What I learned about raising money from a car salesman.
I helped a friend buy a car yesterday.
Thanks to the world-wide-interwebs, buying a vehicle ain’t like what it used to be. Thanks to websites like Truecar.com, buyers can walk into a dealer’s lot with more information than the dealers have themselves on the availability of vehicles and the price of those vehicles.
It’s the ultimate example of how the internet has taken power from the seller and put it the pocket of the consumer. (In our industry, this power shift is exemplified by sites like BroadwayBox.com, etc.). As George Costanza would say on Seinfeld . . . “The consumer’s got hand.”
Still, however, all of us still have preconceived notions about Car Salesman, right? (And by the way, I mean “Sales-man” in the gender specific sense, because we didn’t see one female salesperson at any of the places we shopped.) We can’t help but imagine that every Car Salesman is like a character from Glengarry Glen Ross, desperate to take you for as much money as you can finance. It’s a stereotype, of course, and a cliche, but it’ll probably be around for a long time . . . because of how car salesman acted way back when.
And that’s why most people can’t help but walk onto a balloon filled lot and get butterflies in their stomach. I know I did, and I’ve signed checks and made decisions for products and people that cost me a heck of a lot more than a five figure car.
The experience reminded me of how a lot of people must feel about meeting with a Broadway Producer about investing in a show. Like Car Salesman, there are Bialystock-like cliches about us Producers, too, you know, and about investing in general . . . and again it’s because of how a lot of our brethren from back in the day used to act. (One of the biggest cliches I’ve come across is the concept that investing is a win/loss proposition . . . you either get your money back or you lose it all – while frankly, a complete wipeout zero return, is probably just as rare as a Wicked.) Some of my wealthiest investors, who have written super-sized checks for lots of things . . . including just giving their money away . . . have told me after-the-fact that they were nervous about meeting with me to discuss writing even a smaller one for a Broadway show (note to our Broadway industry leaders – we need to do something about this).
So back to me buying a car.
We had two opposite experiences . . .
The first guy didn’t give us all the information we asked about (because I knew he was trying to steer me in another direction – but instead it just made him look stupid), and even told a fib or two along the way. When he started to lose us, he brought in a partner (who he referred to as a “closer”) to try and help finish the deal . . . and that partner used lines like, “Don’t call me a salesman, I’m just a person . . . and I want to put you in a new car today!” And he literally assaulted us with line-after-line of sales-speak and why buying a car from him was practically imperative for us, if we wanted to call ourselves an American (it was 4th of July, after all). He was pulling out all the stops, and not letting us get a word in edgewise. We felt like buying the car . . . was more about him than it was about us.
The second stop was with a guy named, well, ironically, George. He was soft-spoken, no pressure, and didn’t seem to care about whether we bought new, certified, used, or even from another dealer! Not a word of sales-speak came out of his mouth (or not one that we could detect anyway – and isn’t that the best kind of sales-speak?) He was just happy to talk to us about . . . us. He was even honest when I asked him what he drove: “A ’91 Toyota pickup.” (We were not at a Toyota dealership.)
Guess which car salesman sold us a car?
Getting someone’s money for a car, a show, or a charity, shouldn’t feel like taking someone’s money. You’re just providing someone an opportunity. And yes, you think it’s a great one (and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be selling it), and can tell your potential investor why. But it’s about what that opportunity can do for them, not about what that opportunity can do for you.
Raising money is one of the tasks that up-and-coming Producers tell me is their greatest challenge (it’s why I’m writing a book about it) . . . when in actuality it’s a lot easier than you think.
Try too hard, and selling too much, like the boys at the first dealership (and I mean that in the specific sense of that word as well, because those guys are still sales-boys), and you’ll find your investors walking off your lot and into someone else’s.
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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.