Car Sales Kids

Subject: Vroom Vroom

Jocelyn Brady
By Jocelyn Brady
Executive Creative Director, Scribe

December 17, 2018

Editor’s note: We love seeing little nudges that make statistically significant differences in performance. Here is the story of one such nudge. Simple changes to emails increased employee work. Two notes!

  1. The identity of the company is Top Secret. 
  2. Remember: This is not an off-the-shelf solution. Behavioral interventions are extremely context dependent and require testing. It worked this time, and that’s pretty cool.

It’s your first day on the job. You’re greeted by managers and fellow employees but after that, you’re on your own. You have a question and aren’t sure where to look. Is there a manual for this? Where are the training tools? What’s the right protocol for, say, interacting with customers? You just need a central place to look. Maybe some tips along the way. And hey, a little encouragement might be nice.

Now let’s try this again. On your first day of your new job, after all the meet-and-greets, you’re met with a welcome packet. It’s just a simple email, containing a bit about how to do your job well, along with a quick video from the company’s VP. Short, sweet, useful. You get one of these communications every month for your first six months. Tips, tools, resources and even a link revealing what customers think of you. (That last one’s your favorite.)

What do you think happens in that second situation? You do MUCH better is what — about nine percent better than the other newbies who never read (or received) those simple, helpful reminders.

At least that’s what happened when a Car Dealership Who Shall Not Be Named For Confidentiality Reasons (let’s call them “CarCo”) ran a little experiment of this design. They tested this, shall we say, “communication effect” on 712 newly hired sales consultants. Each of these new hires received one short email communication a month for six months — plus a survey at the end of the series.

In short, here’s what we know:

  • The new hires who received the emails sold, on average, 1.5 more cars in the six month period than their non-email-receiving peers — for a total lift of 1,068 sales.
  • As a result, CarCo generated more than $1.7M in gross profits.
  • CarCo spent $218,472 on this new hire email pilot
  • … so that comes out to a pretty sweet ROI. (Editor’s note: 778% ROI is the unofficial back-of-the-napkin PeopleScience calculation.)

Or another way to look at it (we’ve recreated some handy charts for the visual learner in you):

average sales_sales consultant


We don’t know anything else about the sales people — their experience levels, backgrounds, track records. We don’t know what day of the week or time of day they received the emails, or what their work days were like, or whether Chad in Accounting awarded one slow clap to every sales deal. All we know is this: the people who read the emails performed better.

Oh, and the email open rates all exceeded industry averages:


So … what’s the deal?

Well, let’s make some connections. All the emails were short — usually three to five paragraphs, with related tips and links. (Human brains really like this, since we can only keep about three to five things in our working memory at any given time.) The tone is friendly, easy to read (e.g. “Use these three ideas to help you convert leads into sales” and “the most successful sales consultants want to know what their clients think”). Every single subject line specifically mentioned “YOU,” the audience. These emails felt personal. They contained info you cared about. They showed you someone cared.

They’re basically case-in-pointing what’s known as the “Affect Heuristic,” a term coined by behavioral scientist Paul Slavic that suggests “we pay attention to things that make us feel something.” And speaking of feeling something, we can get a clear sense for which embedded email links people cared about (or at least clicked on) most:

email_link click rate

See that? A video of your company VP sharing secrets to his success — and how you can use them — scored the most clicks. Followed by a survey to share your opinions. And a resource containing customer views on how well you’re doing.

The connections here all make sense when you think about what behavioral science has been telling us: Engaged employees make for better-performing companies. (Editor’s note: Read more about employee engagement here. We have a whole category on it!) And we respond really well to our favorite subject: ourselves.

In a series of experiments, scientists using fMRI scanners on test subjects noticed that thinking and talking about ourselves fires up regions of our brains associated with motivation and reward. This self-focus also contains the seemingly-ironic power of helping us form social bonds and perform better teamwork. Sharing just the right amount of information about who we are, what we do and what we know doesn’t just feel good, it can fuel our collective progress.

So … what’s next?

What would happen if we launched more pilots like these in more companies —across more industries? What if we experimented with more two-way methods of communication in onboarding, training and HR programs? We can’t possibly know because, well, there isn’t a manual for this … yet.

What we’re saying is this is just the beginning. Some of this is still conjecture. As the application of behavioral science gains more traction in business, we’ll have more data to learn from. So why not try out an experiment like this at your work? We’re guessing that if you do, you’ll want to share what you discover — and it will benefit us all.

Jocelyn Brady
By Jocelyn Brady
Executive Creative Director, Scribe


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