If you imagine the stereotypical car salesperson, you are not likely to picture a strategic sales professional. And while my experiences buying cars in the past have largely supported the stereotype, one particular experience stands out as a master class in strategic selling.
We have some specialized requirements when it comes to buying vehicles. My middle child moves around the world in a power wheelchair, which means that we need a ramp-equipped, lowered floor accessible van to transport the 250-pound behemoth of a wheelchair that my daughter uses for ambulation. You have probably seen accessible vans, they look like regular minivans, except they are a little uglier because they are modified with a combination of lowered floorboards and aftermarket body moldings to accommodate the ramps that need a more gradual incline combined with increased headroom for the wheelchair. Not only are these modifications on the ugly side, but they are also quite expensive. A new Honda Odyssey with accessible modifications sells for about $70,000, or the price of a well-equipped 5-series BMW.
Roger and me
I first met our protagonist, Roger, in 2005 when we were shopping for our first accessible van. My daughter, then 7 years old, had recently graduated from a manual wheelchair to one of the power chairs that required specialized transportation. Roger doesn’t call himself a salesperson, he refers to himself as a “certified mobility professional”. From the beginning, Roger was helpful, consultative, and not pushy at all.
Table stakes: an efficient transaction
Our first transaction with Roger (spoiler alert: we are repeat customers) was quick and efficient. He educated us on the options, made specific recommendations for the type of van given our needs, and handled the purchase, paperwork, and delivery in an efficient manner. I left the transaction feeling about as good as I could given the fact that I just paid a ton of money for an extra ugly minivan. I assumed that I would never hear from Roger again. I was wrong.
Immediate follow up
In the first couple weeks after we took delivery of the van, we heard from Roger - twice. He was checking in to make sure that we were satisfied with the van and made himself available if we had any questions. In my experience with enterprise software, I can tell you that it certainly isn’t a universal practice for reps to follow up post-sale (especially pre-SaaS), although the good reps do follow up with their customers to insure satisfaction.
Persistent, non-pushy check-ins
While the immediate follow-up from Roger was a good practice, what happened over the coming years was truly remarkable. At least twice a year, Roger would call and send an email to see how things were going. He didn’t try to push the latest model or a holiday special, he just called to check in to make sure everything was going well with the van.
Most of the time, we didn’t reply (he didn’t ask for one), but every once in a while, we would respond with a question or request. Roger would immediately and politely get back to us, refer us to the right service person, or answer our questions directly.
The first year in, I was a little surprised to get the check-in. The amazing part was that Roger would check in at least twice a year, every year for seven years.
Our first repeat purchase
About seven years after our first van purchase, we decided it was time to get a new one. My wife and I talked about the need to update the van, and without even thinking about it, my wife said “I guess it’s time to call Roger.” Interestingly, we had some issues with our first van. The modifications made the car noisy and the power doors stopped working after a while. Roger was helpful and supportive, and we didn’t blame him for the less-than-stellar experience with the van.
It was clear then that his non-annoying persistence was paying off.
Within a couple weeks, we had purchased our second new accessible van, a 2012 Honda Odyssey. Like the first time, Roger made the experience easy and efficient. And like clockwork, Roger did his immediate post-sale check-ins, and then settled into his twice a year cadence.
The Tank and the truck
Over the last couple of years, my youngest daughter got her driver’s license and became quite fond of driving “The Tank” as she called the Honda minivan. She actually preferred it to my wife’s 3-series BMW station wagon because she liked the higher driving position. She also liked the fact that The Tank was a little less precious than her Bavarian alternative for transportation. We were quite happy with her driving The Tank because it was safe and it didn’t have a ton of miles on it - about 50,000 or so. We planned to keep the van for the foreseeable future, at least another 8 to 10 Roger check-ins.
Our plans changed pretty quickly when my youngest daughter was sideswiped by a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel, opening up The Tank like a can opener and pushing the van into the guardrail on the highway where she was traveling. Both front and side airbags deployed and a passing motorist had to help my daughter climb out a window, but thankfully, my daughter was uninjured.
Time to call Roger again
The Tank was deemed a total loss by the insurance company, so we knew we had to call Roger to get a replacement. We weren’t quite sure how things were going to work in the middle of a pandemic, but Roger had adapted. He quickly shared some good options for a replacement from their inventory and offered to drive the one we wanted to our house so we could do a test-drive and make sure it worked for my daughter’s wheelchair.
Roger showed up (masked, of course), efficiently went through the car and told us to think about it and let him know our thoughts.
We quickly decided on the new van and Roger arranged to deliver the van to our house, sorted out the registration, and even researched some extra incentives we could apply for and some tax relief we could request for the accessible van.
We accepted delivery about a week ago. I know that it was about a week because I got the first email from Roger this morning, just checking in to make sure we were happy.
Roger’s strategic sales skills
Over the last 15 years, Roger has consistently demonstrated the following sales skills.
- Offer consultative expertise. Roger is an expert in accessible transportation and we rely on him to help us understand the options. The best sales professionals help their customers navigate the right solution for their business problems.
- Be easy to do business with. That doesn’t mean you have to be the cheapest solution. Roger made the transactions effortless, handled all the details, adapted to the pandemic, and delivered a complete solution: a registered van in my garage.
- Make sure the customer is getting the value you sold. Roger checked in after the funds were transferred and his deal was closed to make sure we were satisfied.
- Be helpfully persistent. The regular, semi-annual check-ins from Roger made sure that we didn’t forget about him. They were never annoying, but they were a regular reminder that he was ready to help when we needed him. And it worked.
It paid off for Roger
Were Roger’s efforts worthwhile? I think the evidence is pretty clear. We purchased over $200,000 of vehicles from Roger in the last 15 years and have referred several friends in the accessibility community to him.