It’s been over 20 years since I was a car salesman. I loved being a car salesman, and I was good at it. Still, I left the business. One reason that I left was that I got tired of selling against my customers’ wishes. I’m not talking about selling my customers cars that they didn’t want, and I’m not talking about pushing people into things. I’m talking about the most customer-unfriendly part of the car buying experience—what I call the “desk dance.”
The “desk dance” is the time-honored negotiation process in the car business, where the salesman gets an offer from the customer and then says, “I have to go talk to my manager.” I’d always hoped that this was one of those sales practices that had been phased out of the car business; unfortunately, recent trips to dealerships have shown me that it isn’t. But it should be, and there are several reasons why.
First of all, it insults the customer’s intelligence. In this day and age of the internet, the customer is probably walking in armed with a general idea not only of the car’s retail price, but the invoice cost. There’s a good chance that they have also looked up the average trade-in on their car, as well. For the salesperson to pretend that he/she doesn’t know the essential figures means that either the salesperson is lying, or that the salesperson is the least informed person in the entire dealership about the financial aspects of the sale. Neither is a winning strategy.
Second, this strategy actually works against the gross. In my time in the car business, I worked for two different dealerships. The first was a classic car-sales “control the customer” model, where we had to do the phone call to the desk, followed by the desk dance. The second was a revelation. It was a long-standing Oldsmobile (RIP) dealership, and the first time I went to my sales manager to work a deal, he pulled out his book, looked, and said, “OK, get me at least this much, and you’ve got a deal.” Done. I went back into my office, got well over the minimum that I needed, and made a nice commission. For the year that I worked there, every deal was the same and my minimum-commission deals went from 50% of my deals to 12%. Why?
Simple. The customer respected me at the second dealership. Because I didn’t constantly have to run to the desk, the customer had more respect, and I was more empowered to do deals. The buying experience was more pleasant for both of us, and the customer ended up paying a little more for a better buying experience.
If you’d like to build better customer relationships, get more gross on your deals, and have stronger salespeople, get rid of the desk dance and empower your salespeople to negotiate and sell on their own. Give them the guidelines, as my manager at the second dealership did, and then let them do what they do best.