Overcoming the “Used Car Salesman” Stereotype with Shift’s Minnie Ingersoll


Say you want to sell your used car. You can either go to a dealership, where you may or may not get a good price, or you can try to unload it online on your own. Shift Technologies Inc. recognized both options were lacking, and created an online marketplace to connect private-party car sellers and buyers. COO Minnie Ingersoll, who left Google after 11 years to co-found Shift, wears many hats at the company, including overseeing the sales team. Here she shares why its salespeople aren’t paid on commission, the reason behind its strict no-haggling policy, and what it means to have a no-inventory sales model.

What does your role as COO entail?

About two years into the job I actually asked my career coach, "What is it that the COO is supposed to be doing?" If you asked a dozen different COOs, they'll give you a dozen different answers of what it entails. At Shift, I'm the VP of Operations. I'm the VP of miscellaneous. I'm also here to make sure that our CEO is successful and his vision is realized. And as part of that, all of our sales teams roll into me, as well as a number of other teams.

Did you have personal experience with buying used cars prior to Shift?

I tried to sell my car on Craigslist. I had an especially bad experience and had a bunch of strange men showing up at my house. I felt really uncomfortable getting in the car with them, and felt equally uncomfortable just giving them the keys to my car and letting them drive off. I ended up just giving up and selling my car at a dealership instead. I told my Co-Founder, our CEO George Arison, “I see what you’ve been saying for so long, that the used car marketplace is broken.” All of a sudden, we had 20 cars parked at Costco that we were selling. It's a funny way to become a used car dealer.

Who do you hire to sell?

We have about a hundred car enthusiasts and have gotten thousands and thousands of applicants. One of the things we look for is people who are enthusiastic about cars, because they're the sort of people who are actually eager to spend an hour with you on the phone telling you about cars and helping educate you on this minivan or that minivan. And then we hire people who have customer support skills. We look for hospitality backgrounds, people who are high-end salespeople. They may have sold luxury goods and know how to bring that really white glove service to what we're selling.

What’s the interview process like?

We ask people to submit videos of themselves before we even bring them in. Watching them helps us know right away whether this is someone we want representing our brand. Some of that is particular to the way that we're selling cars. Our car enthusiasts usually show up at your home and sit in the car with you for 45 minutes. It's really important to us that those be personable people who you feel you can trust. They are the face of our company. They're the brand of our company. They're the first interaction you have with Shift.

How have you built your sales culture?

First and foremost, we want to be a place where people are happy to come to work every day. We care about having a positive environment. And I think that translates to our customers. If our team is proud to work at Shift and believes in what we're selling, it’s able to communicate our value proposition to our customers. We also talk about winning. You can create a positive environment where we just sit around and have beers all day, and it's a positive place to work. But I think the other half of that is having a place that's actually growing and where there's really good momentum. We feel it when we close the sale and when our customers thank us.

You don’t use a traditional commission model.

We don't want our salespeople to be incentivized by getting the most money from the sale. In fact, we have a no-negotiation, no-haggle policy. The price of the cars is set by our pricing team, which is mostly an engineering team. It wouldn't make sense to have our sellers on commission in the traditional sense if the price isn’t within their control. It's about getting people into the right car, and not just selling the most expensive one. We’ve built technology to make it a fair and transparent process, rather than having it be a personal negotiation. So if five people test-drive the same car, the price is the same for all five. It’s not about how good you are at negotiating with the used car salesman.

Shift is also part of a newer trend, the no-inventory model.

Facebook is the biggest content site. It doesn't own any content. Airbnb is the biggest hospitality site and it doesn’t own any of its real estate. There's really an important distinction between being an ecommerce site and being a marketplace. Anyone can be a car dealer and have a website where they're selling their cars, but it's not a fundamentally different way of selling cars. And so what we're really trying to do is be more of a replacement for Craigslist. It's being able to layer in a lot of services that you can’t get as a private-party seller. We've grown into more of that end-to-end experience. It's really about facilitating a transaction happening between two individuals.

Does this mean a better customer experience?

Because we don't have a physical retail presence, it allows us to really personalize the experience because we are bringing cars to someone's house, or similarly, we go to the seller. And I think that allows us to provide a better service to our customers. It's more convenient for them. It also allows us to pass on a lot of the savings to them. We don't have the overhead of expensive real estate; we can actually be a better value, not just a better convenience. That's a key part of our value proposition.

What’s your take on the whole idea of salespeople as trusted advisors?

That is definitely how we talk about it here. We say everyone has a friend who's “the car guy.” The person at church or the person on your soccer team who is the car person, who you go to as your trusted advisor. We like to provide that to our customers. We say, "Look, call us. It doesn't even have to be about a specific car. Just call us for advice."

If you weren’t in sales . . .

I'd play for the NBA. I don't play basketball, but if I could be like Michael Jordan, that'd probably be my dream career.

Similar to a walk-up song, do you have a closing song?

J-Live’s “Walkman Music.” It’s local SF hip-hop from ten years ago.

We don't want our salespeople to be incentivized by getting the most money from the sale.”

Minnie Ingersoll | COO and Co-Founder, Shift Technologies Inc.
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