What a Used Car Salesman Taught Me About How to Love Your Customers

Joe Girard

The Ultimate Salesman

Is there any feeling more dreaded than the rock you feel drop in your stomach when a salesman approaches you?

Maybe if I don’t move, he won’t see me,” you tell yourself hopelessly. Salesman nears; you avoid eye contact. You look for an escape and fidget uncomfortably as you realize there is none. Too late, he’s here: you force a smile and grudgingly engage in conversation.

Joe Girard was that dreaded guy.

He caused the discomfort and saw people’s desperate deer-in-headlights reaction–for Joe was a used car salesman.

Joe, however, wasn’t your average used car salesman.

He holds the world record for used car sales, having sold more than 13,000 cars in his career.

He was selling an average of 35 cars per week when an average salesman would be happy to sell half that.

What made him different is that Joe realized the importance of connecting on a human level, and turned personal connections into success.

In fact he wrote a book about his adventures on car salesmanship called, “How to Sell Anything To Anybody” and it was one of my first books I ever read on sales many many moons ago.

The Rule of 250

250 people

Joe Girard took a job at the dealership during tough times under the following condition: He’d bring in his own leads, and not take the shoppers who wandered into the dealership. This put him in a unique situation, and he quickly discovered how difficult it is to generate sales.

Joe’s salesman-spiration came at  funeral, a few months after landing his job at the dealership. Funeral guests received Mass cards, and Joe wondered how the funeral director knew how many cards to print. He asked. The funeral director told him that after years of funerals, he’d learned that the average person will have about 250 people attend his or her funeral.

Intrigued, Joe started asking the same question at other funerals and weddings, too. And time after time, he kept hearing the same number: 250.

For Joe, this meant that each interaction could mean 250 customers gained or lost. And so, Joe started really loving his customers, who in return started really loving him back.

Joe treated each customer as more than a sale, he treated customers like friends. He took genuine interest in them, and helped them with what they needed. He remembered them and took care to forge real relationships as few people do.

Enter the Thank You Note.

whos awesome thank you card

This is the thank you card we send to customers when they first become a client with us.

What made Joe truly different was that he would honestly care for his customers. He’d hand write them personalized thank you notes and check in with them every now and then. He knew one day they’d need another car, and only asked that when that day arrived, they keep him in mind.

It’s this simple tactic that made Joe outstanding in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s what still makes people and companies outstanding today.

With competition fiercer than it’s ever been, brands are competing for attention, mind share, and more. The difficulty with most of them is that once they make the sale, too many are writing it off as a win and moving to the next lead.

The Wufoo Effect

Wufoo gets this.

They embraced the power of the Thank You in its handwritten form.

In their early days of their business, the Wufoo team would write a handwritten note to customers. Every Friday, they would get together, divide up the new customer list, and write away.

Wufoo Friday

Wufoo team sitting around a living room table writing Thank You cards. Image via Flickr

Five guys in a house, interacting with their customers using the most ancient form of human communication. This Friday ritual was essential in Wufoo’s early days, strengthening the new company’s culture internally while giving its customers something to be excited about externally.

Automating Your Business’ WOW Factor

The power of the personal touch is something I’ve noticed as well. Hand-written Thank You’s strike a customer like a cool breeze in a stuffy room.

For me, the Thank You note was an incredibly effective way to establish goodwill in my company in its early days, but this wasn’t easy to do. Especially in a company’s early days, it is difficult (and often impossible) to find time to sit and individually write Thank You cards to every single customer who is trusting you with business, no matter how important this simple thank you may be.

Faced with this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, we did what many brave Americans in a pinch do: we turned to Craigslist.

Our ad. We paid per card, and provided all writing and postage materials.

Our ad. We paid per card, and provided all writing and postage materials.

Determined to send handwritten Thank You’s, we posted this simple ad on Craigslist. This turned out to be a very low-cost–yet incredibly effective–way to grow our business. By outsourcing Thank You card writing, we gained:

  • Transparency
  • Social shares
  • Traffic
  • Sales
  • Goodwill
  • Brand loyalty

.. and all this at the low, low price of 25¢ per handwritten card.

“It’s the only card that’s on my refrigerator.”

My customers loved their Thank You cards, just like Wufoo’s customers loved theirs, and Joe Girard’s clients loved theirs. Thank You cards are an easy way to delight your customers and grow your business.

If there’s something people never expect, it is to receive a gift from a company through snail mail. Receiving a polite “Thank You” in their mailbox is a welcome anomaly–after all, who wouldn’t like to be ambushed by appreciation when what they were expecting is a bunch of bills and a glossy leaflet of next month’s Bed Bath & Beyond sales?

More than as a way to say thank you and foster relationships with customers, however, handwritten notes are also a powerful way to drive sales. For a while, we actually handwrote small notes expressing our appreciation for a customer, and stuck a coupon code on the note. This way, we avoided just slipping them a printed coupon. People loved it.

It all comes down to honest interest in others. Joe’s clients liked receiving Christmas cards that wished them the best in the new year and inquired how their five-year-old liked the new car. Out of all the used car salesmen in the world, Joe made people feel special, and they trusted him for that.

This is how Joe got into the Guinness Book of World Records and is ranked the best salesman ever. All he did is be human.

Replicating Joe’s formula for success is simple, inexpensive, and effective because nobody does it.

It is not rocket science, and it is success you can easily replicate. In the end, it just comes down to doing what you were taught as a child: say please, be considerate and be honest. And of course, don’t shy away from genuine human contact or the Thank You card.

Have you tried something like this, or received a Thank You card when you weren’t expecting it? Leave a comment and share your experience below!

Chris Brisson

Chris is the co-founder and CEO at Call Loop. He is focused on marketing automation, growth hacker strategies, and creating duplicatable systems for growing a remote and bootstrapped company. Chat with him on Twitter at @chrisbrisson

  • Thanks for posting this Chris. Clearly, I have some card writing to do.

    Dave