Lessons From the Back Seat of A Cab

Tim Wackel


I’m writing this from Room 1009 in the Schaumburg Marriott outside of Chicago. Tomorrow, I have the privilege of delivering one of my favorite workshops on presentation skills. Although I’m tempted to share all of the great benefits of this wonderful program, I have a more interesting (and compelling) message that I believe you’ll enjoy and find value in.

Question: What could a simple cab ride have to do with becoming a better sales professional?

Answer: Almost everything!

After landing at O’Hare today and gathering all of my gear, I headed curbside to grab a cab. I’ve done this drill a hundred times, but today was different.

My cab pulled up and the driver walked around to the trunk, took one look at my gear (think 50-pound case filled with camera, tripod, microphone, materials) and just grunted at me. Immediately, I felt like I’d done something to offend him.

Feeling guilty, I helped him wrestle my bag into a trunk that was already jam-packed (where did all of this other stuff come from?). He slammed the trunk closed as I sank into the back seat feeling embarrassed that I actually have luggage.

Lesson #1: Be likeable.

We all have bad days. I understand that. But when you’re dealing with customers, you need to put on your game face. I don’t know this cab driver’s exact circumstance, but how difficult would it have been to offer a warm greeting? A simple smile would have gone a long way. Very few people go to work every day trying to be unlikable, but do your customers really like you? Do they feel good about themselves when you are around?

If you find yourself alienating customers in the first three minutes, I suggest you find another line of work.

As we pulled out of O’Hare I told the driver that I need to go to the Marriott in Schaumburg. He simply nodded and rolled down the windows as we headed toward the freeway. As we hit the open road, I quickly discovered that this driver had one foot planted on the accelerator and the other on the brake. Smooth is definitely not a word in his driving vocabulary. I had actually thought about buying a cup of coffee in baggage claim, it’s a good thing I didn’t because I would have been wearing most of it by now. I could almost feel my stomach become upset.

Lesson #2: Have great skills.

Too many sales reps believe that their selling skills are better than they really are. When was the last time someone gave you honest feedback on your sales skills? A better question; when was the last time you asked for feedback?

I honestly believe that this cabbie thought he was a good driver. After all, why become a cab driver if you can’t drive?

Truth be known, his skills were awful. How are yours?

As we continued our journey, I noticed the inside of the cab looked like something out of a horror movie. I’m not expecting a room at the Ritz, but I do believe you can throw out trash, sweep out dirt and wipe drool off of the windows (do they allow dogs to ride in Chicago cabs?).

Lesson #3: Take pride in everything you do.

Take a hard look at your e-mail signature, voice mail greeting, hand written notes and all other customer touch points. Are your quotes easy to understand?  Do your invoices make sense or do you need a law degree to decipher?

It’s easy to get complacent, challenge yourself to step up and find the “drool” in your organization.

Twenty minutes outside of O’Hare the cab driver turned to me and asked if I knew where the hotel was. I replied that I want to go to the Schaumburg Marriott. He said he’s not sure exactly where it is.

Lesson #4: Be knowledgeable.

If I knew how to get there, I could have just rented a car. If we were going to get lost, I would have preferred to get lost before getting on the freeway.

Sales professionals need to be knowledgeable about their products, customers, market, industry and competition. We are the resource that our customers look to for advice. It is our responsibility to know where we are.

If you’re not knowledgeable, don’t take someone for a ride!

We finally figured out where we were going, but the cab ground to a crawl as traffic started getting heavy. It was a warm, humid day in Chicago, so I asked if we could roll up the windows and turn on the air. Without a missing a beat (or turning his head) I was told no. I understand you burn more gas running the AC, but I’m guessing my tip will more than compensate. Now I found myself trapped in a dirty, hot cab that is being driven by a grouch who wasn’t good with directions.

Lesson #5: Above all, take care of the customer.

Cab drivers get tips, sales reps get commissions. There are more similarities than differences in how these two professions get compensated. If your livelihood depends on customers (and your job does), then you, your manager and your organization need to be committed to taking care of them.

I can promise you that if you don’t, someone else will!


Tim Wackel is the founder and president of The Wackel Group, a training and consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations find, win and keep customers for life. You can find out more about his workshops at timwackel.com.