Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How to be a jerk

Photo courtesy EveryCarListed
When I lived in the US, I quit a job I enjoyed and took a job I hated because that hated job – car salesman – offered health insurance. Keep in mind that I had something called a cholesteatoma and in the worst-case scenario, you can die from this relatively easy to treat condition. I had bloody pus running out of my ear for well over a year until the pre-existing medical clause expired and I could get my surgery. Not having medical care was not an option.

Needless to say, being the brainy nerd surrounded by a bunch of alcoholic drug-using jocks tended to set me apart. As it turns out, I'm a fantastic salesman, but only when I believe in my product. I didn't believe in cars. However, I believed in numbers and that can take you pretty far.

For every 3 to 4 real customers you can get one to agree to buy and drive home today and for every 3 of those, one will actually close. Thus, if you want to sell 20 cars in a month, you have to talk to around 200 real customers. With 4.3 weeks in the month and working six day weeks, you needed to talk to about 8 real customers a day and that's pretty hard given that just one deal can take hours to close. The days are long and it's just not fun.

Being a geek, I found that I worked better with some customers than others. Truck buyers? Nope. Couldn't do it. Older, single women? No problem. I couldn't sell Toyotas because people buying Japanese cars were focused on quality and they knew more about the cars than I did, but selling Chevrolets was easy: customers would walk in saying "I ain't gonna buy none of that Jap shit" and I would enthusiastically agree with their idiocy; I needed that surgery.

There was one salesman, we'll call him "Bob", who was popular, even though he wasn't well-liked. He was popular because he was good friends with management and when a "done deal" walked in, sometimes management would hand it to him and he'd get a "free car" (and the commission) to pad his sales stats. Being friends with Bob often meant that he'd give you half the deal if he was too busy to take the "feeder" the sales desk handed him.

Bob was a jock. A blond-haired, blue-eyed, rather good-looking guy, with a smug attitude fed by the assurance that he was going to become a manager. What he wasn't was bright. It's not that he was stupid, he was just incurious about the world and seemed to think that sports was more important than just about anything. Needless to say, he and I didn't hang out much.

When things were slow, salesman talk. I can't talk about sports, I don't give a damn about getting drunk in a bar, or snorting lines of coke, so I didn't have much in common with most salemen. When I did talk, I would change the topic to politics (bad idea) or science (even worse), and given that I was, compared to them, relatively well-read, conversations would end with salesmen trying to give me grief.

One day Bob turned to me and said "Curtis, I know all the big words you do, I just choose not to use them."

I replied "Oh, thank god! I just read 'The Objectivist Epistemologist objection to the analytic-synthetic dichotomy' and I've been dying to talk to someone about it."

Everyone laughed at Bob and Bob was pretty pissed at me. That's OK; he never handed me the back half of any feeders he got.

I was a jerk, but in car sales, it's the one atmosphere where this is regarded at a positive trait.

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