5 Things that selling a car taught me about legal marketing

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legal marketing tips

You were a good car and will be missed…

This past weekend, I sold my old car. If you follow this blog or my podcast at all, you know that one of my 2014 goals was to purchase a minivan before our third child is born in May. We purchased the minivan in December, leaving us with an extra vehicle. So now had to sell the extra car.

Setting the appointment

Here is a quick rundown of the process from A to Z. Before you can do anything, whether sell a car or retain a client, you have to first get the appointment.  You need face time in front of the “prospective buyer”.  To do this, I placed an ad on Craigslist about a week ago listing the car for sale.  I immediately received some responses, but waited until last Friday to follow-up with anyone. Practically speaking, I did this because I wanted to have everyone look at the care at the same time. From a marketing perspective, this may have been a smart thing to do because it shows the buyers I’m not an eager seller – making the car more valuable in their eyes.

Of the 8 or so people I called back, I spoke with 4 and 2 people indicated a willingness to come look at the car. (In hindsight, if I had to do this again, I would just email the people back to set up a time).  Between Friday night and Saturday morning, I received some additional inquiries, and two more people indicated that they would be coming out to look at the car.

I had everyone come to look at the car at 2 pm on Saturday. Here are some things you should know about the car. It was a 2004 Toyota Corolla. So yes, it is 10 years old. However, it only had 83,000 miles on it, and every other Corolla on the market that was this old had well over 100,000 miles. In addition, the car had some cosmetic blemishes which had to be explained (the dent in the back from where my Wife backed into the garage door while it was still closed is a personal favorite of mine). So to make a long story short – the car was definitely not in mint condition. But I did price it accordingly.

Now, you should also know that we had a tornado warning this weekend that started at 1:45 pm, and lasted until 2:30 pm. So that wasn’t helpful as I had scheduled everyone to come at 2 pm…

The day of the appointment

Here’s how it all shook down. Somewhere around 1:50 pm our power went out as a result of the severe storms in the area. It remained out until after we went to bed Saturday night.

At 2:03 the first potential buyer showed up. This guy was a professional. I’m not kidding either. He had some sort of electronic doo-hicky attached to the car that was testing the car’s computer for error codes before I knew what he was doing. He pulled out a flashlight and inspected every nook and cranny of the vehicle. Then he pulled out blocks and had me drive the car onto them so he could look at the underside. This was by far the most comprehensive physical exam that this car had ever gone under. I’m fairly certain that this guy purchased and sold cars on Craigslist for a living.

I was asking $6,200 for the car, which was blue book value for a Corolla in this condition. While he was getting ready to make an offer, buyer number two drove up. Whether this affected the offer from Mr. Professional Car Buyer or not, he offered $5,400 cash. I was hesitant to accept for a couple of reasons. First, he seemed to really know what he was doing. (Compared to some of the other folks that I will tell you about in a minute). Second, it was the first offer. This guy was smart and he was playing on my psychological need to sell the car fast. He assumed, and I think correctly, that had no one else been scheduled to come out and look at the car that afternoon, that he would have gotten it for that price.

He didn’t want to hang around while buyer #2 was looking at the car, so he left to go hang out at a coffee shop and wait. Buyer #2 was a middle eastern gentleman who was purchasing the vehicle for his sister. He did all the negotiating, she said nothing. He did a very cursory glance at the car, took a quick test drive and offered $5,500, “which was all that she could afford”. I asked him if he had cash, and he did not – he wanted to write me a check. As we were talking, buyer #3, a young man and his girlfriend, drives up.  Buyer #2 left.

They seemed very nice. The car was for the guy, his girlfriend already drove the exact same car. What cracked me up about this guy is the way he looked at the car. He gave it a very cursory inspection, then made the comment, “well, it looks like it has been maintained well.” I went on a test drive with him, and he asked me if I had received any other offers. I said yes (which was the truth), but out of fairness to the other offerors, I did not want to disclose their prices. He then offered $5,800. I’m pretty sure that if I had countered with $6,000, he would have taken it, but instead I asked him if he had cash. He said that he could get it by Monday. I told him that I had another cash buyer, and that I wanted to sell the car that day. The first person to bring cash gets the car.

We continued to talk after we got back to the house. Then he said that he wanted to go make some calls. As he was sitting in his car, buyer #4 drives up. This was a nice, older couple that was buying the car for their high school aged son. I honestly think they would have made an offer, but they wanted to take the car to their mechanic on Monday and I told them that I had hoped to sell the car that day. So they left without making an offer.

After they left, buyer #3 and his girlfriend come to tell me that they had the cash. An hour later, they drive away with the Corolla and the car was gone.

So what legal marketing tips can we derive from this story?

There are quite a few take-aways from this story that we can apply to marketing a law firm.  Here are five of the top tips that came to mind as I was reflecting on this experience:

  1. You have to put yourself out there. If I hadn’t put an ad on Craigslist last week, I’d still be holding the title to a 2004 Toyota Corolla. If you don’t put yourself out there, nobody is going to hire you.
  2. Offer something that is different from the market. One of the things that really helped me sell this car was the number of miles on it. If this car had 125k or 150k miles like so many of the other comparable vehicles on the market, I may not have gathered as much interest from potential buyers. Offering something a little bit different is important.
  3. Numbers matter. If you read this post carefully, you will notice that it took 10 inquiries to schedule 4 appointments. Of those four appointments, I received 3 offers and accepted the best one. The same can be said for your law practice. You may receive 10 calls from people interested in hiring you. Of those 10, you may schedule 4 or 5 appointments, and of those, 1 or 2 people may hire you. As you grow and develop your law practice, you should be aware of what these numbers are.
  4. Make yourself scarce. I intentionally asked every single prospect to come look at the car at the same time. By knowing that other people had interest in the car, the buyers felt that this car was in demand and scarce. Had everyone come at different times throughout the week, it would have taken up a lot more of my time, and I probably would not have received as high of an offer.
  5. Be honest about what you can offer. Don’t try to pull one over on clients. Don’t offer more than you can deliver. This will only get you into trouble. I was very transparent about this car. I even provided the VIN number so people could order a vehicle history report if they wanted. I didn’t say the car was perfect, I told every single one of the buyers that it was a Toyota, it is 10 years old, and it only has 83,000 miles. This car is a steal at this price.

Any other legal marketing tips that you can pull from this story?  Feel free to comment below.

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