December 2013, Auto Dealer Today - Cover Story
Michael Nekava ranked in the top 15 in sales among all Mercedes-Benz salespeople across the country in 2012. But he won’t stop there. He says his goal is to be first one day — or at least second.
As of press time, Auto Dealer Monthly’s 2013 Salesperson of the Year was on track to sell about 430 vehicles for the year, which is more than four times as many as the average salesperson at his store. Lately, he is rolling about 50 cars per month at Helms Bros. Inc., a Mercedes-Benz franchise in Bayside, N.Y., that retails an average of about 225 vehicles each month.
While Nekava admits the market in his posh section of Queens makes its wealthy clientele somewhat of an easy sell, he’s landing sales with a combination of accessibility and focused discipline. His customers know they can always reach him on his personal cell phone, and his daily routine includes arriving for work an hour or two early to prepare for the day and staying about an hour later than most to plan for the next.
“I think preparation is everything, which a lot of people neglect,” Nekava says. “You have to have everything printed out and highlighted for the ‘sign here’ [buyers]; the numbers are already run. That’s just the paperwork, but you have to be four steps ahead of your client and know what they want, what their rebuttals are, what their expectations are, what they’re not going to like, what backup plans you have with delivery and so on. You’re always trying to mastermind each deal.
“You have to have research of competitors’ pricing in front of you. You have to have statistics at your fingertips. You have to be ready.”
Nekava’s preparation starts before he even leaves for work. He likens his personal process to meditation. “I make sure I’m ready to rock and roll,” he explains. “I do everything in my power to make sure my clothes are laid out, my phone is ready, my emails are answered. When I go into work, my computers are already turned on and my apps are ready to use.”
Suzanne Cochrane says it would take as many as five people to replace Michael Nekava. He sold more than 400 vehicles in 2013, more than four times as many as the per-salesperson average.
Suzanne Cochrane, Helms’ general manager, says Nekava is one of the most disciplined salespeople she has worked with in her 31 years at the dealership. “He’s able to accomplish what I would need four or five people to replace him with,” she says. “We have high standards here, but for most salespeople, if they have a delivery at 12, they’re going to come in a quarter until 12 and just hope everything happens the way it should have. And even though it should, many times it does not. That’s never going to happen to Michael, because if he has an appointment at 12 today, he knew last night that everything was in place. Why? Because he checked it.
“He continues to come in every day and work as hard as the first day he was on the job,” Cochrane adds. “He recognized early on that he could create his own business within my business. Where I took care of all of the liabilities, all he had to do was be his own asset. He just saw it differently than the average salesperson.”
While Nekava might be a talented salesperson, it helps that he stands behind the product he’s pushing. Many have come to know him as “Mikey Mercedes,” a nickname he was given, his company profile reveals, “because of my passion for Mercedes and the love of what I do!”
At the end of the day, Nekava is, of course, focused on selling vehicles, which, based on his experience, requires that he first discover the needs of his customers. “I try to relate to everybody on a personal level rather than being a ‘salesperson,’” he says. “I’m looking out for their best interests. I tell them how to save, what to do, how I can get them a better deal, what I would do if I were in their shoes, what’s a waste of money, what you should and should not pay for. … Whatever it takes to close the deal, I always have the best of intentions.”
Nekava prides himself on his accessibility to customers. He communicates with his clients via email, phone and social media. But when he’s sitting face to face with a customer, he’s completely focused on their individual needs and has the best intentions for each car buyer that he interacts with.
Nekava says he’s willing to go the extra mile — quite literally — to satisfy customers and to close a deal. “I do half of my deliveries at customers’ houses, I’ll leave the dealership to do that, which nobody is doing,” he says, noting that he tries to be sure each client is able to get a vehicle even if it is out of stock or their schedule won’t permit a trip to the dealership. “Sometimes they’re busy. They’ll say, ‘I’ll come back in three weeks.’ They’re not coming back in three weeks, so I will offer to drive their new car to their house or business.”
The same goes for test drives: “There are no boundaries. I’ll drive anywhere, because all those deals add up. You want to make sure that person [requesting a test drive] is real, but I absolutely send my assistant or myself to someone’s house. They’re actually seeing the car in their driveway. How much of a better test drive is there than that?”
Cochrane says that commitment is what sets Nekava apart from the rest. “He’s available to [customers] and has done some things that the average salesperson’s not going to do,” Cochrane says. “But that’s why he’s not average — because he’s willing to do what other people just won’t.”
Because Nekava is so in tune with his clients, he says it’s easy to keep in close contact long after the sale. He contacts clients on their birthdays and sends every single customer a handwritten thank-you note. “It’s 50 cards a month on top of all of the paperwork,” he says. “It’s a lot to write each personalized thank-you card and something specific to them so they know it’s me writing the card. … It’s all about following up with people; it’s the full-service process. If you do it, they’ll be back, and they’ll be sending their friends.”
Nekava’s connection to his customers even extends to his personal Facebook page. “That’s helped a lot. My personal Instagram is personal. I keep pictures with my friends and then I have pictures of cars,” he says. “I’m not Mikey at work and then Mikey at home; it’s me.” But there are limits to how he uses social media. He won’t use his Facebook page, for instance, to chase down a tough sale. “I just let them know, ‘This is what I do. I’m here, I still do it. I’m still alive and selling Benzes. Look at these cool Benzes,’” he explains. “It’s nothing like, ‘This is $399, $499, come in.’ I’m not pushing anything. I’m just letting people know when they’re ready, I’ll be here. I’m the car guy.”
Cochrane says Nekava’s always-available strategy is one of the reasons he hasn’t had an “up” in four years. “He lives in the neighborhood and his consistent, 24-hours-a-day, nonstop networking has created the ‘Mikey Mercedes’ of our neighborhood,” she says. “Everybody knows him.”
While the constant accessibility among clients, combined with the extra hours he’s putting in, could easily turn a salesperson into a workaholic, Nekava is deliberate about making time for his personal life.
“I’m a normal human being. I take my vacation. My cell phone is the same number [for business and personal calls], so that’s the only frustrating part,” he says. “But at the same time, I take Saturdays off. I understand there is business I will lose, but I have to be human.”