Joe Girard’s incredible sales career began with his first job shining shoes when he was just nine years old. He would work as a newspaper boy for The Detroit Free Press, and as a dishwasher and stove assembler until he went into the custom-home building business. After losing a three million dollar building business in 1963 when he was 35, Girard began selling automobiles at a Chevrolet dealer in Detroit. During the ensuing years, he would break every automotive sales record in the world and top The Guinness Book Of World Records “World’s Greatest Salesman” category. Before leaving the Detroit dealer, he would sell an incredible 13,000 cars in fifteen years, selling on average an astounding six cars a day at retail level.
Sought out by automobile companies as well as many other corporate giants as a motivational and sales speaker, Girard travels thousands of miles each year to bring his message of enthusiasm and professionalism to salespeople in all industries.
He credits his practice of tossing business cards into the stands during football or baseball games with creating a high profile image that is impossible to forget. In this PSP exclusive interview, Joe shares some of the techniques that helped him to get – and stay – on top!
PSP: You have been tremendously successful at selling cars but I think you are also a fabulous actor.
Joe Girard: That’s what they tell me, but I call it body language. I think people can get more out of body language than they can out of words. Enthusiasm alone and your smile, the way you move, gets people to really want to listen to you. That is why I sold a lot of cars. I always behaved as if I were on stage.
PSP: How do you get people’s attention?
Joe Girard: I catch everybody off guard. For example, when I’m introduced for a speech, I don’t come from the front, I come from the back of the room, singing a little tune. People don’t know where the voice is coming from and their heads start to turn and they are looking at me. As I’m singing, I’m shaking hands with people with my right hand and my left hand is going into my pocket. I have created a habit: if I touch you, I will give you a business card. I can walk away saying to myself, “That person knows who I am.” Who knows, he might need what I am selling. Or, he might have heard somebody mention what I was selling. Why not give these cards away?
PSP: How many business cards do you use a year?
Joe Girard: Well, when I was selling cars, I was going through about 16,500 a month. In my book, I talk about the different ways I gave my cards away. I had the best seats in the Tiger’s stadium, right along the first base line. There were stories written about my methods in magazines like Newsweek. Any time a home run would be hit, I would take a shopping bag full of thousands and thousands of cards and I would scream after every home run, throwing out thousands and thousands of cards either way-behind me, in front of me, cards all over the place. Before you knew it, everybody there knew who Joe Girard was. People would say, “Watch, if a home run is hit, that guy up there, his name is Joe Girard, he is going to throw out his business card.” From that I got a lot of leads and sales. This all goes under the heading of promotion. At a football game I also had the best seats, along the rail. Touchdown! and I’d throw my cards all over the place. The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, The New York Times, The Los Angles Times, all wrote stories with headlines like, “World’s Number One Salesman Throws His Business Card.” I got hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity. Pretty soon I was getting business from all over the country. This is one of the ways of PR-ing yourself. I don’t see why salespeople keep themselves a secret.
PSP: How many cards do you use today?
Joe Girard: I would say 60,000 a year.
PSP: How did you learn to become such a successful self-promoter?
Joe Girard: Fear is a most powerful feeling. I trained myself by asking, “What is there to fear?”, and answering, “There is nothing to fear as long as I am doing things honestly, as long as I am doing good things.” You see, you have to get up and be recognized. A lot of people call me crazy, but I get thousands of letters from people telling me how much they like me. But the way I see it, I’m just full of faith and enthusiasm.
PSP: Do you think that some salespeople don’t want to pay the price for success?
Joe Girard: The first thing you have to do to be anything, I don’t care what it is, if you want to be on a Broadway stage, you have to give that extra 10 percent. If you want to be a great ball player you have got to give that extra 10 percent. That extra 10 percent is: if you start at 9:00 you don’t get there at 9, as far as I am concerned you are late. You need to get there at 8. Pete Rose got to the ball park an hour earlier, to feel the place, to walk around and stand and to turn on his enthusiasm machine. Mohammed Ali started to train long before the average fighter. If the place closes at 6:00, I don’t look at my watch, I stay until I am through doing what I am out to do. I may leave at 7:15 or 8:00 but I don’t look at the clock. The average salesman, at about 4:15, 4:00. he starts to sneak out. The four letter word in selling is lazy. Because I invested 10 percent more than the average salesman. I conquered my dream and retired at age forty-nine. You see, anyone can give 100 percent but, if you want to be in the winners’ circle, you must give 110 percent. I have a great mailing program. In fact, Tom Peters wrote about me in his book IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE. After you buy from me, I put you in my ferris wheel, which is a mailing system I designed for follow-up, and you become my property. The sale begins after the sale. Once I sell somebody, I follow through and make sure he gets what he deserves.
PSP: What are your steps for effective follow-up?
Joe Girard: The first step is, you had to have an appointment to see me, or you couldn’t get in. Then as soon as I took your money, I looked you in the eyes and I would say, “Today you bought two things. You bought a beautiful, beautiful car, I mean, you made a good choice. The second thing you bought is Joe Girard. I’ll tell you something else. If you happen to have gotten a lemon, as God is my judge, I am going to turn it into a peach. I am going to show you that I am different from any other salesman in the world. I will give you service like you never saw.
“You know, Mr. Brown, this one car you bought really doesn’t move me, I’m not very excited about this one car. What will excite me is when you come back again and buy from me. If you bring your brother, the preacher from your church, if you bring someone from your work, that will tell me, ‘Girard, I like the way you treated me.’
“From now on, Mr. Brown, before you come in for servicing or a problem, don’t come into the dealership, call me first. I have a right hand man who works for me. He will follow you through the service department.” (In fact, in my book I talk about how I pay somebody to do things that I was too important to do.)
I continue: “Mr. Brown, he will follow through and get you service beyond your wildest dreams.”
You may reply, “Oh Girard, all salesmen say that, you won’t do it.”
I answer: “You know, Mr. Brown, I will never stand behind this car. I’ll stand in front of it. If you ever need me, you’ll see that I am different from any other salesman in the world.
“I am going to give you a stack of cards. I would like you to put your name on the back of these and give them to people who think they might need a car or truck. If anybody buys, I will pay you $25.”
I tell salespeople to make sure that the words that come out of their mouths will help people buy from them forever. If you are not sure, keep your mouth closed. Don’t lie, and don’t ever break a promise. Don’t ever promise an incentive unless you are going to pay.
Then I give Mr. Brown the cards and he comes to pick up the car the next day. I say, “I’m putting another stack in your glove box for wherever you go, Mr. Brown, I want to go. Girard is in the glove box.”
Watch this one, a week later, I give the power call. Anybody can do this, regardless of what business they are in, I give him the power call a week later:
“Hi, Mr. Brown, Joe Girard here. How are you doing? Good, I’m glad to hear it. By the way, how is that car? Remember what I said, if you get a lemon, I’ll turn it into a peach. The car is fine, glad to hear it. Remember what I said, I want you always to be happy. By the way, Mr. Brown, I’m sure that you have shown your beautiful car to everybody. Did you get anybody that said they might buy? Oh, your preacher said he may want to buy in about a month. Can I have his name, Mr. Brown? Remember the $25 I promised you. Call up the preacher and tell him I’ll be calling. Give me his phone number. Who else? The guy in your office said he might buy a pickup truck? Give me his name. Again, Mr. Brown, thanks.” The power call gives you two advantages. First, your customers will be pleasantly surprised that you called, and second, you will always receive new leads.
PSP: That’s an interesting phrase – the power call.
Joe Girard: The power call fertilizes the customer’s mind. He realizes that nobody has ever called to see how the product is working. And in the process I got two leads. As soon as the person leaves my office and after he gives me a deposit and signs the order, I send him a beautiful thank-you card telling this person how much I appreciate his buying from me. Once a month, he gets a piece of mail from me. I tell all companies to never put the name of your company on the envelope. It is like playing poker, you are showing the guy your hand. Your name is inside. You don’t need it on the envelope. You can save money by not putting your name on the envelope. I used to send out 15,000 pieces of mail a month, and 15,000 pieces were opened. None of mine got thrown away because they didn’t know what was inside.
PSP: When you make contact with people in everyday life, what are the rules you follow?
Joe Girard: First, listen with your whole body, by touching your chin. God gave you two ears and one mouth. He is trying to tell us all something, to listen. The longer you listen to somebody, the more obligated he or she will become to you. It is tough for somebody not to like a good listener or to walk away from a good listener.
PSP: So you are acting out the script “I like you.”
Joe Girard: Yes. Listen, I have seen so many people sell something and buy it back in five minutes because they couldn’t keep their big mouths shut. I see these salespeople and inside my body I am screaming, “Shut up!”
PSP: And then…?
Joe Girard: I always ask the customer, “Now, Mr. Brown, I’d like you to do me a favor. I’d like you to send me a note telling me what you thought of me. I just would like to know. I am never satisfied with Joe Girard. I would like to know how you feel when I say I am going to take care of you in servicing and how I am going to just love you to death. Would you write me a letter?” You should see the letters I have gotten from people. I show prospects a filing cabinet full of thousands and thousands of letters. If there is anyone who is there that you might want to call, I also have that in my other file. That will really tell the customer something.
PSP: You establish credibility. Can you walk me through a sale with Mr. Brown?
Joe Girard: I don’t get into the sale. That is a no-no. After he has looked through my filing cabinets, I might have asked him what he is driving. I would turn my head around real quick and say “Why don’t you give me the keys while we are talking. I will have the car looked at and I will tell you exactly what it is worth.”
He will drop the keys in my hand, I will give them to my right-hand man and he will go and get the car appraised. I am too important. I am too busy. Like the doctor in the operating room. He doesn’t go out and get lab reports; he is there to do surgery. So he goes and gets the car appraised. He looks in the car and the trunk and looks to see if there is any fishing equipment in there or any bowling balls, or any brochures from any other dealerships. He is doing all of that. He calls me on the phone and I say, “Have you had Mr. Brown’s car checked? OK, fine.” He is telling me that the tires are very bad; there are bowling balls in the trunk; there is a baby seat in the car and fishing equipment. I say, “Thank you, Freddy.”
I hang up and then I look at the guy and say, “You know, my associate is telling me that we had to look in the trunk to see if you had a spare in there and that you had a lot of fishing equipment. Do you fish?” That is all I have to say.
Then shut your mouth and let him tell you how good he fishes. Or the baby seat. “Do you have children?” One no-no: if somebody is showing you a picture of their kid, don’t show them a picture of yours. We are not running a popularity contest. The guy talks about a fish. Don’t tell him about the one you caught. His fish is the most important fish. He is still talking to me. I am still listening.
Then I say, “My associate was telling me that he saw a Yellowstone Park sticker on your car. My wife and I have often wanted to go to Yellowstone Park. How is it, Mr. Brown?” Now I have got him talking. He is selling himself because he is buying from me.
He finally says to me, “You know, Joe, I am looking for a car.” He says it. I didn’t say it.
“What do you think you need, Mr. Brown?” Now he starts to tell me. As he is talking, I am writing. I don’t write continuously. I don’t want to write too much, it makes him nervous. I start talking about the bowling or something.
I’ve seen too many salespeople pull this one on all walks of life and it makes me want to gag. The guy is writing on a scratch pad. Try and take a scratch pad and transfer it on an original order and the guy will start screaming. “Oh no, I’m not ready to buy.” I tell salespeople, managers and bosses all over, don’t allow scratch pads in offices. Work off of an order pad, have order pads in offices on desks before anybody walks in. Let it be part of the furniture.
So finally I am writing, he has already been through an awful lot with me. I have let him talk. He has seen all my endorsements, he has seen my impressive office with all these plaques and finally, real quickly, I look at him and say “Good choice, Mr. Brown. By the way, would you like blue or brown?” I turn around real quickly, put the pen in his hand. I don’t waste any time; I say, “Would you OK this for me, Mr. Brown?” Never look at a customer when you ask them to OK something for you because the eyes scare them. You just put the pen in his hand and look down and say, “Would you OK this for me?”
PSP: So you feel that at this point eye contact breaks the spell?
Joe Girard: It would knock you dead. Quickly, after he has signed the order, you turn your head the other way and say, “Let me have the $100 deposit, Mr. Brown, and I will get it ready for you.” He may say, “Well, I don’t have $100, I only have $40.” “That’s enough.” Then after I get the order, watch the power words. Watch how I get rid of buyer’s remorse. A lot of people buy cars or houses or insurance policies, then they get home and think about what they did. They call you back and say, “Hey, Aunt Tilly died…” or they have to go away or they change their mind.
I can prevent buyers’ remorse. As soon as you give me the deposit, I look you dead in the eyes and say: “I really, really want to thank you, Mr. Brown, for buying from me. I want you to know I will never let you down. Mr. Brown, I don’t know everything about selling and I want to learn more. Now you were telling me that you went to two other dealerships and you didn’t buy from them.” Then I look him dead in the eye and ask: “Why did you buy from me?” Then he tells me how much he enjoyed buying from me and that makes it hard for him to go back on his word.
PSP: Do you have other rules?
Joe Girard: Never put a cigarette to your mouth. Don’t even ask if you can smoke. Ten out of 10 people are going to say “OK,” but you are going to lose the sale. You don’t need a cigarette. A fighter, when he is in the ring doesn’t tell his opponent, “Just a minute, I am going to have a cigarette.” If he does, he will get his face knocked off. Or an attorney when he is pleading a case, he doesn’t take out a cigarette or a pipe, does he? Or a surgeon, when he is in an operating room. He doesn’t say, “Oh just a minute, patient. I am going to have a cigarette.” By the time he comes back that patient is dead. I have had people tell me they bought from me because I made them feel good.
Also, I don’t wear any jewelry, I wear a watch. Jewelry is a curtain between you and your customer – he can’t hear you. He is looking at all of your stupid jewelry hanging around your neck like a cow with a bell around its neck. Dress like the customers you are selling. Don’t let the customer look down at your shoes and say “Those shoes must have cost $250.” You have got to sell yourself. People buy people.
PSP: To what degree does “doing the right things” explain your success?
Joe Girard: It is everything. I am responsible to my customer to do the right thing and my attitude is always, always good. I never wanted anybody to walk away and say “Joe Girard is not a nice guy.” I always wanted people to love me.
PSP: You want to be a nice guy. Does it hurt you to be a nice guy?
Joe Girard: No, you can be a nice guy and be nice. You don’t have to be tough with anybody. At least I never had to be. People like nice people and they automatically want to be around nice people. If you get tough with somebody, there is a thin line. Don’t do anything to anybody that you don’t want done to you. There are a lot of people that want to be lied to. I say, “You know, Mr. Brown, if you don’t want the truth and the whole truth, forget it.”
PSP: Have you ever refused a sale?
Joe Girard: Yes, many times. Selling is like a game but mine is different. In games, there are winners and losers. With Joe Girard, there are two winners. You got what you wanted and I got what I wanted. But I got what I wanted and I am going to keep getting what I want from you. I’m a good guy. I am a coward when it comes to problems. I don’t want any problems. Take your time, explain, write out things perfectly clear – you aren’t going to have any problems.
PSP: What do you think would help raise the level of professionalism in selling?
Joe Girard: We need more sincere, honest people who want to treat customers well. You get what you give. You have got to know what you are doing and do it the right way. Don’t take short cuts and always give 110percent.
PSP: Thank you.