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Selling experiences, not just cars

Working in car sales is challenging, but it can also be rewarding. If you can build a relationship with the customer and solve their problems by creating value in the product, you’ll do just fine.

Being in sales is a lot like running your own business. You are often commission only, which means you are paid on each sale. The goal is to build a loyal client base who will refer their friends and family to you.

Sounds straightforward, but in reality, getting started in car sales is tough: What do you need to get your feet off the ground and be successful in a competitive and target-driven environment?
Let me guide you through some recommendations to get you started on your fruitful career in car sales.

mercedes benz dealership g wagon g63
© Simon Cousins


Let’s start with the first hurdle. You’ll need to meet any legal requirements for the job, such as having a valid driver’s license and being at least 18 years old.

This may include obtaining any necessary licenses or certifications, depending on the country or state you are working in. For example, car salesmen may need to be licensed by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the United States or the Vehicle Sales Authority (VSA) in Canada. Sometimes your employer will pay for this certification, but this isn’t always the case. They may try to avoid paying for it if they can. VSA in British Columbia, Canada where I live is approximately $700. It’s not cheap, but it will soon pay itself off if you get stuck in.

Employer search

Find a dealership that has a vacancy, or create one for yourself. When I first moved to Vancouver, I put my suit on and handed my resume to 13 dealerships personally. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s likely that you are only looking for one job and it only takes one person to hire you. If you decide to visit the dealership in person, my advice is to ask for the general sales manager, not the general manager. The big boss isn’t usually the one doing the hiring.

Many dealerships prefer to hire individuals with some sales experience, but it is not always necessary, it depends on the brand or auto group that is hiring.

I wouldn’t recommend starting at a high-end dealership, not just because you would find it tough to get hired due to the competition, but the expectations would be much greater than if you began at a domestic automotive manufacturer which is which is where I would suggest starting. The main thing is that you get started somewhere because until you develop the skills and grow your own clientele, it’s no walk in the park and can often take several years to get into the rhythm.

Be driven to succeed

A large chunk of developing your skills is simply staying motivated and focused, continuing to learn and grow as a salesperson. This may involve setting goals for yourself, seeking out additional training and development opportunities, and consistently striving to exceed your targets and exceed customer expectations.

Work to develop your sales skills and sell an experience. Buying a car is usually one of the largest purchases someone will make in their life, make it feel special. You’ll need to have the ability to build rapport with customers, identify their needs, close deals and negotiate without compromising customer satisfaction.

“What’s the difference between a salesman and the best salesman? The best sales guys are on their feet talking to people. Not sitting behind the desk waiting for a deal to fall on their lap.”

Josh Campbell - Sales Manager, Mercedes-Benz Vancouver

Hard to disagree with that statement. The reality is people like to buy from people. They want a personable experience and definitely don’t want to be another number on the sales board. Making your customers feel special is one of the best ways to get them over the finish line and into their new car. Get them excited about their purchase and you’re halfway there to making their experience feel special.

I would suggest you get stuck in with any training or onboarding provided by the dealership. This may include learning about the different types of cars and features available, as well as the dealership’s sales processes and policies.

You should also train yourself by building your knowledge of the automotive industry. Read trade publications, watch YouTube videos follow Car Dealership Guy on Twitter, and attend industry events. Even something as simple as configuring cars on the manufacturer’s website can help you understand the packages and trim levels for a manufacturer too.

mercedes benz car dealership showroom amg
© Simon Cousins

Walk the lot

Getting to know the product is another one of the most important parts of being great at car sales. One of the best ways to get to know the vehicles is to walk the lot, sit in the cars and read the feature sheet.

It’s worth remembering that you might work for Porsche, but you won’t just be selling Porsche’s. Used vehicles make up a substantial portion of the dealership’s revenue and your income. You could be selling a variety of vehicles from Volkswagen and McLaren to Honda and Ferrari. It entirely depends on your dealership.

Regardless of where you work, it is likely you will get trade-ins. Trade-ins are easy inventory to purchase and resell if the demand and numbers are right. Through the years of your automotive sales career, you will build a library of knowledge of a variety of vehicles that will be forever useful.

To conclude

Getting your first job in car sales can be difficult due to it being a competitive position. It takes a certain type of personality to get into the rhythm quickly. You would have to be a natural. But I hope from reading this guide you can get an idea of what you can do to make your start easier. If you do struggle with landing your first job in car sales, I would recommend trying two things:

  1. Start by working in a sales position in another industry; the sales experience will be attractive to any potential employers.
  2. Alternatively, you could try any job in a dealership: Lot Associate, Administrator or anything else entry-level. Understand how the business functions, get to know the sales team and ask questions.

Your persistence will reward you here, managers that are hiring will be drawn to enthusiastic people, especially if you’ve gained good knowledge of the automotive industry and have good verbal and written communication skills.

Keep your eyes out for more career guides on TIRES + TERRAIN. But in the meantime, sharpen up that resume, and get applying.

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