Selling software is like selling cars

More than sixty-years ago my grandfather made a career out of selling car tires door-to-door. A time when door-to-door sales was the #1 channel for finding customers and a handshake sealed the deal.

Fast forwarding from that generation, he then opened up a car dealership which my father along with his brothers ran for over 25 years. I grew up learning the ins-and-outs of running a small business and customer service at the dealership. When most kids were out at the beach, I was cleaning cards or pulling weeds around the lot.

It was an education that can’t be taught or earned from a tuition.

Today, I run a WordPress service and software business with my father where we continue the family-owned tradition of servicing our customers. I’m not sharing this with you in order to be recognised for this accomplishment, but in order to reinforce that you can relate any past career or experience with your new business. As an entrepreneur, I know many of us are constantly questioning our own abilities by saying things like, I’m not good enough or I need to be at a new level before I can achieve my goals.

Our inner-critic constantly challenges us. Do your best to shrug it off and keep on pushing through. Realise that your experiences bring worth to the table, even if you’re not a developer or designer.

Everyone needs to be in car sales

If I were to ever write a book, that’s the title I would choose.

Being an entrepreneur is more closely related to car sales than you might think. Sure you probably have that perception of a fast-paced slimy car sales person that represents someone more closely to Saul Goodman than that of noble Robb Stark.

I get it. However, car sales taught me more about the hustle than any podcast, blog, or glorified internet personality has ever done in my lifetime. When you’re forced to make sales happen in an industry saturated in competition, with a customer base that would rather see a dentist than chat with you — there’s plenty of lessons to learn.

Lessons from the dealership

Customers don’t come to you, you go to the customer.

It’s easy to fall into the internet celebrity success trap. Like a moth to a flame, we are engulfed by such stories from other digital business owners:

“I launched in 7 days and sold $50,000 in product.”

“That’s me!” you shout.

Remember how much you hated buying a car? Right. Now you can imagine how car sales people aren’t necessarily drowning in customers flocking to their door. Outbound sales was a must back then and it still remains a key component to our channel today. Of course, we can be more tactful in today’s data-driven approach, but the point is, you should never hope people are just going to walk through that door.

What does outbound sales look like to me?

It’s a long-game for sure. It’s something you fine-tune over time and constantly refine. For example, we found ourselves servicing more and more traditional and digital publishers as the agency grew. That meant we could actively pursue and cold call bigger publishers to offer our services. Secondly, we built a plugin called Conductor that specifically helps build custom layouts for sites with lots of content.

Now we can position our industry expertise and a unique software offering as we pitch new customers.

Fine-tune the on-boarding process

On-boarding is quite the popular topic recently. Coincidentally, I’ve been working on that for years.

When you’re faced with a competitive market, your pricing and features aren’t the only selling point that customers make decisions with. If the process to purchase and learn more about the benefits of your product are more streamlined — you’ve got a leg up on the competition.

Let’s take a look at the car dealership example when a customer came onto the lot.

Approaching them for the first time was when stress was the highest for both parties. As the sales associate, you were scared to make the intro and discover who you were greeting. For the customer? They already had a stereotype of you as the salesperson baked into their memory.

Having a soft opening and clear value proposition was important. Within the first few minutes of the greeting, I would let them know we were a family-owned dealership.

That did two things: 

  1. Let them know we weren’t a big high-pressure dealership.
  2. Reinforce that we were smaller, which meant our prices probably wouldn’t be the cheapest, but that we spent more time on the individual customer.

If we made it beyond that step, I would introduce them to the different areas of the dealership. We’d go from the service department, to the parts department, and end back up on the sales floor. I would make sure they could find everything and everyone they needed when the time came.

Can you translate this to your own website or software product? Sure you can. You have a nice walkthrough of the features, how to find support pages or an FAQ section, then you wind up at the buy now page. Sounds like the typical funnel, but you would be amazed at how many people miss this — or don’t do it very well.

The delivery

My grandfather would always tell me that this was the most important moment of the sale. All of the hard work and discussion prior to this didn’t mean anything if the customer picked up a dirty car.

Makes sense right? You’ve spent all that time researching, comparing, negotiating, and then you forked over a heap of cash — why is my car dirty?!

What would happen if you got your car home and you couldn’t find the manual to set the radio? A sort of rage would set in. I know this because I once forgot to put the owners manual into the glovebox of a customer’s car.

Again, delivery is everything.

A perfect delivery can lead to more referrals from happy customers and amplify your company in all of their channels. Back then, I would ask to take photos starting the car for the first time — now I ask for testimonials. After a few months, I would check-in on them and see how everything was going. If it was thumbs-up, I would ask for a referral. Now, with software, I can ask if they want to join our affiliate program.

As much as things change, they very much stay the same.

Keep them coming back

At the end of the day it all boils down to great customer service.

You will hear a lot of startups talking about their lifetime value of a customer or their churn rates. While I think metrics are important, I cannot afford to make them a priority. Instead, I focus on offering the best customer service my team and I can deliver. No metric in the world can solve a bad experience or a moment where the customer felt lost using our product. Focus on delivering at a higher-standard and watch your metrics increase up and to the right.

Bonus: Software that helps me fine-tune the process of customer service.

I’d like to hear from you. Are you running your new age digital business with an old school way? Let me know in the comments.


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Matt Medeiros

Matt Medeiros is the creator of Conductor Plugin a content layout builder for WordPress. He is also the host of the Matt Report podcast, a WordPress podcast for digital business owners.

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