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Top Salespeople: The Zen Master

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  • | 3:04 p.m. March 4, 2012
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As a young man, Philippe Martin left his home in the Lorraine region of France with only a mattress strapped to the roof of his car.

Now, he sells more than 200 Porsches and other luxury cars in Naples every year.

Martin says he didn't excel in school, and after the mandatory stint in the military (he was a soccer player on the French Army team) he and his young bride drove to the French Riviera in search of a new life. “We left with nothing,” he chuckles, except for the mattress.

It turns out Martin had a knack for sales and he became a successful salesman for fashion houses, selling women's fine clothes to upscale boutiques along the French Riviera. “I love people and I love conversations,” he says, equally fluent in French, German and English.

After visiting Naples in 1994, Martin and his wife decided to move to the area, and he traveled regularly back to France for business. But in 2000, Martin tired of the transatlantic commute and paid a visit to the luxury car dealer in Naples because he had owned Porsches.

Martin, who has a noticeable French accent, didn't make a good first impression — he couldn't pronounce “Jaguar” correctly. But every Saturday, Martin visited the showroom and volunteered to help the staff. After a month, they offered him a job.

Martin declines to cite how much he sells in dollar volume, but he says he aims to sell more than 200 cars a year, making him a top salesman at the dealership. Porsches cost from $50,000 to $450,000.

Martin is humble about his success and is quick to praise other salesmen at the dealership who succeed. “You have to be a good team player to be a good salesman,” he says. “It's not about winning the game all the time.”

It's a key point that Martin drives home: attitude. “If you have a good aura, people feel that,” he says.

Martin makes a conscious effort never to criticize anyone, he gives his colleagues kudos when they succeed, he reads motivational books, and he never beats himself up. “I thank myself for my job and my success every morning,” he says. “I'm never scared of not selling.”

Never get discouraged, Martin advises. “The mental is very important. You have to work on this. You have to meditate.”

Martin knows this because his sales suffered when his wife fought and eventually lost her battle to cancer, even as he tried to mask his grief. “People feel it when you're discouraged,” he says.

When prospective customers walk into the Naples Porsche dealership, Martin says it's essential that they feel comfortable. He always strikes up a conversation, even with the children of customers. Once he spots a customer, he walks over with cold bottled water to start a conversation.

The stories of salesmen who missed big sales because they misjudged a disheveled prospective customer in T-shirt and shorts are popular lore at the dealership. “If someone asks me for a test drive, I will never say no,” he says. “Everybody is a buyer for me.”

Martin knows from personal experience that buying a car can be an unpleasant experience. A salesman once persuaded him to lease a car for 48 months, a bad business decision at the time. “I promised myself I would never do this to anybody,” he says.

Martin's French accent often breaks the ice and his joie de vivre is contagious. “It's part of my ammunition,” he says, though sometimes people mistakenly call him Pierre. Porsche customers tend to be sophisticated about travel, food and wine. “It's not just cars,” says Martin, who rarely eats meals at home and is intimately familiar with every good restaurant in Naples. “It's a culture of lifestyle.”

To earn repeat and referral business, Martin gives out his cell number to his customers and urges them to call him for any reason. “If I am on vacation in Italy, I can always get calls,” he says.

•Think like a doctor. Doctors don't talk about themselves when you visit them, so neither should you when you're selling.

•Tell people what you do. “I'm the Porsche guy,” Philippe Martin says.

•Be persistent but professional. “I ask for the sale from the beginning,” Martin says.

•Don't judge by looks. That T-shirt-clad guy wandering the lot may turn out to be your best client.

•Listen to good advice. “I meet a lot of successful people, and I try to learn from them,” Martin says.

•Know your stuff. Your customers will ask you pointed questions and you need to be prepared to answer them.

Philippe Martin uses E-lead software to note every detail about his “several thousand” customers. The software helps him track appointments, the cars his customers have bought, and their interests. “I call everyone for their birthday,” Martin says. The software also helps him notify customers who ordered a customized car, from completion at the factory to when it's loaded on a ship. “It's part of the excitement,” Martin says.


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