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One thing I knew, back before the editors of Motor Trend were kind enough to allow me to do this blog, was that if “Car Salesman Confidential” was to be a success it could not be a monologue. It had to be a dialogue. A dialogue between salespeople and ‘civilians.’ It couldn’t be a place where a salesman sat on a pedestal, pontificating about his profession. It had to be a place where there was give and take, and salespeople could learn about the way our customers perceive us, and regular people could learn about the inner workings of the car business. I knew I wanted to engage the readers in the comments section in a way that doesn’t happen very often, and I knew that if I did I would probably learn as much from them as they did from me. And I was right about that.
What I did not expect, however, was the number of people who view my job as totally unnecessary. One reader recently posed a question that I think perfectly sums up this attitude when he asked “Just what does a salesman DO?”
Well, if I had to sum it all up in one sentence, it would be this: car salesmen make car sales happen.
Without car salesmen, there would be no car sales. Period. Or very few of them. Because the sale of a single car often seems as drawn out and difficult as giving birth to a child. It’s no coincidence that they call it “New Car Delivery.” If you’ve ever had any children you know what I mean. Some of them come out easy . . . and some of them involve six hours of blood, toil, tears, sweat-- and prayer. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. But all of them require enough effort that my job is not only necessary, it is essential. So, think of me as your doctor. Or your midwife, if you prefer. I may not have a PHD after my name, but I’ve gone through this process enough times to guide you through it successfully.
So what does a salesman do? Well, first, I’m your Guide and Time Saver. Want to know where the used cars are? No need to hunt all over. I ‘ll show you. Need to know how much your trade is worth? No problem, I’ll get my Used Car Manager to do a professional appraisal. Trying to figure out what happens next, now that we’ve agreed on price? I’ll tell you exactly how the process works, and how long it should take. Looking for a good place to get some Thai food after you get out of here on a Saturday night? I’ll tell you where to go -- even tell you what’s good on their menu. Heck, I’ll even show you where the restroom and the changing station is. It’s all part of my job.
Second, I’m your Consultant. I would say maybe 5% of my customers walk through the door knowing exactly what they want and drive home in it. The other 95% need my assistance. Out of that 95%, maybe half have a pretty good idea of what they want and can afford . . . but the other half doesn’t have a clue what they want or can afford. It takes someone like me to help them figure it out for them by asking the right questions.
Surprised? If you’re the average Motor Trend reader I bet you’re very surprised. Writing for MT is like writing for a magazine aimed at Olympic athletes. It’s difficult to make Olympic athletes understand that most people don’t run a hundred meters in under 10 seconds, excel at trap shooting, or have the ability to pull off a triple Axel in figure skating. They can do it, they think. Why can’t everybody? But most people are not trained Olympians when it comes to buying cars.
Third, I’m an Information Collector. There are a thousand little pieces of information that must be collected for any car deal. Can’t find your insurance card? I’ll help you dig through your glovebox. Still can’t find it? No problem. I’ll put you on the phone with an agent, give them the VIN of the car you’re buying, and tell them where to send a current card. A lot of this information goes on the credit application. Don’t know how much you gross on a monthly basis? I’ll help you figure it out. Can’t remember the address of your current employer? I’ll look it up for you on line. Again, if you’re an Olympian none of these things may seem terribly difficult. But for many they’re daunting tasks. I’m also a Teacher. A great deal of my time is spent educating the consumer. Looking at vans? I can tell you the differences between the LX, EX, EXL, EXL with Navigation, Touring, and Touring Elite. How much more do I have to spend to go from an EX to EXL? I know exactly. How many airbags does it have? I can tell you, and show you where they are. I can recite the IIHS safety ratings on each of my vehicles, and how they were rated in each category. Trying to stay below $350 a month? I can tell you up front that the $32,910 Screamin’ Red Super Behemoth you’re drooling over is not a candidate -- unless you have $17,000 to put down. Thinking of leasing for the first time? I can tell you how leasing works, and what the potential pitfalls are. Confused by terms like “negative equity,” or wanting to know how we’ll handle the payoff on your trade? I ‘ll explain it. If you’re a first time buyer I can tell what you’ll need to get approved. And if you’re a car guy and want to know if the car you’re looking at has a rear multilink suspension, I can tell you that, too.
I’m not saying consumers are stupid. They’re not. Most people don’t know the answers to the questions above because it’s not their job. And it’s not their hobby, either. They’re too busy working and living and doing things with their families to know everything there is to know about cars, and the car buying process.
Next, I’m your Intermediary, or liason. The way the typical car dealership works, the ultimate power rests in a handful of men who sit at the big desk behind that curtain over there and give salespeople the “numbers.” There are a lot of pros and cons to this system, but for now, that’s the way it works at most dealerships. That puts me, your salesperson, in a peculiar position. In this curious kind of relationship I am both your adversary and your advocate. My job is to fight for the dealership and my commission . . . but I am also there to fight for you. Every salesperson knows that in order to make a deal the customer’s needs have to be met. If my attitude was “It’s my way or the highway,” or I went for a “Win/Lose” and not a “Win/Win” every time I’d never sell another car. So if I know all we need to do to make a deal is cut our price another $500, I ‘ll beat up my sales manager until he gives me another five hundred bucks. You may never see it, but your salesman fights for you in countless ways behind the scenes.
I’m your Entertainer. While you sit there for 4 1/2 hours waiting to go into Finance, I will sit there with you, regaling you with stories of my first marriage, swapping lies about fishing, talking football, NASCAR, or why the United States should never have gone into Iraq -- whatever you want to talk about.
Finally, I’m your Customer Service Representative. This is one of the key aspects of my job, and the thing that is most likely to disappear if we ever do away with “glass and bricks” dealerships and go to completely on line sales. As a salesman, there are a lot of things I’m expected to do for my customers. Flying in from out of town to buy that Tootsie Pop Orange Avalanche you saw on line? I’ll pick you up at the airport. Can’t pair up your phone after six tries? No problem, I’ll do it for you. At the tire store getting new tires and they can’t find the key for your wheel locks? Call me and I’ll tell you exactly where to find it. Need someone to help you transfer eight years of accumulated junk from your old car to your new one? I’m happy to help. Having trouble getting your HomeLink system to work with your garage door? I’ll drive out to your house and do it for you. Try getting “Bob,” the guy in the call center in New Delhi, to do that!
I get paid for none of this. I do it because it’s my job, and I want to keep you as a customer. It’s called Customer Service, and it’s absolutely vital to any business’s success. When you lack the human connection that only a real, live salesperson can provide, Customer Service suffers every time.
These are but a few of the many things I do. Some of the other roles I perform but don’t have time to touch on: babysitter, career counselor, detailer, dog catcher (when your Cocker Spaniel gets loose in the parking lot), driving instructor, picture taker, and so on. I’m sure our readers can come up with more. Thanks for reading!
I walked many years in those shoes and your description nails it! Well done and thank you.
I was looking at your site. Now are you selling listings to Dealers? Is it nationwide or in a specific geographic area? Does your dealership experience help you in this new work?