John Viscardo...on Selling by Building Relationships in the Automotive Aftermarket Industry
Vice President of Sales, Speedway Illustrated Magazine
John Viscardo is the vice president of sales for one of America's most popular oval track racing publications, Speedway Illustrated. The Maryland native and Penn State graduate now resides in Tampa, Florida, with his two children. Despite his relatively young age, Viscardo has a wealth of selling experience both inside and outside of the automotive aftermarket industry. However, the one constant that Viscardo has noted throughout his professional sales career is that success starts with building “genuine” relationships. And, in his opinion, no industry embraces relationships more than the automotive aftermarket.
How long have you worked in the automotive aftermarket or motorsports industry and why did you choose this industry?
I’ve worked in the aftermarket for 12 years now—five years selling advertising space for automotive trade magazines at Babcox Publications and then seven years selling ad space for consumer magazines, such as Circle Track, Hot Rod, and Speedway Illustrated. Ultimately, I chose to be a part of this industry because I sincerely enjoy the people and being a part of something that revolves around people’s passions and interests. Most people don’t realize how much work the automotive aftermarket provides to the U.S. economy, and it is comprised of the finest people I’ve met in the corporate world.
What's your best advice for a young salesperson in this industry?
Always listen first to your clients and if you don't know something about a product; don’t try to trick people into thinking you know it. The quickest way to discredit yourself is to attempt to speak intelligently about a product you know nothing about. I know many salespeople who just show up with a Powerpoint presentation or a brochure and talk non-stop for 20 minutes. It's great to have marketing materials and leave-behinds, but a salesperson should listen first. If it's a face-to-face meeting at their headquarters, go on a shop tour to start the meeting and learn their full product line. If it's over the phone, ask them what their greatest challenge is in the marketplace. It's always best to get the client speaking first about their concerns and then address those concerns with solutions or ideas.
How do you go about building relationships with potential clients?
Stay in front of your clients at all times or at least in the back of their minds. Salespeople should not only contact their clients with attempts to sell something or a "special deal," but also just to say “hello.” Be different—send your clients a postcard on their birthday or e-mail an article featuring their company. Do the little things that distinguish you from the countless other sales people vying for the same budget. This strategy works because, in most cases, your competitors probably won't put in the work to build a relationship of this nature. It's the little things that help you stand out from the pack, and it shows attention to detail.
Do you think there is a danger in becoming too friendly with clients?
Indeed, great question. I think it's great to be friendly with clients, provided there is a clear line of separation when it's time to negotiate. There's an old saying, "When all things are equal between two sellers (price, offerings, customer service, etc), buyers would rather work with their friends. Even when all things are not equal, most buyers will still choose their friends." However, as a salesperson you must remember that your job is to make the company money, not to make friends. As long as negotiations and contracts are mutually beneficial, I think you can be friendly with clients.
How do you handle the customer rejection that is inevitable in sales?
Yes, this is always the hardest part of a salesperson's job. Just remember, it's nothing personal—your client made a business decision to decline your services at this time. You should look at it as an opportunity to go back and refine your proposal/offerings. A salesperson's job is to provide solutions to his or her client's needs and concerns. I'm not a “hard-sell” salesperson, so when I get a customer rejection, I always thank them for their consideration and ask where we fell short and how we can improve the next time. If you handle rejection with class and ask for tips on improvement, you will have a better chance of success with the next client or maybe that same client down the road.
Do you currently or have you in the past had a mentor in this industry? If so, who and what is the most valuable thing they taught you?
Bill Babcox, president of Babcox Publications—he took a chance on a sales guy (me) who had no knowledge of the aftermarket or publishing and allowed me to work/learn for five years under his wing. He really works very hard in his role, and it trickled down to the rest of the staff. I have no idea why he hired me. I think he just liked my confidence during the interview process—good lesson there. Don’t be afraid to be bold during an interview, even if you are totally unqualified for the position. Hard work and passion can substitute for other shortcomings you might have, such as experience or connections.
Outside of work, what do you do for fun?
My two kids, Taylor and Trent, are my pride and joy—I try to take them to Eastbay Racetrack whenever I can to enjoy local Saturday night racing. I also enjoy playing soccer in a local league, playing golf and taking business trips—it’s a great way to see other parts of the country. This industry has provided me with a lot of great opportunities that I am fortunate to be able to share with my family.
One final question, what’s the one word that others in this industry would use to describe you and why?
Tenacious. I know my clients (racing part suppliers) have many other priorities besides advertising. I try to respect their time, but I know how important advertising is to maintaining their products, so I try to be respectfully tenacious when calling on them.