Keep your business away from used car sales tactics

When it comes to selling, I’m usually on the side of sellers, because they don’t care much. Some of the nicest people I’ve met are in sales. They are positive, optimistic and genuinely care about their customers.

That being said, there are selling styles that are downright obnoxious and designed to squeeze as much money out of the customer as possible. And, unsurprisingly, we tend to run into these irritating sales tactics when shopping for a used car.

Over the past five years, my family and I have managed to total 4 cars and get 2 cars to the “not worth fixing” phase. As a result, I buy cars quite regularly. Three, in fact, in the space of two months.

Just last week I bought one from a local dealer who has a reputation for having a high-pressure sales culture. So I went into the situation knowing exactly what to expect and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

I knew exactly what make, model, and year I wanted, and evaluated everything that was selling on the web nearby. I was checking every day so I knew right away when this car was posted on the local dealer’s website. It was definitely underrated.

Car salespeople have a “profile” of what a customer who buys a car looks like. always looking for married couples, so I walked in with my 15 year old daughter, walked into the sales office and asked for a warranty on a car I bought there a while ago. Viewing me as a nuisance rather than an opportunity, the sales manager asked a junior salesperson to help me. That’s what I wanted.

After a brief conversation, I told him I was interested in buying the car I saw on their website. It’s all “what?” because he didn’t expect it. The seller told me he wasn’t sure if it had been prepped to be “up front”, but I had it checked.

He had hit the lot a few hours earlier. I tell him, let’s go.

The salesperson goes to the sales manager and comes back with a piece of paper showing what he calls “the internet price” along with some charges, including a $795 “dealer advantage package”. (Stuff like a free first oil change.) Now the main purpose of these packages is to make sure I get my car serviced at the dealership and they’re usually thrown away for free as the closest. Put a pin in there.

OK, so here’s what probably happened when the salesman went to the sales manager. The salesman got chewed out for selling the car at the internet price rather than the list price (which was higher), so the sales manager told him to tack on the “advantage package” to extract the margin that they were losing by honoring the Internet prize.

I tell the seller that I only want the benefits package if they offer it for free. Salesguy goes back to sales manager, comes back with $295 perks package. I tell the seller, I want the parcel for free or I will walk. And I was ready to walk.

The salesman goes up to the sales manager who comes himself. He wants to know why I won’t pay $295 for the package and I just get up to leave. The sales manager immediately backs off and gives me the package for free, as long as I pay cash. I say, okay, okay.

I come back later with a certified check. Even though there was no financing involved, the seller sends me to “Finance”. The “finance” guy was the epitome of a fast-talking salesman. He starts drawing diagrams, explaining warranties and potholes and everything. I let him talk for a few minutes, then I said, “Let’s cut to the chase. I know you want to sell me an extended warranty. How much?”

This completely upset him, so much so that he returns to its sales pitch, so I have to stop him again and tell him to cut to the chase. Finally, he pushes the paper he was going to show me after his pitch, which of course was supposed to soften me into thinking it’s a must have.

They wanted $7,000 for a 50,000 mile extended service package…for a car with 60,000 miles. The actual number should have been around $2,000 and even then I wouldn’t have bought it because the car has a lifetime powertrain warranty. He says it doesn’t, so I have him check the website. Yeah, there it is.

Finally, he prepares the sales papers but something is missing: the benefits package that I had already negotiated. It’s all “let me check the paperwork” and then reprints the documents with the package included.

So now I’m ready to go. As I exit, the sales manager greets me at the door. Now he knows I negotiated a very low margin sale, so he says, not too convincingly, that he hopes I’ll be a lifetime customer. Yes indeed.

Unfortunately, these high-pressure sales tactics work on many people. Nevertheless, high pressure selling is, in the long term, an exit strategy for car dealerships. Here’s why:

  1. There’s no way I’m recommending this dealer to anyone else unless I’m there to guide them through the sale.
  2. When these tactics work, customers usually find out sooner or later that they’ve been snooked and resent it.
  3. This kind of nonsense is why car salesmen are almost universally hated, making it harder to sell cars.
  4. The overall effect is to get more people shopping online (as I did) rather than coming to the dealership.

In other words, if dealers don’t start adding value to the sales experience rather than making it a tedious contest, online sales will crush dealers.

To take with: it’s time for high-pressure sales tactics to go the way of carnival barking. They are obsolete and ultimately self-destructive.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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