The secret behind the World’s Greatest Salesman

JOE GIRARD is listed in the Guinness World Records as “the world’s greatest salesman.” He’s sold more retail big-ticket items, one at a time, than any other salesperson in recorded history. Was he selling some amazing new technology that everyone had to have? No. Was he selling to the mega-rich? Wrong again.

He sold ordinary cars to ordinary people. Between 1963 and 1978, he sold over 13,000 cars at a Chevrolet dealership. His stats are amazing:

- In total, he sold 13,001 cars. That’s an average of six cars per day.

- On his best day, he sold 18 vehicles.

- On his best month, he sold 174.

- In his best year, he sold 1,425.

-Joe sold more cars by himself than 95% of all the dealerships in North America.

-To make his feat even more incredible, he sold them at retail — one vehicle at a time. No bulk fleet deals.

What was the secret to Joe’s success? He lists several, including working hard and being likeable. Without discounting these factors, I’m sure there were thousands of salesmen at that time who had those admirable qualities, but they didn’t sell a fraction of the volume that Joe did. One of the stand-out things that Joe did was to keep in touch with his customers constantly. He sent a personalized greeting card every month to his entire list of customers. In January, it would be a Happy New Year card and inside it would say, “I like you.” He would then sign his name and stamp it with the details of the dealership where he worked. In February, his list might get a Valentine’s Day card. Again inside the message was the same, “I like you.”

He would vary the size and color of the envelope, and each was hand-addressed and stamped. This was critical to getting past the postal mail equivalent of spam filters, where people stand over the trash can and discard all the items that look like ads, scams, credit card offers and other types of junk mail. He wanted his customers to open his envelope, see his name and the positive message inside and feel good. He did this month after month, year after year, in the knowledge that they would eventually need a new car. And when they did, who do you think would have been top of mind? By the end of his career, he was sending out 13,000 cards per month and needed to hire an assistant to help him.

By the time he was a decade into his career, almost two-thirds of his sales were to repeat customers. It got to the point where customers had to set appointments in advance to come in and buy from him. Contrast that with other car salespeople who just stood around waiting and hoping for walk-in traffic.

What would you guess is the average number of times a salesperson follows up a lead? If you guessed once or twice, you’d be about right.

Fifty percent of all salespeople give up after one contact, 65% give up after two and 79.8% give up after three shots. Imagine if a farmer planted seeds and then refused to water them more than once or twice. Would he have a successful harvest? Hardly.

Immediately after you’ve captured a lead, they should go into your system, where repeated contacts are made over time. Contact does not mean obnoxiously trying to pester leads into buying. You build a relationship, giving them value in advance of them buying anything from you, building trust and demonstrating authority in your field of expertise in the process.

Accept the fact most people will not be ready to buy right away. Put them in a database — and this database could be capturing email or physical direct mail details (preferably both), mail them something regularly to stay in touch, positioning yourself as an expert in your industry or field.

Like a farmer, you prepare your prospects to become ready for harvesting. Just as Joe Girard did, over time you too can build a huge pipeline of potential customers who’ll have you at the top of mind when they’re ready to buy. Even more exciting is that they’ll already be predisposed to doing business with you because of the value you’ve created in advance. You won’t need to convince or put on a hard sell; the sale just becomes the next logical step.

This growing list of prospects and the relationship you have with them will become the most valuable asset in your business. It’s the golden goose. When the prospect is finally ready to buy, you’re a welcome, invited guest rather than a pest. The most important thing you can take away from this message is to become a marketing farmer.

A marketing consultant trying to write on subjects ranging from persona; finance to child psychology. As founder of Marketing Realm, I help businesses grow.