Saturday, December 02, 2006

How To Lose A Car Sale

Yesterday I went car shopping. I knew what I wanted: a Barcelona red Prius with the GPS package, cloth seats, no extra sound system.

Over the years, I've bought a few cars, and I know from experience that car salesmen have well earned their second banana status. They are, in the main, jerks. Perhaps they aren't at home. Perhaps at home they're nice guys who take out the garbage and put down the seat. But at the dealership, they become Macy's parade balloons needing guy wires to tether them to the earth. And they ooze stickey testosterone along with, sometimes, dandruff.

Therefore when I go car shopping, I go girded for battle (albeit with, perhaps, a small chip on my shoulder). When I enter the arena, I'm pleasant but wary. I'm prepared. In control. Ready to deal. I search for a salesman who looks like his IQ is in triple digits, and he passed high school English.

This time I thought I'd weighted the battle on my side a bit by starting out on the Internet. I plugged in all my specs, hit Enter, and fifteen minutes later, Vincent of Elk Grove Toyota was on the phone. We had a nice, longish conversation, that focused mainly on our LA connection and the fact that both of us were new to the area. He recommended Capital Christian Church's Singing Christmas Tree as "one of the biggest things to do in Sacramento," which didn't do much for my longing for LA. We didn't talk a lot about the car because, after all, he had my specs in front of him. He knew the car I wanted; he had it; all I had to do was come in and do a test drive.

Ten minutes after I hung up, Chris of Elk Grove Toyota called me, and we had a pleasant, although shorter conversation. He too had an LA connection, some cousins in the San Gabriel Valley (which is not really LA, as everyone knows). Maybe that's something they teach them in sales school--find a common reference point and hit it for all it's worth. I told him too that I would be in the next day.

Which I was. Primed to drive and buy. Looking forward to dealing with either Vincent or Chris, who seemed to be the new model of car salesman: internet guys, relatively intelligent, Modern Men, as it were. Perhaps they are, but in that tired old ploy, the bait and switch, they said hi, shook hands, and then brought out Brian, who was the salesman I would actually be dealing with.

Brian was definitely an old model car salesman. He put my teeth on edge like chalk on a blackboard. He was alternately patronizing and cutesy. He whined and pleaded like an overtired four year old. He told a sexist story in which he was the star. He vastly underestimated my intelligence, not to mention my ability to add and subtract. He would not take me seriously. He did not listen to me. And consequently, he lost the sale.

Here's my advice to car salespeople:
  • Think! If the enquiry came in via the internet, assume a certain saavyness. The people I know who are woefully ignorant and most likely to be conned are Luddites when it comes to computers. You can figure that the opposite is also true.
  • Listen! Forget the script, the ten techniques sure to make a customer buy, the five foolproof ways to close a sale. You're dealing with a human being; act it.
  • Don't hand off or consult with multiple colleagues. Think of the picture you present: there you are, bowing before the great god finance manager, leaving the customer alone with nothing to do but think ill of all of you.
  • Don't wear a leather jacket with a shirt and tie, especially if you're overweight. It's cheesy, and you want to avoid anything smacking of that.
  • Don't tell a sexist joke to a woman who's buying a car for herself.
I don't know where or when I'll buy my Prius. When I got into my car to drive off the Toyota lot, my little VW convertible seemed a whole lot nicer.


  1. Car salesmen hate me. Except for Joe, who works for my semilocal (not nearest) GMC dealer, because we mutually love each other (completely platonically, of course). I've bought 2 new vehicles from him in the past couple years, and if we had the money I'd buy a 3rd... but anyway, you should take me with you. We'd get you the car you want, for a reasonable and fair price, and the craptastic salesgits would be G.O.N.E. I put up with zero shit, but I come out with what I went in for, lol. As I said, they hate me. And I am NOT afraid or unwilling to walk away midsentence if the salesass won't listen to me or is unreasonable. I warn 'em once, and then I walk. I have EVEN been known to do the "talk to the hand" gesture as I'm walking away and they're clip-clopping along behind me in that simpering way only salesman have. Ugh.

  2. That stinks! It's exciting that you're getting a Prius, though. I may very well get one of those when my Honda Insight finally dies.

  3. Maybe I could write a book about stupid cars salesmen. My wife and I had one in Delaware that was really bad. It was obvious the car was for my wife, but the salesman would only talk to me not her. She was really pissed and ready to walk out. But they had the best price, and as I reminded her once we were done she had the car at a good price and never had to see the idiot salesman again.

    Then there was the time I made a deal with the salesman and he started to write the papers up. He got up to go talk to the manager who then came by and said they could not possibly sell a car for that. He started at $500 higher and I told him what to do with it. Told him I was leaving as he said what about $400. When I got home there was a voicemail that said what about $350. Over the next few days he finally got down to only $50 over the deal. I went to another dealer instead.

  4. Let them know. Write a strongly worded letter to both the owner of the dealership and Toyota corporate.


So--whaddaya think?