Confessions of a Car Man


Cold Calls

I believe it’s a universal truth that all car salesmen hate making cold phone calls. It’s one of the great sources of animosity between salesmen and management. Handing out cold call sheets make the managers feel like their doing something proactive. Whether the calls actually work or not is not the point. In my humble opinion it’s mostly just a sadistic power trip.

I have no idea if the practice of cold calls is still prominent in this great country of ours (and I include my friends in Canada here, too). I hope it’s a thing of the past, but I suspect it isn’t.

Let me tell you a story. When I first started selling cars the salesmen in all the dealerships in the East Bay were unionized. (The now defunct Salesmen Local 1095, may it rest in peace.) Apprentice salesmen were not allowed to take an up for the first 30 days of their employment. This rule was strictly enforced. For that first month, I was put under the tutelage of a couple of journeyman salesmen whose job was to show me as they say, “How the cow eats the cabbage”. One of the things they had me do was make cold calls.

In the sales meeting room of Hayward Ford there was a telephone hooked up to a speakerphone. Each day I was taken to that room by one of the salesmen, sat down at the desk, given a script and was forced to make a few cold calls. The older salesman would listen on the speaker and critique me when I was finished.

Let me give you an analogy. When I was a kid I was raised in the Catholic faith. Nothing terrorized me more than going to confession. Here I was, sitting in pitch-black booth talking to the personal representative of God. It scared the living shit out of me. Making those cold calls made me feel the same way.

The irony of it all is that these leads came directly out of the phone book! Here I was calling people at random, in the vain hope that might just happen upon a person who needed a car. Talk about a needle in a haystack! What the hell was the reasoning behind this? At the time I hadn’t a clue. I felt it was some sort of weird Car Man initiation essentially designed to torment me.

My brother, Danny hated to see salesmen standing around doing nothing. (He didn’t understand that standing around doing nothing is one of our God-given rights!) I remember him getting pissed off, taking a telephone book, ripping out a few pages, and handing them out to equally pissed-off salesmen. I love my brother more than anything, but not when he had that phone book in his hands!

For the first five years of selling cars cold calls, or calls to orphan owners (which I’ll admit made a little more sense) was part of my automotive life. It would have been okay if making these calls worked, but I don’t think I ever sold a car off a cold lead. I hated making the calls, but I was always threatened that a manager would check my phone sheets to make sure I had really called the potential customer. For me, it was a demoralizing and depressing situation.

Then something life-changing happened to me.

I first met Tony Taylor when I worked at Elmhurst Ford in Oakland. Tony was a really great, funny guy and a consummate Car Man. He also had the best hairpiece I have ever seen in my life. Tony seemed to take a liking to me and was always giving me advice about selling cars.

A couple of years after I met him we were working together on the used car lot at CST Ford, a mid-70’s incarnation of Hayward Ford. I had been in the business for five years or so. I was a so-so salesman who never seemed to make a lot of money. I struggled each month just to make a living.

One day Tony came into my office. He closed the door and sat down across from me, and crossed his arms.

“What are you doing?” he asked me.

“Just making my phone calls, Tony,” I replied.

“Cold calls, huh?”

I nodded yes.

“Let me see all your call sheets,” he said. It was not a request. It was a demand.

I handed Tony a stack of sheets. He shuffled through them for a moment, looked up at me--and he tore them all in half.

“You’re done with that,” he said. And then he explained the secret to success in the car business. It was simple and to the point.

“Wait on customers,” he said. “Follow-up on them. Ask them for referrals. Those are the people you want call. No one else.”

“But they make me!” I protested.

“Lie,” he said simply. “Everyone else does it. Why not you?”

“But what if they check?”

Tony laughed. “David, do you really think the managers are going to check your cold calls? Do you think they have the time? Do you think when they were salesmen they made these calls? I tell you, son, it’s all just one gigantic stroke.”

In a blinding light of revelation I knew that Tony was speaking the truth. I took his advice, and I soon discovered that when I concentrated on the people I had actually talked to, I immediately started making more money. Great story, huh?

But hey! What’s that I hear? Could it be the sound of cold call sheets being ripped up?

Music to my ears.

Talk to you later,



F&I Insider Admin said...

David this post hits home (especially after the sales meeting today). It reminds me of the post you wrote a while back about the first Model T at the first car dealership. Even back then, the first sales manager most likeley blamed the loss of the first car's extra set of keys on the first car salesman. Classic. I've got to re-publish this. Check out the blog.


Matthew Gooden said...

Cold Calls are a worldwide phenomenon David.

They make you do them in Australia as well.

Here's my rough breakdown of what generally happens.

33.33% = Prospect requests you leave him alone.
33.33% = Prospect doesn't pick up phone.
33.33% = Prospect is dead.
00.01% = Prospect buys car.