School of Sales. Part 1: Elon Musk

There’s seemingly nothing beyond Elon Musk, the ingenious figurehead of Tesla and SpaceX. Mind-bending ideas, straight from science fiction, are delivered with an infectious enthusiasm. At SpaceX he’s focused on colonising other planets and at Tesla he’s developing electric vehicles for mass-market consumption. Not forgetting the fact that he sold Paypal for $1.5 billion back […]

There’s seemingly nothing beyond Elon Musk, the ingenious figurehead of Tesla and SpaceX. Mind-bending ideas, straight from science fiction, are delivered with an infectious enthusiasm. At SpaceX he’s focused on colonising other planets and at Tesla he’s developing electric vehicles for mass-market consumption. Not forgetting the fact that he sold Paypal for $1.5 billion back in 2002.

Behind all the hype, Elon Musk is first and foremost a brilliant salesperson. Not only can he attract serious investment, but he’s perfected the art of B2C selling, without actually referring to sales at all.

So here’s some inspiration from the school of Elon Musk.

Use the right terminology

Certain words can shift an entire discussion in a different direction, for better or for worse. We each have a set of associations attached to certain phrases and Musk selects his words carefully:

“I like the word autopilot more than I like the word self-driving. Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

“Nobody wants to buy a $60,000 electric Civic. But people will pay $90,000 for an electric sports car.”

Position yourself as an expert

“I usually describe myself as an engineer; that’s basically what I’ve been doing since I was a kid.”

By describing himself as an engineer, he immediately challenges the negativity around car salespeople. Is he actually the world’s most accomplished engineer? Of course not, he’s surrounded by brilliant people. But, in the same way that Steve Jobs could, he’s able to explain complex ideas in simple terms that appeal to the masses.

“I’m talking about sending ultimately tens of thousands, eventually millions of people to Mars and then going out there and exploring the stars.”

Retain an optimistic outlook

Tesla’s first attempt at an electric car proved to be more challenging than anyone anticipated and costs were spiralling out of control. By 2008, the company were on the brink of collapse and surviving mainly through Musk’s own investments. The gamble clearly paid off.

“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.”

Create a story

By sharing his vision of the future, Musk avoids dwelling on product details. He creates a storyline which is infinitely more interesting than facts and figures alone. By doing so, it builds trust in his intentions, which ultimately fuels our desire to buy.

In 2006, critics could’ve chastised him over the fact that Tesla’s first car was way too pricey for mass-consumption, despite the fact that the company had set out to build the opposite – an affordable electric everyday car. But in a blog post entitled “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)” he openly explains his strategy and turns the tables entirely in his favour.

“So, in short, the master plan is:

  • Build sports car.
  • Use that money to build an affordable car.
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car.
  • While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options.

Don’t tell anyone.”

Keep the offer clear, concise and intriguing

Waffle is never the sign of a well-informed salesperson. By keeping a conversation focused, you retain attention and build authority. Musk does a good job of reducing complex ideas to simple soundbites.

  • On SpaceX: “Enabling human life on Mars.”
  • On Tesla: “Designs and manufactures the most advanced electric vehicles and electric powertrains in the world.”
  • On SolarCity: “A world where there’s no need to burn fossil fuels.”

Each of these phrases engages the imagination, which in turn shapes our emotional response – it piques our interest.

Never give discounts

Last year, a post on Reddit insinuated that a Tesla salesperson had mentioned the possibility of discounting a vehicle. As discounts are forbidden by Musk, he was notified about the post and reacted angrily. His basic premise was:

“If you can’t explain to a customer who paid full price why another customer didn’t without being embarrassed, then it is not right.”

This moral standpoint actually served to increase his popularity, despite the fact that everyone still has to pay full price.

So whatever your view of Elon Musk, it’s hard to deny his unquestionable ability as a salesperson. He’s perfected the art of selling without actually “selling” anything at all.

This post is part of a series in which we explore the headline traits of the most accomplished salespeople.

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