The Right Business

Tesla isn’t a car company. They’re a technology company.

McDonald’s isn’t in the restaurant business, they’re in the real estate business.

When I was 19, I worked for a little while as a salesman for a car company. Though we were a large chain franchise, we were in the secondary market – which means yes, I was the classic “used car salesman.” (Though as a 19-year-old kid, I was hardly the classic stereotype, I’m happy to say.)

Our particular company specialized in buyers with terrible credit, repossessions, bankruptcies, etc. I learned some fascinating things about the business while I was there. One of the ones that stuck out to me was my manager, Steve, telling me what kind of business we were really in.

“We don’t sell cars. We’re a credit repair company. Cars are just the mechanism.” See, the appeal of our particular brand was that we did a lot more reporting to credit agencies than the minimum required by law, so if you were on time with your payments you could substantially improve your credit by completing a car loan with us. Many of my customers didn’t even need a car – they either already had one or they lived in a part of the city where it wasn’t necessary, etc. Instead, they needed credit, and credit can be hard to build when you don’t have any. If your credit is so bad that no one will lend to you, it’s tricky to prove yourself credit-worthy again. So many people came to us and bought the cheapest car imaginable but financed it so they could boost their score back up.

The reason I learned this lesson is because in the early days of my employment there, I sucked. Steve explained to me that I sucked because I was trying to sell cars, and I was doing a good job of it – but people weren’t there to buy cars. I was talking up the features of the cars, trying to get people to take test drives, etc. When I became successful was when I learned to take people right to the desk to talk finance terms. Half my customers picked out a car after the paperwork was signed, because they hadn’t really come in to buy a vehicle. They’d come in to trade cash for credit.

That’s the lesson – understand what your audience really walked in looking for. Whether you’re selling, leading, flirting, speaking, anything – the other person wants something, and if you don’t have a good handle on what it is, you can’t help them.

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