SINGAPORE — Okay, we’re sorry. It’s not really shocking, but we guarantee that it is interesting.
Imagine this: You’re the best car salesman for the best-selling brand in Singapore. What’s your trade secret? Practising pitches at home in front of a mirror? Aiming to be well-liked, and gaining wealth and freedom? Finding a niche nobody ever thought of and eliminating everyone else?
Of course we’re taking fictional liberties with those last two examples, but reality is at once more simple, but also more fascinating.
Willie Huang, 43, has been the top salesman for Toyota in Singapore for seven out of the past eight years, which is a pretty impressive record, given even talents like Valentino Rossi or Sebastian Vettel can’t say the same in their fields of expertise.
It’s no exaggeration Willie’s great at what he does, so prior to meeting him, we expected some sort of ultra-slick, Carnegie-like human-convincing machine, but in fact, he’s relaxed and normal as they come.
Willie has been in sales for just over 10 years, and he describes his job simply: “We explain and educate customers, try to cater to their needs, advise them on finances, after the sale we follow up and also hand-over the car to the customer at delivery time.”
Yes, but as we’ve seen, it’s what any proper salesman at a well-run, details-oriented customer-focused dealership will do. The best go the extra mile to understand what customers want and derive pleasure from it, even. Surely there must be some sort of Mr Huang Magic Touch?
“Well, I did come from a marketing background before sales,” he admits, “so that meant I’m able to understand the product line-up quite thoroughly.”
That’s a clue to Willie’s approach. He’s almost instantly likeable because he’s earnest, but all the goodwill in the world won’t get you far if you don’t know what you’re doing. Willie does, because it quickly becomes obvious he doesn’t take chances.
For our interview, he’d sat and prepared answers for all our questions, having requested them beforehand, despite having a minor family emergency the day before. In fact Willie likens it to taking an exam: There’s a lot at stake for customers, since a car isn’t a small purchase, there are many questions that need serious answers.
There’s quite a bit you can’t study for in this line though, we point out. Willie laughs, “Yes, well I guess you need to have experience, and you have to be patient. We serve customers of all sorts, from first time buyers who have no idea what a COE is, to long-time friends who’ve bought three or four cars from me over the years,”
“I’m a salesman, yes, and cynical people will say, ‘Oh you just do it for money.’ But the truth is, you can’t do it well if you have a ‘money first’ mindset. People come to the showroom to buy cars, yes. I mean, they’re here for a reason and by their own free will. They have an intention, in other words. My job is to find out what they want, and to show them that if they choose to purchase a car with us, it’ll be a good experience,” he says.
In other words, those who want to excel in this line can’t be impatient, need to earnestly cultivate relationships and just keeping an eye on the monetary bits alone is a bad idea.
“I actually love talking to people – in this line I guess you have to be a good listener. Sometimes people ask me what my hobbies are. It’s sad but my hobby is work!” he says. “I like to find out about our customers and to make their experience better. So I always ask him, what was your experience the previous time you bought a car? Then I see how I can improve on that.”
In other words, one of the keystones to Willie’s success at selling cars is the desire not just to deliver customers what they want – even if they don’t know it – but to better than they’ve experienced before.
If there is a drawback to all this, Willie admits that it isn’t easy being a switched-on, empathic sort, there are sacrifices. He recounts numerous times when work got in the way of personal life: “One time a customer walked in at closing time, so I had to tell my ex-girlfriend that I couldn’t make the movie date we had agreed on. That was quite memorable.”
We mention that sounds like an ominously high price to pay for an empathic, service-oriented path to sales success but Willie disagrees with a laugh: “She’s now my wife!”