The average person tends to have a natural distrust for salespeople. And, as a salesperson, it sucks. But I get it.
My partner, Melisssa, and I were having a conversation about where this distrust started. When she thinks of a stereotypical salesman, (because, aside from makeup and Tupperware, they used to only be men), she thinks of the door-to-door hustlers selling magic beauty potions and encyclopedias. According to her, encyclopedias have always been useless, even before the internet.
When I think of the slimy salesperson from stage and screen, I think of car salesmen.
I’ve bought a lot more cars than Melissa. I’ve probably bought more cars than most of the people I know. So I have some pretty first-hand knowledge about why I and many others feel this way about them.
When my brother-in-law wanted to buy a new car, he asked me to come along. With my car-buying experience and being THE sales guy of the family, he knew he could count on me to deflect any cliche sales gimmicks that they might try on him. He’s a fairly shy, introverted sort of dude, definitely a high S on the DISC personality spectrum, so he knew that those gimmicks would have worked.
As soon as we get there, four guys rush out of the door before we’re even out of the car. The winner gives us a quick greeting and asks why we’re there. No small talk for this one. I asked if we could test drive an Altima. Without a hint of nurturing or humor, he said, “sure, what is the goal of the test drive?” I mentally applauded his gumption for attempting to weed out a potential waste of time. I decided to test him a little bit. “To see if we enjoy driving it or not.” Gumption gone, he deflated immediately. He said okay, we got in the car, and that was it. No more questions.
We bought the car and left.
In this case, the lack of questions didn’t change the outcome because my brother-in-law had already done his research. He knew exactly what he wanted, and he knew that they had it.
But what if he hadn’t done his research? With this guy’s complete lack of communication and questioning, would we have bought a car that day? Better question, would we have bought a car that he would have been happy with?
Also, how is this salesman ever going to make a living at selling cars if he backed down so easily and shied away from asking any questions?
What he should have asked after my slightly snide answer was “what would classify as a good drive?” Or, if he didn’t feel like matching my snarky verbiage, just asking what we were looking for in a vehicle would have gone a long way.
There’s no way he could know that my bro was set on an Altima. So asking what we wanted would help lead the conversation to either getting in that car or trying something more appropriate for him.
But let’s assume he went with Option A, the good drive approach. That leads to more questions during the drive to figure out what the next step would be. “You talked about the fact that you were looking for a smooth ride in something affordable. How is this ride holding up to that?” Of course, my hypothetical answer, smooth and affordable, is pretty vague, so more questions should’ve been asked. But you get the idea. If I say that the ride is everything I was hoping for, then it makes sense to progress the conversation to the next step.
That next step is probably something along the lines of “what happens now?” He still doesn’t know if we’re ready to buy one today, just price shopping, or test driving for fun. If he finds out we’re not ready, he doesn’t have to spend more time trying to convince us. And if we’re on the fence, then he can use his car salesman magic to get us behind the wheel.
The point is, talk to your prospects. No, don’t just talk to them. Ask them questions and LISTEN!
That said, it would have been an even worse interaction if he kept trying to push us into things we didn’t want or need.
We’ve had this discussion on the podcast I share with three other people, Sales Throwdown. We’re all longtime salespeople, and we all hate buying cars. The reason is that most car salespeople have no motivation to try finding the right fit for their customers. They have a quota to fill and bills that need to be paid, so the customer’s happiness is the furthest thing from their mind. They just need to sell cars, no matter what.
And that’s why everybody dreads shopping for one.
Since a century’s worth of sales and industry culture would have to change before all car salespeople had the ability to sell in a more thoughtful and caring environment, this is what we’ve come to expect. But the individual salespeople could try to communicate with their potential customers better, especially if they had the motivation and support from their company to want to make the change.
I’ve written a little about this before, (you can read it here), but it’s about being focused on the things you can control versus the results, e.g. selling a car. You can’t make every person say yes, but you can ask the right questions, find out where they are in the car buying process, and try to make it the best experience for them. That way, even if they don’t buy a car that day, they’ll be more likely to buy from you later.
Honestly, that’s how all sales interactions should go. You know, in a perfect world. Until then, buying a car is still probably going to suck.