Earlier today I paid a car salesman a commission for not selling me a car. Because it seemed like the right thing to do. Let me explain.
Back in the late 90s I was working with a guy by the name of Greg Hobby who said to me, “Sput, principles aren’t principles until they cost you money.” It was one of those pivotal moments in my life that I remember clearly like it was yesterday. Much like when Mr Jaksa my year 11 English teacher said “If you’re going to dream, dream big” back in the mid 80s. Or my ex-partner LouLou said “If I have to hear one more fucking running story I’m going to throw up” after I returned from a running adventure across the USA finishing up with the New York Marathon in 2010. Before walking out the door, never to return. (I went on to write an entire book of running stories. Unsurprisingly, she never bought a copy.)
But back to principles. They’re funny things, because I also recall Tony Robbins once saying “integrity isn’t universal” and that we can all do different, often wildly conflicting things, while still operating within our own integrity. And principles are the same. And mine were certainly put to the test this past few weeks when it was time to finally retire the trust old, (emphasis on ‘old’), Sput-mobile – my way too long suffering, 2001 SAAB convertible.
The truth is, its use by date had long since passed. It no longer converted, or even kept the rain out for that matter. But in an effort to be frugal and stay true to my ideology to collect moments and not things, I’d resisted replacing it for far too long. Truthfully though, one of the reasons I hadn’t replaced it earlier was because I simply didn’t know what else to buy and I am prone to a good case of ‘confusion paralysis’. When I’m not sure what to do or buy, and terrified of doing the wrong thing, I simply stand there like a deer in the headlights and do no thing. It’s ridiculous, really, but it happens to the best of us at times. (It’s the same reason I hung on to my iPhone2 and refused to replace it until it went MIA in Cambodia and I ended up with a lovely iPhone6!)
Buying a car, when you’re not a car person, can be a truly traumatic experience. Luckily, being the strategic genius I am, I put a lot of thought up front into a short list of vehicles that suited my carefully considered checklist of required features, as well as a clearly defined budget. All of which I, of course, promptly ignored when I saw the budget-busting one with the nice wheels that looked cool.
I was lucky enough to have personal contacts at two different car dealerships, both of whom promised to help me find the perfect car and look after me. Ironically, it was neither of these companies who, in the end, really helped me choose the perfect new Sput-mobile. One day, out of sheer confusion and frustration, I rang a random dealer and had the good fortune to chat to Doug (from Stillwell Hyundai in Nailsworth) who did something that took me completely by surprise – talked me through the options in a way that I actually understood with some real, down to earth, common sense advice. Who didn’t make it so much about what he wanted to sell me or thought I should buy, but genuinely about what he thought was best for me. And helped me come to a conclusion about the car I wanted, that in a sea of confusion, I was really comfortable with. Something I’d begun to think simply wasn’t possible. So much so, I felt compelled to write about him here. (So if you live in South Australia, give him a call, he’s awesome!) Mostly though, I want to talk about principles.
You see for a few reasons I won’t go into here, I didn’t actually end up buying my car from Doug, but I did end up paying him his commission. For not selling me a car. You know why? Because he earned it. He deserved it. I know a lot of people play all sorts of negotiation games between dealers and it’s probably even considered fair play. And I certainly chatted to a number of people who never ended up getting a sale, or a commission, out of me. And for regular service, I’m comfortable with that. But when someone goes above and beyond, and in my case, helped me all the way to the finish line but then didn’t get the sale for reasons beyond his control, I simply wasn’t comfortable leaving him empty handed after all the effort he put in. A few days before I’d finally decided to buy elsewhere, I promised him I would pay his commission no matter what. I have no idea if he believed me at the time or not, but today, I delivered on that promise. The truth is, I could have welched on the deal and probably never seen him again, and I guess wouldn’t have lost too much sleep over it. And it’s highly likely nor would he.
Keeping promises whenever I possibly can is important to me. Talking shit and breaking promises, like many other things, can be a habit. And not a great one. Doing what’s right, on the other hand, is not a bad habit to get into. So today I rolled into his dealership, and handed him a thankyou card – along with his commission.
I actually asked him if it was the first time he’d ever received a commission for not selling a car, and for the record, yes, it was. We had a quick chat, bit of a laugh, and that was that. He did what was right. So I did as well.
I’m not suggesting for a second my principles should be your principles. These principles specifically, or any others. I can tell you I feel absolutely awesome at having done this though. And hopefully it was pretty cool for him too.
In life, or in business, the question is, how can you add enough value for people to not only not begrudge rewarding you for it, but have them feel compelled to do it, and feel good about doing it? And if you’re on the receiving end of that sort of value, will you rise to the occasion and acknowledge, appreciate and reward it?
Be awesome to each other.
PS It was 40c/104f here in Adelaide today so I wasn’t exactly over dressed for the occasion! But that’s Doug and I in front of the car I didn’t buy from him.