In the fifteen year period from 1963 to 1978, a single salesman at a Chevy dealership in Michigan sold a world record 13,001 cars. During his last 12 years he sold an average of more than six cars each day. On his best day he sold 18 cars. In his best month he sold 174 cars. In his best year he sold 1,425 cars. These were all new cars, sold one at a time to individuals. These are automobile sales numbers no one else has ever achieved.
That salesman’s name is Joe Girard. He holds the Guiness World Record for automobile sales. He is the best car salesman the planet has ever known.
His story is an interesting one. I first heard about him in Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence. What is notable about Girard is his unique style. Every month, each person on his extensive customer list received a greeting card from him. It didn’t contain details about sales promotions or new vehicles in inventory. It didn’t mention anything about new car features or how great interest rates were. Instead, every month Girard sent out over 13,000 greeting cards that said one simple thing:
“I like you. -Joe Girard”
Now there’s certainly more to being the world’s best car salesman than telling customers you like them. But what’s key here is that he wasn’t selling cars in his monthly mailings. Instead, he was selling himself. He was a likable guy and he worked hard to truly like his customers. As we’ve already seen, his sales approach was hugely successful. Likability, as Cialdini points out, is a tremendous advantage when it comes to success in sales. For Girard, simply telling people he liked them paid dividends. He wouldn’t have hired three people at his own expense to help get those greeting cards out each month if it didn’t.
This came to mind last month when I received an unexpected greeting card. It was from a politician. In it he didn’t tell me about his policy positions. He didn’t make political promises or take jabs at his opponents. He made absolutely no literal appeal for my vote. Instead, Donald Trump took a page from Joe Girard and told me he liked me.
Now lots of people have lots of opinions of Donald Trump in his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Right or wrong, good or bad, I’ll leave those discussions to the talking heads. But Trump is clever like a fox in this approach. His greeting card campaign works Girard’s strategy of selling himself rather than his politics, which, as a non-politician, works to his advantage. His success depends on people getting warm fuzzies when they read his name on the ballot.
This is because of something known as the affect heuristic. When Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman was studying human decision making, he made an interesting observation. Often times when you have to answer a difficult question, you will answer an easier question instead and substitute its answer for the harder question. The affect heuristic is when your likes and dislikes influence what you believe about the world.
In his greeting card campaign, Mr. Trump is hoping to see the hard question of “Who is the best candidate?” answered instead with “Which candidate do I like best?” It’s a strategy based on human psychology, but interestingly, no one else in politics is employing the approach. By taking a page from Girard’s playbook, Trump is implementing a strategy from the best there’s ever been at playing that game. It is a brilliant approach, regardless of any other aspects of his candidacy.