Saturday, February 04, 2012

What We Can Learn from Great Car Salesmen

by Shelly Blake-Plock

My car was totaled in a wreck a few months back and I'm just now getting into the car-buying state-of-mind you have to be in to go to a dealership to find a replacement. Looked up the handful of models I'm interested in online -- the VW Jetta, a couple of Mazdas, the Ford Fusion, a Toyota or two, a Civic -- and did the "build your own" to figure out what I could get in the price range I had set for myself. Been to a few places on Sundays (when they were closed) just to look around the lots and see the cars in person.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the dealerships I've been considering are places that presented well online (the place just outside Baltimore that literally cut and pasted all of its inventory descriptions from a Canadian online magazine without so much as credit -- but whilst retaining phrases like "here in Canada..." -- well, they aren't getting my patronage).

Today was my first attempt to actually go in to a dealership to talk about getting a new car. It was a VW dealership on the west side of town where we were greeted by a man in a three-piece suit named Hans. A thirty-year veteran of auto-sales (most recently selling Porsches and picking up $6K a pop in commission until the economic downturn tasked him with selling Suburus and VWs, Hans had me hooked as much by his demeanor and great stories of racing 150mph on the Autobahn and his side project as a clock repairman as he did by anything he could tell me about the cars.

I knew all about the cars. I'd done my research online. I knew I liked VWs. I knew what a Jetta was going to cost me and I knew what that would run me per month. I knew all the available options and I knew what each trim offered. I knew how the car compared to others in its class and I knew what it's crash safety ratings were. Hans didn't have to tell me any of that. He just had to compel me to enjoy the car.

Not that I'd exactly equate car salesmen and teachers, but I think there is something for us to learn here. When we went for the second of two tests drives, Hans told me to accelerate hard at a certain point and, as I did, he explained the mechanics of the feeling I was getting from the accelerator pedal. As I blew passed a pickup on Route 40, he explained how best to sense all of those things -- torque, horsepower -- from the point of view of the driver's seat. Not once did he tell me the price of the car or ask me if I wanted to buy it. He just allowed me to experience it and helped me tie my experience into the engineering of the vehicle itself.

It was as much a master class in physics as it was a test drive.

As teachers, we're usually pretty good when it comes to content. And we're also pretty good when it comes to designing lessons. From a purely pedagogical standpoint, the most crucial part is linking those two things with the motivation and experience of the student. Because like any car buyer, they already have access of one sort or another to the facts. But the facts alone don't sell cars. And the facts alone don't sell education. It takes a guy like Hans who can give a master class in physics from the backseat of a speeding Volkswagon to make the sale.

Do you have a little Hans in you?

As postscript I should say that I didn't buy that car today. And I think I may have annoyed Hans a bit. But I did learn a lot and now I'm going to take that experience to the other shops I visit. And it just might turn out that I return to Route 40 and that I buy a car from Hans. We'll see.

From a teacher's perspective, however, I feel like I learned another lesson: sometimes it's not apparent that we've "made the sale". But we shouldn't assume. It's our part to impart knowledge and let that lead where it may. For all we know it will come back to us sooner or later. The challenge is to keep going out there for those test drives, riding in the backseat, and encouraging that kid with the hands on the wheel to really understand what they are doing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

  1. Great illustration. I often find some of the best lessons are the ones unplanned.


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