimidated with pressure and pushed for a decision to the point that, if they didn’t buy, they would probably never wish to visit that dealership ever again. But who cared? There will be anther one along in a minute. Sales teams were put under similar pressure, with brutal sales meetings that in today’s world would probably end in court proceedings. The mantra was ‘Nobody Walks’.
His harsh experience could probably never happen today, in our world of social media, public accountability and, of course, hidden cameras. And yet that experience of pressure selling regime could very easily have happened to me.
These days, I still have great affection for those times and of Toyota and Lexus as brands. The lessons I learned in that period have been put to work, rinsed and repeated, many times over. Whether that is in the skill of writing Porsche features that reach the emotions of the reader, writing copy that sells, or working in a social media world to help other clients improve their fortunes online.
If you have a formative, positive experience that gave you skills you’ve found useful later in life, feel free to share it in the comments below. I’ll be writing more soon about other experiences.
We live in exciting times today and while we have great technologies that allow us all to communicate as never before, people still interact with people in much the same way.
It’s only the platform of communication that has changed.