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.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Nancy Paris says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Ken. When is the book due to be released?

  • Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so
    I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  • Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    This is a bit tangential. But it’s about
    underestimating the consumer, the investor, his/her smarts, experience, expectations, etc.
    My late in-laws were modest people from the Midwest. They were also modest consumers. They were also both lawyers.
    They had driven their old car (a Pontiac?) into the ground, and decided, in their early
    seventies, to treat themselves to a new Cadillac. So, they went to a Cadillac dealership, parking in sight of the showroom.
    They went in and NO ONE would wait on them. The
    salesmen weren’t busy. They just didn’t want to be bothered. Little did they realize these
    two modest older people were set on buying one of their cars and paying cash, for goodness sake.
    Now, these were not the clueless customers the
    salesmen had them pegged as. They were shrewd.
    They read what was in the air. And they LEFT and went nearby and bought a new something else
    from less judgmental and petty people.
    So, though I have no Moral as such, there is the Tale.

  • Scott Briefer says:

    Since I’ve been reading, The Producer’s Perspective, and even took the opportunity to walk up and introduce myself to you on several occasions, I’ve written both emails and comments here that express my appreciation for your accessibility. You demystify the Broadway Producer.

    I think this post, if I had written it to you, would best describe my appreciation for your efforts and general humanness (didn’t want to use humanity).

    As always, thank you for this blog. And more importantly, thank you for offering many of us an insight into your process and a world that has often seemed inaccessible.

  • Adam says:

    I think you have to tailor the pitch to the customer or investor. The “closer’s” hard-sell didn’t work with you, but it must work with some people, or he’d be out of a job. I can tell you that I’ve had producers pitch to me in truly appalling ways. (1) A producer threatened me. “If you don’t put money in my show, I’ll tell everyone in the League that you can’t raise money!” (2) “If you were a MAN, you’d be writing a check RIGHT NOW!” (3) “I only have one unit left and two other people are looking at the show. If you don’t invest right now, I can’t guarantee that there will be room for you”. Coincidentally, I’ve told everyone that this guy pitched like a used-car dealer. Now, none of these three got my money, but they got somebody’s money, because all three shows opened on Broadway.

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