It shouldn’t be surprising that America’s champion car salesman saw the pandemic as an opportunity.
It didn’t look like one. With much of the nation in lockdown, millions suddenly jobless, car dealerships ordered shut, and sales plunging, the industry was not rife with optimism. But Ali Reda sees things differently. He sells Chevrolets and Cadillacs at the Les Stanford dealership in Dearborn, Mich., and in 2017, he sold more vehicles than anyone in America had ever sold in a year: 1,530 new ones and 52 used ones. He broke a record that had stood for 44 years. The way he did it, and the reason he saw opportunity in the pandemic, is rich with lessons for anyone in a business that got slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Reda, 47, has attained a status that virtually all salespeople aspire to. “I don’t really sell to anybody that doesn’t know of me,” he says. Everybody is a previous customer or has been referred by one.
Since everyone who calls already wants to buy a car from him, he isn’t exactly a salesman anymore. “If it’s a new customer, they tell me what [vehicle] they’re in. If it’s a repeat customer, I already know,” he says. He knows or finds out “who they are, where they are, where they’re coming from, and, more importantly, where they’re going in life. Are they getting married or having a child? Changing jobs? Are they driving more? Or less?”
When he has that information, customers tend to ask what he thinks they should do. He tells them, and they tend to do it. “I’ve really adopted an adviser-type role rather than the salesman role,” he says.
That’s a nirvana that most salespeople never reach, and Reda knows why. “It’s what you’re doing outside of the dealership more so than in the dealership,” he says, using the terminology of his business to make a point that applies broadly. “What I mean by that is earning that trust through your community. The reason why most salespeople fail at it is because they give up prematurely. It takes years and years to develop that type of relationship with the entire community.”
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Now we’re getting to why the pandemic looked like an opportunity to Reda. He has been involved for “years and years” with local nonprofits that promote health, education, employment, nutrition, and more in the Dearborn area. To him, COVID-19 was “a great entry point to enter into a community with the right cause,” he says. “And because everybody is involved in it, you actually get more recognition a lot faster than you normally would.”
When PPE was in critically short supply early in the pandemic, his connections enabled him to buy “a couple of thousand