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Car Salesman Confidential: Why We Stalk You

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 1/11/2015 Mark McDonald
Car Salesman Confidential 1024 680© Provided by MotorTrend Car Salesman Confidential 1024 680

Don’t stand . . .Don’t stand so close to me"
--”Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” The Police

One of the complaints that readers make from time to time is that salesmen stand too close to them when they’re looking at cars. “Why does this guy have to get so close when I’ve already told him I’m not buying, all I want to do is look?”

Well, let me try to explain it to you this way. The other day I was walking into the showroom from outside, on my way to the restroom, when I noticed an older gentleman hovering around one of the cars on the showroom floor.

“Hello, sir! How’re you?” I said.

“Oh, I’m not buying anything,” the man said, waving me away. “I’ve got a vehicle in service.”

I hadn’t asked him if he was buying anything, but he seemed pretty uninterested in talking to anyone, and I was on a mission, so I walked past him toward the bathroom. “Well, if you do need anything, just let me know.”

At that moment my Sales Manager stepped out his office and greeted the man. They made a little small talk, and then I heard the customer say: “Oh, by the way, do you think someone could tell me how much my vehicle is worth?”

BA-BA-BING! A potential car deal about to happen. I immediately turned back around, but by now I was about twenty feet away. At that instant, another salesperson, who had just entered the showroom and was now about ten feet away from the customer, crossed into my manager’s field of vision.

“Hey Paul,” my manager said, flagging him down. “This gentleman here would like to get an appraisal on his vehicle.”

And there I stood, flat footed and empty handed, twenty feet away, feeling like an idiot. I had lost a car deal for the simple reason that A) I had taken a customer at his word that he wasn’t interested in buying a car, and B) I was physically too far away to make the play.

At some point in your career in sales you learn a valuable lesson: never accept what the customer says at face value. I know this will offend some people, but let me explain. You can’t accept what any customer says, ever, about their intent to buy or not to buy a car. It’s not that they’re lying. They’re not. At the moment they make a statement like that they may be perfectly sincere. But then they see a fantastic price that gets their attention, or spot a sparkling little jewel of a used car, one they’ve always wanted since high school, and it’s all over but the shoutin’. They’re ready to buy. And if you’re not there when the impulse strikes, you lose. In sales, you have to get as close as possible to every customer on the lot, no matter what they tell you, and stick to them like glue. Because it is guaranteed – guaranteed -- that the minute you walk away from them they’ll change their minds and find something to buy. From someone else.

I’ve seen this happen so many times and in so many different ways it isn’t even funny. Not too long ago I spoke to a woman whose car was in service and she gave me the standard “Killing time while they change my oil.” She was nice and we chatted a bit, but she did such a good job of convincing me she wasn’t interested in buying a car that I left her alone. My mistake. I stood back and watched her walk the entire lot from one end to the other, twice. During this time, two other salespeople approached her. She brushed both of them off, just as she had me. I had to take care of something so I went back inside. When I came back out about 15 minutes later, another salesman was putting her behind the wheel of a “Hit Car,” or new car with a big bonus on it. Thirty minutes after that she was buying. And that salesman-- salesman #4-- made a thousand dollar commission. All because he refused to walk away.

Now, is this the story every time? Does everyone who tells you they’re just killing time actually end up buying a car? Of course not. Most of the time they’re just killing time. But you just don’t know. That’s why that irritating sales guy stays eighteen inches off your left elbow. He’s thinking to himself “Is this the guy that, the minute I walk away, is going to buy a car?”

It’s a little like basketball. You have to stay on the man with the ball. If you stand off to the side of the court and wait until it looks like the guy with the ball is going up for a shot-- forget it. He already has you beat. You have to stay an arm’s length away. Literally.

Here’s the worst that’s ever happened to me. Every day at my dealership we put out these silly looking flags near the street. You’ve probably seen them. They’re green and white and have a big flaming “Z” (for Zorch) on them. Well, every night before we close, somebody has to take the flags down. This particular night was my “flag night,” so I’m walking out to the street to fetch the flags.

At that moment a big Ford dualie pulls up and the driver rolls down his window. I walk over and he says: “I’m sorry, I thought I could get through here but I can’t. I’m supposed to meet my son at the gas station over there. Is it okay of I park my truck here for a minute?” There’s a busy gas station next to our dealership and, from the street, it looks as if the two are connected but there’s a barrier between them. So I said “Sure, no problem,” and returned to taking down flags.

About half an hour later another salesman comes up to me and says “You know that guy in the truck you spoke to earlier?” “Yeah,” I said. “What about him?” “He’s in Claudio’s office buying a car.” “What?!!!”

I went to check and there he was, the man in the truck, with his son, buying a car. On his way to the gas station he passed a nice used Mercedes coupe we had and told his son about it. His son walked over to take a look, fell in love with it, and bought it from the salesman who walked up to them. When all they started out to do was fill up a tank with gas . . . and I was collecting a bunch of stupid flags.

That’s why they stand so close . . . so close to you.

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