Life Cycle of a Car Salesman

Stages of a Car Salesperson’s Career

The life cycle of a car salesman has its ups-and-downs.

So you’ve decided to be a professional retail car salesperson. You’re new to the dealership, and everything is fun and exciting. You’re surrounded by all the brand-new vehicles, and you get to sell and drive them all. The excitement you feel is the feeling you want to keep forever, just like starting any new career.

You need to be aware of the traps and pitfalls ahead of you. Retail car sales, just like any career, have their ups and downs. The quicker you recognize the downs; you’ll transform into a professional retail car salesperson.

The New Feeling Will Wear Off Over Time

I’ve seen hundreds of car salespeople come and go over my career. When you begin your car sales career, everything is new and exciting. You’re learning all the ins and outs and how to sell cars.

Once a bit goes by, you begin to understand the system, and let’s face it; the system starts getting a little monotonous.

I’ve seen very talented salespeople get caught up in social clicks or believe they “know it all” and make the mistake of quitting or moving to another dealership too quickly. There is no huge secret to being a successful car salesperson. There are two simple ingredients.

I’ll even share them with you below:

“10% Skill 90% Attitude”

Now please don’t get me wrong. It takes skill to become a professional salesperson. However, you can have all the skills in the world, but if your attitude is terrible, you won’t sell anything to anybody.

The hard part is keeping the two ingredients together every day, day in and day out. A customer knows within about 30 seconds of meeting you if they like you enough to buy a car from you. I’m sure you’ve heard “first impressions are everything.”

My four stages of a car salesman’s career will help you identify where you’re at in your sales career and keep you from making a costly mistake.

The Life Cycle Stages of a Car Salesman’s Career

When first entering into retail car sales, the first year is usually all it takes to determine if you will have what it takes. Several other factors will determine your future in car sales. However, the one that can take you out the quickest is your ATTITUDE.

I’ve broken the salesperson life cycle into four stages so you can recognize where you may be in your car sales career or what you should look out for and avoid.

The one flexible thing with my life cycle as a salesperson is the times I’ve allotted for each stage. Some people learn faster than others; however, the actions and symptoms are the same.

Stage #1: Introduction to Retail Car Sales

Time frame – Approximately 1 – 6 months

It’s new, fun, and exciting. You have a great attitude and a thirst for product knowledge. You have pep in your step, and you always have a smile.

You want to learn everything you can about retail car sales and everything you can about the vehicles you’re selling.

You listen to what your Sales Manager tells you to tell the customer, and you pass the information on verbatim. You follow every car dealership’s sales process step to a tee. You’re having so much fun; you come to work early and stay late.

Symptoms of stage #1 are:

  • High sales volume.
  • Different and exciting.
  • High earnings.

Preventive measures for stage #1 are:

  • Realize it takes time and hard work to build the foundation of your business.
  • Keep and maintain a superior attitude.
  • Begin building your network.
  • Continue to focus on the basics.
  • Learn at least one thing new every day!

Stage #2: Becoming Knowledgeable About the Car Business

Time frame – Approximately 6 – 9 months

This stage of your short career is when you become educated in the car business. You’re enlightened and familiar with your surroundings and how things work in your dealership. You start learning the dealership’s clicks and listening to people who may or MAY NOT have your best interests in mind.

You’ve started to believe in your head you can figure out your customers and stop truly listening to what they are telling you. Not only do you believe you can figure out your customers, but you think you can figure out your Sales Managers also.

Once you start believing you have the customers, Managers and dealership figured out. You start to pre-qualify customers, thinking you know who will or will not buy a car by what they look like, what they’re wearing, or what they drive on the lot.

Not only do you start pre-qualifying customers. You begin to question the dealership’s 12-Step selling procedure, believing you can do better by cutting corners. (The process, whatever it may be, was in place long before you got there.)

Symptoms of stage #2 are:

  • Lower than previous sales volume.
  • Blaming everything and everyone other than yourself.
  • Questioning if retail car sales are the right career choice.
  • Lower earnings.

Preventive measures for stage #2 are:

  • Build a solid referral base.
  • Training, training, training.
  • Keep yourself in front of people.
  • Become an actor, tiger, and chaplain.
  • Polish your basic skills with continued education.
  • Learn something new every day!

Stage #3: You Have Arrived

Time frame – Approximately 9 – 12 months.

This is where it will start to get sketchy; your mind and attitude will play tricks on you. You will either die or rise at this time.

You’ve figured everything out, and you know the vehicle and product costs, values of trades, what routes to take, etc. You know who will buy and who won’t buy. You start cutting corners anytime you can to take the most accessible routes. You begin to hang out with the clicks of less successful salespeople.

You don’t follow up with your customers and start making excuses for why someone won’t buy a car from you. Everything is “why me.” There’s no traffic coming into the store; it’s raining, it’s hot, and it’s too cold outside. We don’t have any cars. Get my point yet?

Believe me when I tell you, a seasoned sales manager will recognize your in this stage well before you do. A good sales manager will attempt to help you and get you out of your funk. (If you’re worth saving.) You have to be smart enough to recognize they’re trying to help you.

Symptoms of stage #3 are:

  • Meager sales volume.
  • Frustrated.
  • Bad attitude.
  • Lack of energy (lazy).
  • Desiring career change.
  • Poor work habits.
  • Want to change dealerships (Grass is greener).
  • Extremely low earnings.

Preventive measures for stage #3 are:

  • Surround yourself with positive and successful people.
  • Focus on only the things that help you sell a car.
  • Don’t take rejection personally (pro tip).
  • Maintain constant motion and follow-up.
  • Don’t make excuses for why you’re not selling cars.
  • Know that all successful people fail before they succeed.
  • Learn something new every day!

Stage #3.5: Transformation or Failure

Time frame – Approximately 9 – 12 months

Stage #3 is when you will hit a crossroads during your car sales career. You either “get it” and transform into a professional car salesperson, or you will “burn out” and quit or turn into a “use-to,” a term used to describe individuals that sold cars previously and don’t anymore. They were not very good at it.

The grass is NOT always GREENER on the other side of the fence!

Your attitude is terrible at this point, and you look for any little reason to justify a reason to quit. You speak with others in the business at other car dealerships, and they tell you how much better it is where they’re at.

The problem is, if you transplant to another dealership, you’ll be starting back at stage #1. If you don’t fix your problem mentally, you’ll be right back where you’re at right now in just a few short months!

Stage #4: Professional Retail Car Salesperson

Time frame – Approximately 12 months

Congratulations, you are now a professional retail car salesperson. You have a realization that YOU make YOUR sales career, and you’re in charge of how much or little money you can make. You hang out and listen to successful peers. You complete your follow-up consistently. You’ve bought into the dealership’s selling system, and don’t cut corners.

You now have rigid work habits, understanding that if you’re not doing something that has to do with selling a car, you’re not making money. You look forward to going to work, and your attitude and feelings return to stage #1 permanently.

Symptoms of Stage #4 are:

  • Total awareness.
  • Extremely high earnings.
  • High sales volume.
  • No fear of rejection.
  • Eager to help others.
  • Organized and professional at all times.
  • Customer base, network, and referral system growth.
  • Your training and skills are becoming strong.
  • Excitement.
  • Promotion opportunities.

In Conclusion

Well, there you have it. Again, this timeline can happen over a few short weeks, months, or years. You can fall into any one of these sections at any time. As long as you recognize the signs, you can pull yourself out and focus on what’s important—having fun and making MONEY!

Retail car sales is a fun and rewarding career. If you want to get into it, listen and learn all you can and decide if it’s right for you.

About the author
Carlton Wolf is the author and founder of Auto Cheat Sheet.My name is Carlton Wolf, and I’ve been in the car business since 1994, both retail and wholesale. I created the Auto Cheat Sheet to better educate buyers about the deceptive sales practices used by many dealerships throughout the country. Please understand that not all car dealers are dishonest. However, you never know who you’ll be dealing with, though. I’m willing to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who listens. Keep in mind that I’m a car guy, not a writer.