You’d Most Certainly Buy a Car From This Used Car Salesperson?
Used car salespeople get a bad press.
It always narks Reilly when he hears used car salespeople being derided.
For one, his son had begun his career selling cars and he’d proudly enriched the lives of hundreds by matching them with a car of their dreams. For many, second to their home, a car is their most prized possession in life.
And secondly, there was one Joseph Samuel Girardi.
Born into abject poverty in Detroit in 1928, Joe Girard would go on to become the single greatest salesperson in recorded history. During a 15 year period – 1963 to 1978 – he sold 13,001 cars. Not fleet sales but rather sales to individual car buyers. This remains the Guinness World Record for individual sales.
Reilly would dearly have loved to have met Joe to elicit his motivation and secrets. Before he died in 2006, M. Ellen Peebles, a senior editor with the Harvard Business Review got that opportunity and she did a good enough job.
Peebles put it to Joe.
‘Most car salespeople sell four or five cars a month. You averaged six or more cars a day for years. How is that possible?”
ON HIS PROLIFIC SALES.
‘When you bought a car from me, you didn’t get just a car. You got me. I would break my back to service a customer; I’d rather service a customer than sell another car. After a few years, there was pandemonium outside my office, there were so many people waiting to see me. So I started seeing people by appointment only.
And the reason people were willing to wait a week for an appointment rather than go buy from someone else right away is because they knew that if they got a lemon, I would turn it into a peach.
‘People are sick to death of sitting around in service departments. When I was selling cars, my right-hand man could go to the service department while the customer’s car was at the curb and get three or four mechanics to come right out with toolboxes and take care of the customer in 25 minutes. Sometimes they would install $15 or $20 worth of parts—a lot of money back then—and the customer would say, “How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing,” I’d say. “I love you. Just come back.”
‘You get service like that, where are you going to buy next time? That’s what makes businesses big: word of mouth. If you create it, it’ll make you. If you don’t, it’ll break you.
ON BUILDING AND RETAINING A WINNING TEAM
‘And the reason I could get the mechanics to come out right away is that I loved them, and I let them know. I made a deal with a nice Italian restaurant, and every third Wednesday I would take all of the service people to dinner—the people who wrote up the service orders, mechanics, the parts department, everyone. I would eat with them and tell them how much I appreciated them, how much I loved them. Once a year, I invited all the service people and their families over to a big barbecue at my house, to eat with me and my family. This is something that all executives should think about: There are service people in every company. They are the ones you wine and dine.
ON THE SPARKS THAT GOT HIM GOING IN LIFE.
Joe often talked of ‘sparks.’ In his own words, ‘sparks create fires.’
Two sparks would dominate the earlier part of Joes life.
The initial struggle began with his own father, Antonino Girardi, an extremely poor man of Sicilian birth who found no success in his new country and vented his bitterness, both physically and emotionally, upon his younger son.
Joe often speculated as to whether his father’s behaviour was the carefully planned campaign of a man who desperately wished to challenge his son. Whatever the truth, the senior Girardi chose to constantly berate his son with the message that Joe would never amount to anything worthwhile.
This was Joe’s first spark: the determination to prove that his father had been wrong.
At the same time, Joe’s mother fed him her constant love and belief that, indeed, Joe was capable of succeeding in life. This was Joe’s second spark: to show his mother that her love and judgment had not been misplaced.
ON THE SPARK THAT GOT HIM GOING IN CAR SALES.
‘I grew up in the ghettos of Detroit. I started selling cars in 1963 at the age of 35. I was out of a job, had no savings, and was in serious debt after a failed home construction business, and my wife told me there was no food in the house to feed our children.
‘I pleaded with a local car dealer for a desk and a phone and promised that I would not take business away from any of the other salespeople. I wore my finger black dialling a rotary phone trying to get leads, and that night, when all the other salesmen had gone home, I saw a customer walk in the door.
Out of sheer desperation he sold a car on that first night. By the second month, he had become so good that some of the other salesmen complained, and got him fired.
ON HIS TIME MANAGEMENT.
Joe discovered that he could sell. Here he explains how he maximised his time to achieve even more sales.
‘It was after that third year that my CPA convinced me I was giving more money to the government than I needed to. He made me realise that my time was far too valuable to be distracted with things like endless paperwork, phone calls, showing cars and service follow–ups, etc. I decided I needed to get some support so I could concentrate on the thing I did best – SELLING. I hired an individual to help take care of the pre–qualifying and screening process.
‘It made a big difference. I couldn’t believe how I was actually selling more new cars and trucks and yet was feeling less tired! I took it a step further. Seven months later I hired another person to help with the business growth. It was this key investment I made that enabled me to experience the unparalleled growth and success I’ve been fortunate to have had in the automotive retail business.
‘During the last 12 years, I had so much business it was by appointment only. I ran my business just like a doctor’s office. First you see the receptionist then the nurse before you see the doctor. By the time I was talking to a potential buyer they’d been screened and pre–qualified. I knew everything I needed to know about that customer.
ON HIS LEAD NURTURING
The Detroit News revealed the secret that Joe became famous for.
‘Employing two assistants out of his own pocket, Joe sent out nearly 13,000 greeting cards a month to his customers, celebrating everything from Halloween to Groundhog Day.
‘Every year he commissioned an artist to draw up 12 cards and then send them out. That’s all he did. He would send out one card every month. Each card had the same message, “I like you.” So on Valentine ’s Day, major holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, Joe’s clients received a card. It is said that with Joe’s card coming every month, his clients considered him a part of the family.
ON WHY HE CHANGED HIS NAME.
As described in How to Sell Anything to Anybody, Girard decided early in his sales career to adopt the name “Girard” for business purposes as a way to avoid confrontations over his ethnicity or losing customers who might be prejudiced against Sicilians and Italians.
‘One day an Italian man came in to buy a car. Joe had the deal all set until the customer asked Joe what nationality he was. Joe said that he was Sicilian. When the customer heard that, he blew up and said ‘I wouldn’t buy a car from a Diego’ (sic) and walked out. (“Diego” (sic) is a derogatory term for someone of Sicilian decent.) When that happened, Joe called his printer and told him to drop the ‘i’ off of ‘Girardi’ and make it ‘Girard.’
• When all is said and done the salesperson is still King. He or she who brings home the bacon keeps everyone else fed. And maybe Henry Ford was on the money when he had his business card printed. It simply read. Henry Ford. Sales.
• When all is said and done parents are still Kings. Even when we vilify their influence let’s occasionally celebrate the impact that influence had, however inadvertent.
• You are the average of the handful of people you are influenced by the most. Get around people like Joe Girard. They lead the field.
• Desperation can be much maligned. Sometimes it’s the ultimate motivator.
• Ask yourself what outstanding customer service actually is and provide it.
• Look after your service people. Every week.
• Run your business like a doctors surgery. By appointment only.
• Imagine if you connected with everyone of your customers every month! One thing’s sure. You’d have a sales problem. Too many.
• Professionals will even change their name if it’s misleading or confusing.
‘The elevator to success is out of order. You have to take the stairs… one step at a time.’
1. What sparks are creating fires in your business and life?
2. How many customers do you actually have?
3. How often do you connect with them?
4. What problems would it cause in your business if you connected with them each month?
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