What a Rideshare Driver Taught Me About Sales
Uber drivers are not internationally known for teaching sales lessons. But recently, I’ve been riding with Uber for business travel and have discovered a sales lesson from each Uber trip. The broad range of personalities, talents, and approaches reminded me of the diverse sales teams we have trained over the years. Each Uber driver had similar reasons to start driving (the money), but they looked at their job from their individual perspective and goals. Part of sales is understanding human nature, and riding in a vehicle with a stranger for fifteen or twenty minutes provides great insights into the human condition. In this article, we’ll explore those insights and how we can apply them to our sales career.
Silent Types, the Talkers, and the Curious
An interesting aspect of riding with Uber is how the driver greets you when you first open the door. Most drivers ask your name to confirm they have the right passenger, but some simply don’t acknowledge you. When the driver does not greet me, it makes the ride a little uncomfortable. To me, it’s like a retail salesperson who does not greet me when I enter the department store. The perceived indifference impacts the experience. The best Uber drivers, like the best salespeople, provide a warm, friendly greeting that starts the ride off on the right foot. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The way the driver welcomes me initially has a big impact on the amount of the tip at the ride’s completion.
Once we start the trip, to get the conversation started, I like to ask the driver, “How’s business today?” The silent type mumbles “not bad” and continues to focus on their driving. The talkers jump into a play-by-play of their day, “I just started, you are my first ride, but I hope it’s better than yesterday.” Talking too much has the exact opposite effect of what you really want to do.
Sometimes I am sitting in the backseat with a driver that is a talker, and I wonder if they became hypnotized by their own voice. They talk and talk and talk without asking me a single question. I feel like the sales prospect who sits through a sales presentation with an over-eager sales rep who rambles on about their company and product without asking for the prospect’s point of view. The funny thing about a talker is that it can make a short fifteen-minute ride feel much longer.
On the other hand, the curious drivers ask me a first question like, “What brings you into town?”, recognizing they are picking me up from a hotel. The curious drivers are the rarest. Like curious sales reps, they want to learn about their client’s situation and goals. These drivers seem genuinely interested and they are a pleasure to talk to. They ask what I do and when I say I’m the founder of a sales training and performance company, they often say, “I could never do sales.”
The interesting thing is that those drivers who tell me they could never do sales are often the people I think would do the best to pursue a sales career. They are humble and curious, two key characteristics of successful salespeople. Sales skills can be learned by anyone who is committed to learning, but being naturally curious and humble can be hard to teach. Great sellers, like great Uber drivers, are naturally curious.
The Helpless and the Hustlers
A big difference between drivers is how professional they take their job. The average driver has a clean vehicle, but few actually take it to the next level. I rode with one driver who had miniature bottles of water available and another driver who offered me mints. These drivers cared about the customer experience because they knew their passengers had an option to tip at the end of the trip. I asked the driver who gave me the water, what percentage of his passengers tipped, and he said close to 80%. I asked the same question to other drivers and the common reply was about half.
This was far from a scientific study, but if we calculate a 30% increase in tips over a 12-month period, it is likely to be the difference of a few thousand dollars for a full-time driver. What’s the sales lesson? Little things matter. We know this intuitively in sales. For example, when we smile at someone, they often smile back. When the driver gives me a free bottle of water, the law of reciprocity means I will return the favor. If I accepted the water, drank it, and did not tip the driver, I’d likely feel selfish and ungrateful. The drivers who offered me a mint or a bottle of water were practicing a pure form of social selling. Create a bond with the prospect by giving so much you can’t be ignored. What are you giving your prospects that can’t be ignored?
Top Performance is Easy to Recognize
They say success leaves clues. It was obvious riding with numerous Uber drivers what the clues are. A few years ago, we wrote about the Positive Mindset is the Key to Sales Success. It was easy for me to tell what type of mindset the driver had with very little communication. It reminded me that our prospects can sense our energy, even when we’re not selling face to face. Most drivers were unmemorable, ordinary, and unspectacular. But one driver stood out from all the others.
This driver picked me up in a newer Mercedes SUV. We got to talking and he informed me he was a real estate agent and was using Uber to meet new clients. I asked him how that was working out and he said quite well. He looked at every passenger as a potential home buyer and gave out his card. I thought to myself, “what a great idea, he’s getting paid to meet new clients.” Even if it delivered just one client a month, it’s a tremendous win.
Every obstacle creates an opportunity to improve one’s circumstance. Many sales reps fail to understand the impact of mindset on their sales performance. Because the real estate Uber driver viewed every passenger as highly valuable, there was no complacency or negativity, but only positivity. It was clear to me that if I had been in the market for a new home, this would be the type of go-getter I’d like to work with.
I’ve often quoted the legendary sales trainer Zig Ziglar who once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” The truth is that modern effective selling is about shifting your focus from you – your needs, wants and desires – to your prospects. It’s about being genuinely curious and listening, so you can help people discover what it is that they want, even if they’re not sure what that is. If we are focused on ourselves and worry about our next sale, we can come across as someone like the indifferent Uber driver who’s just trying to collect their fee. Or we can look at every new interaction as something valuable and connect deeply with our prospects like the real estate Uber driver.
All sales start with empathy. Stephen Covey said it best, “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” It does not matter if you are driving for Uber or selling for IBM, it starts with empathy.
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