He Became the World’s Greatest Salesman by Selling Himself

Joe Girard

It’s hard to say what type of adult a child will become based solely on the behavior and parenting styles of their parents. Joe’s father was often angry and bitter – constantly berating his son, telling him that he wasn’t worth anything. Joe’s mother, on the other hand, would consistently offer Joe encouragement and love – telling him not to listen to his father, to believe in his own goodness. Would one style have more of an influence? Would the two styles meld together to bring a balanced approach to life? As mentioned, it’s hard to say.

For Joe – each style created a spark – and sparks start fires. Joe used his father’s behavior as a spark – an incentive to produce and accomplish. Whether out of fear, pride – or both – Joe was determined to earn his father’s approval, or at least prove him wrong. His mother lit a second, and different spark – he was determined to show that her love and encouragement were justified.

Joe grew up on the east side of Detroit, Michigan in a Depression-era slum. Times weren’t easy for anyone – earning money a priority for everyone. Joe, at age 9, would come home from school, eat what there was then head out in pursuit of men needing a shoe shine. It quickly occurred to Joe that it made sense to find a place where people congregated to relax during rough times. Bars were such a place – filled with potential customers inclined to be generous. Lesson learned. Another lesson was that alcohol could cause problems – Joe rarely drank for his entire life.

His next endeavor was to sell papers. A contest whereby the Detroit Free Press awarded a case of Pepsi for each new customer, resulted in Joe’s next business venture. He won so many cases of Pepsi that he began selling soda to the neighborhood kids. The next contest would award a brand-new bike to the person with the greatest number of new subscribers. Joe knocked on doors in every free moment, personally seeking new customers. He loved his bike.

Things continued tough at home, Joe often choosing to sleep in a flop house rather than face his father. He continued working wherever he could. He left a job at a stove company because of the impact of breathing insulation particles. He eventually joined the army, but was honorably discharged a week later due to a pre-existing back injury. He finally caught a break when a building contractor hired him, ultimately retiring and leaving the business to Joe. Joe married, had two children and then it happened. Joe invested in a major project based on information from a less-than-honest real estate speculator. Needing to feed his family and recover from the failed investment was another spark. 

He was hired as a salesman at a Chevrolet dealer – but only after promising to seek prospects only by telephone so as not to take business from the other salesman. He sold a car his first night, borrowed $10 from his boss and brought groceries home. After selling 18 vehicles in his second month, he was fired for being too aggressive – seriously! It seems the other salesmen didn’t like the competition. Spark!

Joe was soon hired at Merollis Chevrolet in Eastpointe, Michigan. By now, Joe knew that he could sell cars – and did he ever. Each year he was tremendously successful. Each year he sent a copy of his annual earnings to the first Chevy dealer with a note saying – “You fired the wrong guy!” For the next dozen years, he set records for car sales – not for his dealership – but worldwide. Joe sold so many cars that he is recognized in the Guinness Book of World records as the World’s Greatest Salesman. He would ultimately leave car sales and become a highly-sought after motivational speaker and author. Results like these happened because Joe Girard is a fearless brand.

Fearless Brands use sparks to ‘start the fires’ of success

Joe Girard sold over 13,000 cars in his 15-year selling career – all at retail – no fleet sales. His selling bests were 18 cars in one day, 174 in one month, 1,425 in a single year. Joe averaged six sales a day when the average salesman sold five per month. Joe’s individual sales were more than 95% of all North American dealers. 

Not surprisingly, Joe Girard has been asked countless times – “Joe, how did you sell so many cars?” His answer would surprise many – “I’ve never sold a single car – all I ever sold was a Girard!” That is the true essence of personal branding – YOU ARE THE VALUE!

Joe Girard didn’t sell as much as he built – and maintained – relationships. He worked hard and long hours. Much of his time was spent sending personalized notes to customers – and their family members – recognizing birthdays, graduations, marriages etc. Joe cared about his customers – by doing so, the sales would ‘take care of themselves’.

Joe exemplifies a basic tenet of The Go-Giver – Give exceptional value. Enjoy extraordinary results.

Girard also developed the Law of 250. After separately attending both a funeral and a wedding, Joe learned that, on average, each of us has 250 people that are close enough to attend a special occasion. He quickly surmised that every individual he spoke with represented the potential of 250 referrals. That’s a significant audience.

Joe retired from selling cars at age 49 and turned his efforts to speaking and writing. He’s authored several best-selling books including How to Sell Anything to Anybody and How to Sell Yourself. Joe Girard is clearly a go-to expert on selling. He is also a tremendous example of how to build a fearless brand.

Find your spark! – It’s called your why, your purpose, your passion, your motivation – I call it your drive – Joe Girard calls it his spark! Throughout his life, he had many sparks, the one from his father easily the hottest burning. Girard has said that with every single customer he was ‘selling to his father’. It was a spark from a bitter and dark childhood that drove much of Joe’s success. Simply put, find your spark!

Seek the positive – “From every negative – there is always a positive” says Joe Girard. Find the silver lining. Dig until you learn the lesson which exists. Our setbacks are merely learning opportunities. Look to increase your personal value through your challenges.

The real selling starts after the sale – “All things being equal, people will buy from – and refer business to – those people that they know, like and trust” as Bob Burg details in his blog. Joe Girard knew that to be successful, required repeat business and referral business. That is why he ‘only sold a Girard’ – not cars. He was completely authentic in his pursuit of relationships with his existing customers – and prospects. He cared about what was important to them. It was then that he delivered true value. Learn what your customers want. Know your value. Combine the two. Simple, right?

Joe Girard, the World’s Greatest Salesman, is also a truly fearless brand. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because the purpose of building your fearless brand is for the results which follow. Learn from Joe Girard. Find your spark. Satisfy your customers’ needs and wants. You too will find extraordinary results.

Friday's Fearless Brand Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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