How Selling Saved My Life
(and Can Energize Yours)
Car salesmen. I admit it--they're often thought of as skirt-chasing, joke-telling, back-slapping, cigar-smoking deal makers. Why, then, at the age of thirty-two, did I, a wife, mother of two young sons, and a suburban homemaker, decide to join their ranks?
I had no choice.
I had just completed a six-month dose of commode-hugging chemotherapy. That horrible ordeal had followed back-to-back surgeries for two different cancers, cervical and breast.
Having a hysterectomy and a mastectomy within weeks of each other, and then having all my hair fall out as a result of chemo, had a devastating impact on my feminine psyche. I felt like less than a whole woman--and an extremely poor one at that. I had no health insurance and no savings.
Then things got worse.
The grueling stress brought about the end of my marriage. And my prognosis wasn't good. The doctors gave me two to five years to live.
In a very short time I had lost so much. Most important of all, my self-esteem. I had no job, no husband, no medical coverage, and few of the resources necessary to build a career.
Moreover, I had my two boys, Brannon, age twelve, and Travis, seven, to raise. They needed me. But how could I support and care for them when I had such little work experience?
"You've always been good with people. Why don't you try sales?" my best friend, Susan, told me; she had been by my side throughout the whole ordeal.
Seven years earlier, I had fantasized about the possibility. I had taken a job as a switchboard operator at a high-volume car dealership in Dallas. For a stay-at-home mom, the job provided just the supplemental income we needed to move into a nicer neighborhood. I worked from five to nine p.m., Monday through Friday. It was perfect. My husband looked after the boys while I worked, we had a second income, and I got a bit of a "breather" from just being a mom.
Operating a switchboard, elevated like a throne in the middle of an automotive showroom, playing secretary to twenty flirtatious men, had made me feel like a prom queen. But prom queens, in my experience, aren't airheads. Watching our sales force at work, it didn't take me too many nights to realize that there was probably a better way to sell cars. I just didn't plan on showing them. After all, I had my life mapped out. With my boys both in school, I went back to college--I had lined up a scholarship--to obtain the computer science engineering degree that had been interrupted by motherhood.
So, while I was never serious about selling cars, the idea entertained me during my quiet hours at the switchboard. How would I go about it?
I had noticed, for example, that often women were ignored when a couple came into the showroom. Of course, the salesmen would argue in their own defense that many of the women didn't have car-buying credit. But what the salesmen didn't seem to understand was that these same women had veto power. If they didn't like the car, the deal, or even the salesman, there would be no sale, regardless of the enthusiasm of their husband or boyfriend. If I were in the salesman's place, I would divide my attention equally between the couple. Moreover, I saw car salesmen pressuring customers into making a deal regardless of whether or not the car fit their needs or budget. They were focused solely on their monthly sales quota rather than on building a lifetime customer relationship.
I had put my early observations of sales on a shelf in the back of my mind while I concentrated on my marriage and raising our sons. But I found those observations resurfacing once again as I searched within myself for a way to rebound from cancer, divorce, and financial devastation.
"Car sales. Okay--I'll give it a shot," I told Susan.
1.1 Getting Hired--the Ultimate Sale
I started my job hunt by cold calling. "If one door doesn't open," I told myself, "knock on another." So I did. The first sixteen remained shut.
On my seventeenth try, a door opened. But only a little.
The sales manager I was interviewing with said to me, "I've been thinking about hiring a broad. And you seem like the nervy type," he went on. "Okay--let's see how it works out."
I had asked for a sales job with no sales experience. I suppose on the surface it did take nerve. But I had believed in what I was selling--myself. I knew that my homemaker's resume--though it wouldn't look impressive on paper--was strong. For me, I didn't feel that I should be hired in spite of having homemaking experience, but rather that I should be hired because of my homemaking experience. For starters, I was experienced in problem solving, time management, budgeting, priority setting, space planning, and negotiation. For years, I had been creating and seizing opportunities to make life better for my family. In fact, I had centered my life around taking care of others. I recalled how I was able to persuade the principal at my younger son's elementary school to transfer him from morning to afternoon kindergarten (after initially being turned down). How I successfully coached my ex-husband to seek a promotion at work. How I was able to obtain medical treatment on nothing more than my promise to pay.
I did have sales experience, and that is what I communicated to my first "customer" in my new career--the man who decided (reluctantly) to hire me.
As much as I believed in myself, my first year in car sales taught me more. I learned, for example, that I could get up after a fall. Literally. One time, rushing out to greet a customer, I tripped and landed facedown in the middle of a flower bed.
Moments before, having just received another sales rejection via telephone, I gazed at the huddle of eight or nine salesmen standing outside the showroom. Should I make an effort to join them? From my peripheral vision, I spotted a middle-aged couple walking toward the new cars. Somehow the couple had escaped the attention of the salesmen. Walking briskly toward them, I cut through a flower bed to save time. I tripped on a loose stone and found myself with my skirt up, one knee bleeding through my pantyhose, and one of my high heels broken off my muddied shoe.
Before I could get up, another salesman had introduced himself to the couple.
Though I felt as crushed as the flowers I was lying on, I got up and dusted myself off. I had to--I had two sons to support. But it was a lesson in resiliency. After repairing my shoe, my skinned knee, and my bruised feelings, I went on to sell three cars that day.
By the end of the year, I had applied some of the ideas I had developed about sales and had learned some new ones. And I had earned the "Salesman of the Year" honor along with a trip to the Super Bowl and a men's Rolex watch. (It never occurred to management that a woman would win.)
Within five years of selling my first car, I had founded my first auto dealership, Love Chrysler Inc., in Corpus Christi, Texas. Refining my sales and customer skills further, I soon opened a second dealership and developed ownership stakes in several other businesses.
Since then, I have been honored with awards and accolades beyond my wildest dreams. My story has been profiled in countless newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television talk shows. And now I want to share with you what I've used to make it all happen.
For those of you who are women, perhaps like me your homemaking resume is your starting point. Others may be farther along. There are tips here that will prove useful to you men, as well. Some of you may not be interested in a career in sales at all--but I guarantee that you, too, will find this book valuable. After all, we're all selling ourselves throughout our lives, whether we're trying to get our child into a special program, find a lifetime partner, look for a job, or return merchandise to a store. Whatever your goal, you'll be able to seize new opportunities to improve your life by applying the sales skills I discuss in the following pages. Because we're all "salesmen" at heart. And once you know how to sell yourself, you can do anything!
1.2 Not Knowing How to Sell Is Risky
Like a drowning woman, I reached out to sales as a life preserver, and it saved my life. But you don't have to be drowning to experience the thrill of being a top salesperson. Few professions offer more income potential, job security, and work benefits. No other skill offers more potential for self-improvement and relationship enhancement.
Think about it. In a downturned economy, who has more job security? The salesperson who's generating an income for the company, or the person who's considered an expense?
If you put in the effort, selling is not risky; it is secure living. It offers the only pay plans that don't have a cap. All it takes is a bit of faith--belief in yourself and your product.
If I seem like somewhat of a missionary for sales, I suppose I am. I once heard a car salesman say, "I peddle metal." Well, I disagree. To the extent I do "peddle" anything, I sell helpfulness and solutions. That to me is the heart of the sales experience. That's what a good salesperson really does--identifies a need and fills it. I've based my professional career on the belief that making people happy and making money are compatible with each other. My motto is "Help others to help yourself." I believe that's the mission of the true sales hero.
I'm excited about sharing what I've learned from my life in sales. Whether you're reading this book to improve your career in sales or to become more of a driver in your life, the principles are the same. Selling cars was the vehicle (no pun intended) I happened to use to learn the art of persuasion. I had no idea in those early days just how far my atlas of information would take me. Sales saved my life, and it can energize yours, too!
*Everybody has sales experience they can draw on. Think of five times in your life you were able to change someone's mind or have them adopt your point of view. What did those successes all have in common? How can you use the same approach in and outside of your job?
*Think of the best salespeople you have encountered as a customer. What made them good? What can you borrow from them to improve your life?
*Selling, even if you don't do it for a living, opens up limitless possibilities. We're all "salesmen" in one way or another. I truly believe that if you know how to sell, you can do anything.
Who and What Are You Really Selling?
(Hint: It's a Four-Letter Word)
A customer, in the traditional sense, is someone who buys a product or a service. We've all been customers. But because I've taken the buy/sell concept one step further by showing that we're all in sales, I feel compelled to expand the definition of "customer" as well.
A customer is anyone who is on the receiving end of a persuasion. To prove the point, let me give you an extreme example. If I have just persuaded you to allow me to cut in front of your car before you proceed at a stoplight, you are a customer. You have acquiesced to my request. You have "bought" into it.
Anyone you have a relationship with whose actions and/or opinions affect you is a customer in your life. And the relationship need not be a lifelong one; it may be only a passing one.
By this redefinition, prospective customers are all around us. I'm not suggesting that you travel through life figuring out how you can use people to your best advantage. But I am saying that sales opportunities, broadly defined, are present throughout our everyday lives.
Let's say you want your husband to join you in taking dance lessons. Or you desire an audition for the lead role in an upcoming stage play. Or you want a store manager to discount a slightly damaged leather coat. When you possess and properly use polished sales skills, the possibilities for improving your world are infinite.
Because my world is one where buying and selling products and services is my everyday business, the following material will often be presented in terms of traditional sales. Therefore, I invite you to open up your imagination to draw your own corollaries between the techniques I offer and your own life circumstances.
2.1 What You Are Really Selling
That's what a good salesperson hears every time a customer approaches. Whether you are selling cars, cosmetics, engineering services, Tupperware, or tubular steel--or your own services such as when you apply for a job--what you're really selling is h-e-l-p. You are either solving a problem or satisfying a need.
As dramatic as it may sound, every salesperson helps their customers improve their life. And that's true whether you are a national sales manager for a Fortune 100 company or a waitress at the local diner.
Take the example of a motorist asking to cut in front of you. Let's assume I'm the motorist seeking to cut into the line of traffic. For you to allow it, I have to communicate to you somehow that by helping me, you'll benefit too. In this case, I am limited to using only facial expressions, and perhaps a bit of finger-pointing and lip-synching, to make my case. First comes the request--the "please" part. Next, assuming I get the go-ahead, a quick nod or wave to indicate "thank you." If you acquiesce to my request for your help, you can expect to experience at least two good feelings as well--the sense of pride that follows having done a good deed and a sense of being appreciated. And with that, you are likely to have a better day, too!
2.2 How Will This Benefit Me?
The point is: Whatever's being given to a customer has always got to be worth more in their mind than what they have "paid," whether in cash, time, or something else. When you offer something that helps your customer to look or feel good, you've taken the first step toward sales success.
The first time I failed to recognize this important principle, I hit a brick wall.
I had been selling cars at the same dealership for about two years, when a management position in the finance department opened up. By then the physical demand of selling cars--the leg and back pain that came from pounding the pavement every day, along with the discomfort of working in record-setting temperatures--had taken its toll on me. So I decided to ask for the management job. But that was only part of the reason I decided to pursue a job in management. I had consistently "led the board" (sold more cars than any of my twenty colleagues), and I felt I had earned this promotion.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Women Make the Best Salesmen by Marion Luna Brem. Copyright © 2004 by Marion Luna Brem. Excerpted by permission of Crown Business, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.