My Stolen Car, A Sleazy Salesman and 5 Marketing Lessons for Business Owners

Two weeks ago my wife‘s car was stolen. She was upset…I was not.

The car that was stolen was large, practical, paid off and ran pretty well. But folks, it was a minivan!

So while she labored over “who would steal a car with child car seats and kid’s DVDs in it?” I was scanning websites of car dealers for the hottest deals in anything BUT a minivan.

Almost exactly a year ago, Chris Brogan wrote “Dear Car Dealerships: Stop Sucking” where he ranted about dealer websites and gave some free advice to help them connect better with their customers. I’m not sure they got the message.

Because what we experienced at a recent visit to a car dealership was not just offensive but also proof that some business owners are missing some common sense marketing rules, living in the past and losing customers…

We walked in to a very nice looking dealership. And by this point, having gotten over the loss of her car, my wife and I were both excited to test drive a brand new, non-minivan.

A gentleman approached us, ran his left hand through his slicked back hair and extended his right hand. This might not sound like a terrible thing to do. Except that my wife was about 2 steps in front of me. He looked at her first, and then ignoring her 7-months-pregnant body, extended his hand to me.

“Good afternoon Sir. How can I help you today?”

Ummm. I politely introduced my wife, explained that the car was for her and then asked him if he could listen to what she wanted. “She will be buying this car,” I explained in an attempt at diplomacy. Then I walked away pretending to look inside a showroom car to make it clear to him that she was in charge.

I think he got the point right away. And although my wife and I were offended, we quickly realized that this was not just his fault. He was not acting alone. This was learned and encouraged behavior.

How did we know? He handed us his business card as we started to leave. It seems he gave us the wrong card because on the back are his notes: “No Trust. No Mercy. No Guilt. Feel UR Power. Take Care of Business.”

After we got a good laugh, I realized that this poor guy is not alone. His business is asking him to follow this mantra and ignore reality.

Maybe you’ve seen “Glengarry Glen Ross” (warning: this excerpt contains offensive language) where Alec Baldwin explains that “A-B-C” stands for “Always Be Closing!”  and demands that his sales people get motivated. Baldwin’s character refutes the standard sale’s complaint that “the leads are weak.”

But the fact is that this hard-selling view of the world is the quickest way to a lost customer. The world has changed and many more businesses than just this dealership need to catch-up.

I understand that not all car sales people act this way. I also understand that these predators probably find enough victims to make a living. But the fact is that his business lost a customer that day. So in light of my experience, I’ve listed what I think are some simple rules to follow and 5 marketing lessons for any business owner:

  • The customer is fully in charge. Always put them first.
  • Never assume you know your customer. Start every relationship with a question about what they want.
  • Trust is the new world currency. Take every opportunity to engender trust and tell the truth.
  • Every customer now has the power to reach millions of others online. Respect the power of referrals.
  • Differentiate yourself by simply working harder or as Drew Neisser (@DrewNeisser) recently said, “Stop Selling and Start Doing.”

By the way, we’re still in the market for a fuel-efficient, family car. If you know of a trust worthy sales person, please send me his number.

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Photo Source

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

9 thoughts on “My Stolen Car, A Sleazy Salesman and 5 Marketing Lessons for Business Owners

  1. Amazing! My mouth literally just dropped. SO glad you included the picture!
    Great advice- especially with your second bullet point. I think it is so easy for people (myself included) to just assume this or that. It is the lazy way of going about your day, and I have definitely learned my lesson in that area.
    Thanks Michael!

    1. Hey Lauren,

      Thanks so much for the comment and for sharing the article on Twitter. While I am sure you are no car salesperson, these are easy things to forget. And I think the one you pointed out is the toughest one. We often label our audiences and think that we know them, when in fact people are very unique and each buying process has different needs. This is something I covered in one of my “Marketing Mistakes” articles as well. And yes, we were amazed at that business card mantra. I included the picture because it is unbelievable!

  2. Michael, excellent article on the perils of shopping for a new car. I suspect I am like many others who do a great deal of research on the car, pricing, etc. before stepping into a dealership. In other words I am a super-educated consumer. But sometimes, a car salesperson will go through his or her pitch as if I had no idea of what I am looking for. For example, they will ask: “What kind of monthly payment are you looking for” after I have explained that I will either pay cash or arrange my own financing. This is just one of many examples of selling based on the way they are taught to sell, instead of how I prefer to buy.

    For a humorous look at unethical car sales practices, search the term “badger commercials” on YouTube.


    Christopher Ryan

    1. Christopher,

      You are absolutely right. I have heard the “what kind of monthly payment you lookin’ for?” question about 12 times in the past 2 weeks. Those commercials are absolutely hilarious!

  3. The rules of marketing have changed a great deal over the past few years but I don’t think the hard sell every really worked, at least not when used on people with common sense.
    Last year my dad and I went to buy my car. My dad is a biker with long hair and a beard. The guy tried to sell us a used car when we wanted a new one, asked us if we would like to finance when we clearly stated we would be paying cash, and continued to hound us even though my dad said he wanted to give it a day to think about it. He even brought the manager out to meet my dad and called us over and over every hour on the hour after we left. Needless to say we didn’t buy the car, mostly because he annoyed the crap out of us.

    Great article, by the way!

    1. Hi Vyki, Sounds like your experience was pretty bad. Unfortunately, I think there are plenty of car shoppers that fall for these tricks. So when they see an educated and informed buyer walk-in, they must be thinking “oh no!” But in the end, it’s the business (dealership) owner that suffers because the gain from the hard sell is short-lived.

  4. Great article! What you describe can also be applied to shopping for a home mortgage and several other industries. Social media and the availability of the internet has so obviously changed the game I am surprised at how often I still encounter sleazy sales tactics instead of substance. An honest representation of the investment that I am about to make always wins my business!

    1. Thanks Brenda, I think it is just a matter of time until these tactics become obsolete. Until then, at least the guy gave me some great inspiration to write the blog post and define these simple rules. I am thankful for the experience and hopeful that the pressure of consumer control with in out in the end.

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