Smart Car Shopping: Who's In Control Here?

July 30, 2010

When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, it was my job to stay in control of my customers. If I couldn’t stay in control, I was obligated to "turn them" to another salesperson. When that happened, I lost half my commission.

Yet, experienced sales people understand that unless you’re in control of your customer--following the well-ordered steps of the sale process that has been laid down for decades in the auto industry--chances are the customer is taking the dominant role. Too often, this results in sales staff being lead along a meandering path that stands little chance of any deal closing that day. Car dealers and their sales people know that it’s better to “turn” your customer to another sales person so they can try a different tact to get back on track. After all, half a commission is better than none at all.

For some sales staff there is another concern: in the world of car sales--what could be called a shark tank where only the strong survive--losing control of your customer can be a sign of weakness in this often testosterone-laden environment, where if you don’t sell, you don’t earn a paycheck.

In either case, the auto industry drills into their sales staff to “stay in control” of the selling process or don’t expect to remain employed in the fast moving world of car sales.

What Customers Want

Think back to when you bought your last car. It was probably a stressful experience, in part, because it’s a major purchase that usually obligates you to a significant financial commitment for the next four, five, or even six or seven years. You don’t want to make a mistake. And there are many steps along the path where it’s possible to stumble.

First, you have to choose the right make and model. Do you pay extra for the features you want, but may not be able to afford? Most buyers hate negotiating, yet determining the actual purchase price looms on the horizon. How do you get a low interest rate on your loan? Your loan rate is a major factor in determining what your monthly payment will be, as well as the overall cost of the vehicle?

And there is the dreaded business office where you complete the paperwork: you’re at the mercy of the Finance Manager who always tries to sell you more products than you want or can afford. Do you fear that in a moment of weakness you’ll say “yes” to something that you don’t really need, but something you’ll be paying for over the term of the loan? Such missteps can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more than necessary.

It’s natural to want to take your time, go slow, and double-check everything! That works well for car buyers, but it doesn’t work for car dealers. More on why it doesn’t work, and what dealers do to stay in control, tomorrow.

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