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A Lesson in Sales

I spent this weekend doing something that I loathe, I went car shopping. Not that it isn’t fun looking at the new cars and going out on test drive; that isn’t the issue. No, the issue for me is the salesperson. 

Perhaps I am simply a bad new car customer. I am the sort that spends a matter of weeks looking at different brands and models, educating myself on their various features. I also educate myself on the trade-in value of the car I am driving right now and I set a budget for the purchase—this much and not a penny more (and that includes tax, title and license). In other words, I am the sort that comes into the dealership knowing precisely what I want and I am prepared to make a purchase. 

Of course, simply because I am ready to make a purchase does not mean that I am obligated to make a purchase. Walking away from the dealer, going somewhere else and starting again to get the best price is all part of the game. 

By last Wednesday I had narrowed my choices down to two, a Chevy model and a Chrysler model. I’ve had really good experiences with Chrysler vehicles over the years and the two vehicles I was looking at were comparable in features, gas mileage and even price. The Chrysler even came with a bumper-to-bumper lifetime warranty, which beat the Chevy’s more traditional warranty and yet, at the end of the day, I chose the Chevy. 

True, there were some things about the Chevy itself that worked in its favor. It was more comfortable overall and the ride was smoother. It also just seemed to be a more solid piece of machinery than the Chrysler. Still, that wasn’t what did it for me. No, what did it for me was the salespeople. 

A Tale of Two Salespeople

Let us refer to them as Chrysler and Chevy. Think of it as changing the names to protect the innocent. What got to me was the fact that Chrysler was trying to sell me a vehicle while Chevy was solving my problem by simply introducing me to a vehicle that sold itself. 


Salesman Chrysler’s sales approach was heavy-handed in much the same way as using dynamite to rid your house of roaches might be considered heavy handed. Not that I was surprised, I had a feeling that it would be. The last time I saw that much gold on a man, Mr. T was shooting Snicker’s bars at a speed-walker. Chrysler began with information mining, no doubt meant to see if I was worth his time and energy. Some of the questions were innocuous enough, but I found others—such as those pertaining to my kids—to be a little over-the-top. This went on for a while, Chrysler mining for personal information and me steering the conversation back to the vehicle in question. 

At length, he either got tired of my stubborn refusal to open up or he figured my terse answers gave him enough to go on and he offered a test drive. He had a brief discussion with his sales manager, got the keys and we walked out onto the lot. It was then that Salesman Chrysler killed the deal and the topic for today’s post popped into my head. 

This is not to say that Salesman Chrysler killed my interest in the vehicle, just in doing business with him. This city is lousy with Chrysler dealers, so finding another would not be an issue. This is what he said to me: 

Charles, I am already really squeezed on margins, the days of 10% or 20% margins are over, and on top of that I am giving you employee pricing and you have your trade-in. Now, it’s like this: If you have 5 peanut butter sandwiches, and you give us 1 and keep 4, that’s not sharing. But if you give us 2 and keep three, well, that’s OK. You understand? 

Of course I understand. You are saying that your deal is your deal and that there is no wiggle room in the price you offer, fact that anyone associated with the auto industry knows is a lie. I likewise suspect that it was also a lie when Salesman Chrysler said that he owned one of these cars. One would think that if you own a certain car, you would be able to work the air conditioning. He couldn’t. As for the pea-nutty metaphor for give and take, I get that as well. It was a way for the smarmy little homunculus to make me feel as though I have some responsibility to his bottom line. 

Of course, given their unwillingness to negotiate and the low-ball trade-in value they offered, it was clear that my bottom line was of no concern to either Salesman Chrysler or his manager, who tried very hard to close the sale by pushing the idea that he could put me in that car then and there. 

I drove out of there feeling pushed and manipulated (at least they tried to manipulate me), the very definition of feeling “sold.” 


Salesman Chevy was a whole different experience. Except for the nametag, you wouldn’t necessarily distinguish Chevy from one of the better-dressed customers floating around the showroom. Chevy’s approach was one of asking, “How may I help you?” This was as opposed to, “What can I sell you?” I told Chevy what I wanted, the parameters I was working with and within five minutes—no information mining at all—I was test driving the vehicle I was interested in. As Chevy put it, if I don’t like the way it drives, there is no use in discussing it. 

During that drive, the flow of information was entirely from the salesman to the customer, unless, of course, I had one of my typically annoying questions. Salesman Chevy went through the assortment of features, focusing all the time on the information that I had volunteered as being important to me as well as a few things that I had not mentioned. 

What followed was the usual ritual of “working up the numbers.” I waited patiently while Salesman Chevy went through the usual song and dance with the sales manager. At length, I was presented with numbers on not one, but three vehicles. “These are the three we have on hand right now,” I was told. One was well under the price I expected. One was right in my price range and the third was fair bit higher, even after some cost-cutting, due to add-ons that I really didn’t need or want. No, the one I liked was the one in the show room, the one that fit into my budget. The only problem with it was that it was red. I am not talking about just any red, either. I am talking RED, the kind of RED that leaves spots on your retina if you stare at it too long. I ask when they could get a black one. A minute later I am told that it will be there on Monday. I put down a deposit. 

The Bottom Line

Why did I choose Chevy over Chrysler? At the heart of it, no one at Chevy tried to sell me anything. While Salesman Chrysler worked hard to sell me a car, Salesman Chevy worked hard to meet the needs that I articulated to them. There were no stories, no attempts to “identify” with me, no lies; just information. It was the relaxed “let me see what I can do for you” attitude combined with the product knowledge and coupled with the complete focus on the needs of the customer that made the difference. 

How do your salespeople deal with customers? How can they do better?

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