It should come as no surprise that America's auto salespeople saw the pandemic as an opportunity.
It didn't look like it. With much of the nation locked down, millions suddenly unemployed, car dealerships closed, and sales plummeting, the industry was not full of optimism. But Ali Reda sees things differently. He sells Chevrolets and Cadillacs at the Les Stanford dealership in Dearborn, Michigan, and sold more vehicles in 2017 than ever before in America: 1,530 new and 52 used. He broke a record that had lasted 44 years. The way he did it and the reason he saw opportunities in the pandemic is rich in lessons for anyone in a company hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
47-year-old Reda has achieved a status that practically all salespeople strive for. "I don't really sell to someone who doesn't know me," he says. Everyone is a previous customer or was recommended by one.
Since everyone who calls already wants to buy a car from him, he is no longer a seller. "If it's a new customer, tell me which [vehicle] you're in. If it's a regular customer, I already know," he says. He knows or finds out "who they are, where they are, where they are from and, more importantly, where they are going in life." Are you getting married or having a child? Change job? Do you drive more? Or less?"
Once he has this information, customers tend to wonder what they think he should do. He tells them and they tend to do it. "I've really been more of a consultant than a salesman," he says.
This is a nirvana most salespeople never achieve, and Reda knows why. "It's what you do outside of the dealership more than you do in the dealership," he says, using his business terminology to highlight a point that is general. “By that I mean that you deserve this trust through your community. The reason most sellers fail is because they give up prematurely. It takes years and years to build that kind of relationship with the whole community. "
Courtesy Ali Reda
Now we learn why the pandemic was an opportunity for Reda. He has "years" been involved with local nonprofits promoting health, education, employment, nutrition and more in the Dearborn area. For him, COVID-19 was "a great entry point to get into a community with the right thing," he says. "And because everyone is involved, you actually get more recognition much faster than usual."
When PSA was critically scarce at the beginning of the pandemic, his connections enabled him to buy "a few thousand masks". He spoke through text and social media and asked health workers or their families to “please contact me personally,” he recalls. “You can imagine how it spread like wildfire. My assistant and I drove to people's homes and dropped two, three masks, six masks. "
When the inquiries multiplied, he set up a website called DearbornCares, asking people to drop off PPE at the dealer to sell. The website also provided information on COVID-19 test locations, local restaurants offering take-away and delivery, and other information. At the top of the landing page is a video message from Reda. If you scroll all the way down, his phone number and email address will be discreetly displayed.
"That's how you get known," he says, "and people will be more inclined to do business with someone they know who has given back."
Nothing on Reda's résumé indicated that he was going to become a record-breaking salesman. “I grew up with a single mother in downtown Detroit. I'm a product of the Detroit public school system, ”he says. "I never let where I come from determine where I go." In 2001 he was working in a warehouse for 10 years when he realized he had to move on. A car dealership hired him: “And I just walked in without knowing anything. I quickly learned that it's not about the product they are selling. It was about the people. "
He took his community-minded approach when faced with the desperation of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. General Motors closed the dealership where he worked. "It was maybe the best thing that ever happened to me," he says. "I thought," What should I do? “He moved to the Les Stanford dealer, took his current approach,” and just grew with the community. I loved her – definitely loved her – and it was reciprocated. “It took years but he was selling 25 or 30 cars a month to an average of 130 a month. In December 2018, he set another record with 202 cars sold per month.
Reda's experience in the financial crisis gave him optimism when the pandemic hit. Once again the auto deal looked doomed, but he knew it wasn't. His long list of relationships made his phone ring. He seems to be fine. Like virtually all auto salespeople, he doesn't want to tell you how many cars he's selling – that's competitive intelligence – but the dealership still employs two assistants just to do its scheduling and paperwork.
When asked for his advice to business people today, his answer is short: "It will only come down to patience." He showed what worked, and that doesn't happen overnight. That's not necessarily bad news. If it was quick and easy to get world class, everyone would. The encouraging message from Reda's example is that if you are ready to do what we already know will be effective, you will be in a class yourself.