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Car Salesman Confidential: How I Sell – Motor Trend

At one dealership I worked at the General Sales Manager stood up in front of everyone in the Monday morning sales meeting and said “I’m sure all you old timers already know this, but in case any of you newbies haven’t figured it out yet, we’re in the business of stepping people into a bad decision.”

I nearly fell off my chair.

If that were the way I viewed my job I would have quit the car business a long time ago. How could anyone feel good about themselves thinking their whole job consisted of helping people make bad decisions? I look at it the other way around. My job is to help people make good decisions, decisions that will benefit them in the long run.

I haven’t written much about how I sell cars because, first of all, there are a million guys out there putting out CDs and doing videos on YouTube about “How to Sell a Car.” And most of them are probably better at it than I am. Second, I’ve never considered my audience to be car salesmen. I mainly write for the benefit of the average person.

But today I’d like to talk a little bit about my philosophy of selling. I’ll tell you right up front: I’m not one of those 20-25 cars a month guys. I consider myself slightly above average as a salesman. These days, I do about 12 cars a month, 15 in a good month. So if you’re looking for advice on how to pump out 30 a month and make $200,000 a year, go somewhere else. Grant Cardone, I’m not.

Where I excel, in my opinion, is in how I treat my customers, and how they feel about me. Typically, I have very good CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index), a lot of repeat business, and good referrals. I like to say “I may not sell a lot, but when I do, they stay sold.” In other words, I almost never have any “heat cases” — people complaining about me to management — or anyone trying to bring a car back a few days later because the hypnotic spell I cast on them wore off and they suddenly realized they had saddled themselves with $800 payments for the next six years. That doesn’t happen with me. Typically, my customers are happy with the car, the deal they got, and me. And that makes them loyal. In fact, other salesmen joke that they can never steal any of my customers, because my people always insist on working only with me. I guess that’s a compliment!

Here’s the key. I feel very good about myself and the job I do. Before I got into sales I told myself — and my manager at the time — that if anyone ever asked me to lie to a customer, or compromise my principles in any way — that would be the day I quit. And so far, I haven’t broken that rule. (Okay . . . bent it? Yes. Broken it? No.) And I do this while “holding gross” (making a profit for the dealer), and making a decent living.


So how do I do it? How does any salesperson who wants to succeed do so without “stepping his customers into a bad decision,” or feeling they’ve compromised their values?

It’s really simple. And, again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, but it all comes down to two things: having empathy for the customer — listening to, and genuinely caring for, their concerns — and being a good problem solver.

When I first started in sales I did exactly what my managers told me to do. Which is the right thing to do. The best advice I can give any “green pea” is to listen to your managers. But as I gained more experience and got more training, I started changing the way I did things. I started to get “trickier,” for lack of a better term. I began to look at sales as trying to manipulate people into buying a car. And this is the way a lot of people in sales look at it. There are almost an infinite number of ways to manipulate people in car sales. Some of them are as old as the automobile itself, and new ways are being invented every day. They range from elaborate “word tracks,” or scripted phrases designed to produce specific responses, to old standbys like Losing the Keys to the Trade. And let’s not forget the ever popular Puttin’ the Pressure On.

I’m fairly good with words, so I got pretty good at using word tracks. When I’m “in the zone” I’m a veritable Jedi master of wordplay. But what I found after a few years of doing it this way is, it works . . . but it’s not the way I like to sell cars. The way I look at my job is, I’m a problem solver. You come in, you have a problem. You need a vehicle. Why do you need a vehicle? It’s my job to find out. You need a vehicle because you have three children and one more in the oven and your 1997 Saturn with 223,000 miles is too small for a car seat. But you can only pay $300 a month. And your credit is lousy. And the most you can put down is $500. As a car salesman, I look at this and say “How can I turn this into a car deal?” Is there a vehicle on our lot that has room for 2 adults and 4 kids that I can sell for $300 a month to a person with poor credit and only $500 down?”

It’s pure problem solving, in my mind. It may be difficult, but there’s nothing tricky about it except the doing of it. I don’t need to razzle-dazzle these folks with impressive verbiage. I need to find them a solution to their situation. If I succeed, I’ve sold a car. Nothing could be more straightforward.

In the end, if I can get these people into a newer, more reliable vehicle with the room they desperately need, and keep their payments close to what they wanted with only $500 down, I’ve done them a service. Far from stepping them into a bad decision, I’ve actually helped them make a good decision, one that benefits both them and me.

  • More Car Salesman Confidential here:
  • A Clash of Paradigms
  • Making ‘Em Laugh
  • When A Commitment Isn’t One

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Car Salesman Confidential: How I Sell



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