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The plight of the car salesman

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You know that moment when one of your friends cracks a car salesman joke, and everyone laughs.  If you’re the car salesman, that moment sucks, just as it does for the lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and teachers about whom punchlines are made.  Car salesman are among the least trusted people in the world, even ranked lower than members of congress, but why?  Are they deserving of this reputation for being dishonorable, or have they simply gotten a bad rap over the years because they make the majority of their living from commission?

For some reason, in this country, if your living is commission based we immediately distrust every word you say.  Unfortunately, most people are under the misconception that every car that sells nets the salesperson a huge paycheck, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Not every sale makes the numbers go through the roof, and if you measure the amount of time it takes to make a sale against the amount of customers that actually buy cars, that commission is typically well-deserved.  Of course, this sounds like a pity party for the humble car salesman, but perhaps it should be allowed to function as an eye-opener about the rigors of the automotive industry.

I have a friend that has worked in various departments in the automotive industry, and she is constantly asking me when we’re going to hang out, like it’s my schedule keeping me at work from nine in the morning until nine at night.  Yeah, nine in the morning until nine at night.  That’s twelve hours, and she may not sell any cars in those twelve hours.  Maybe it’s raining and no one feels like shopping for a car that day.  Perhaps she falls victim to countless “just looking” shoppers.  Either way, she’s putting in twelve hours to possibly make some money.

That’s right people, they make good money if they’re good, but they work horrible hours, have to be there whether people are buying cars or not, and guess who shovels the lot after a huge snowfall?  When you’re sitting down for dinner with your family and discussing the events of the day with your wife and children, car salespeople are having their lunches at their desks waiting for the next person to come in to buy a car.  When measured against the money, many people would ask if it’s really worth it.

Some people have decided there is no money worth sacrificing their entire social circle, family life, and mental health to stick with the sales position and have moved on to the vendor side of the automotive industry.  Others feel the money is worth the time away from their family, for now.  They’re working toward a particular goal; a first car for their child, getting the kids through college, buying a bigger house to accommodate a new baby, and then they’ll get out of the rat race.  However, as we all know, there’s always something bigger to work towards.

Another unfortunate facet of being a car salesperson is that there’s not much more you can do.  Sure, you can move up to finance, but their hours are just as bad.  You could take a management position and be considered out of the game, but it’s rare that these people stay in the same dealership for an extended period of time.  The automotive business considers it strange if a salesperson stays with a dealership for more than five years at a time, only making lateral moves.  In other career fields, longevity is valued, while in the car business, it may mean you’re not hungry enough.

Imagine working at your office every day; you go in, get your coffee and head to your desk.  Once you’re at your desk, there is a specific amount of work for you to complete, then you get to go home after eight hours.  On Friday, when your paycheck arrives, it’s probably going to be the same as it was the week before, no matter whether or not you had the same amount of work to do each day.  This isn’t the case in sales, especially car sales, where your paycheck is also dependent upon the way the team is performing.

Sure, they’ve made the choice to enter a field where nothing is guaranteed, but the potential exists for a healthy paycheck.  However, they’ve also dedicated themselves to learning the mundane answers to every possible question they will be asked on a daily basis, they focus on team dynamics because you’re only as good as your weakest link, and they’re constantly tracking numbers to make sure their ends are meeting every month.  Whether or not they’re your favorite people in the world, consider the plight of the car salesperson before blindly disliking them.  Their lives aren’t all fat paychecks and fancy demos.

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