Car Salesman Confidential: Leveraging the Power of the Online Interview


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Like the crack of the whip, I Snap attack

Front to back, in this thing called rap

I’ve got the power

I’ve got the power

— “The Power” by Snap!, 1990

You’ve got the power. You just don’t realize it.

One of the things that bugs me about most of the car buying advice found in books, magazine articles, and YouTube videos is the notion that there is a power deficit when it comes to the consumer. In other words, there’s a widely held belief that the consumer is less powerful than the car salesman, and the only way to get a good deal is to overturn the power deficit or level the playing field by doing tons of research, using all kinds of tricky tactics, playing games with your trade-in, etc., etc. “Turn the Tables on the Salesman!” the books and videos proclaim. Go in there and “Beat ‘em at Their own Game!”

Sorry, but you are not going to beat me at my own game. If you try to turn it into a game, an experienced salesperson will beat you every time. And you’ll never know it. (It’s called getting “High Grossed.”) The reason is simple: experience. The average salesperson sells anywhere from 10 to 15 cars a month. That’s 120 to 180 cars per year. That’s more cars than the average consumer buys in a lifetime. Heck, 10 lifetimes. Needless to say, you’ll never overcome that kind of experience deficit.

But here’s the thing. You don’t need to. The buyer always has the upper hand. It has always been a Buyer’s Market—more so today than ever before. (Please note: this isn’t always the case. If you’re trying to buy an extremely rare vehicle that’s in high demand, such as a Nissan GT-R, the seller will have the upper hand.) But most of the time the buyer is in charge. The problem is, most consumers don’t recognize it.

There are a number of things that give you, the buyer, power. First, the car business is completely dependent upon you. If people stop buying cars, we go out of business. It’s as simple as that. Remember Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, Plymouth, Mercury, or Studebaker? As a salesman, I am completely dependent upon customers to make a living. I can’t sell a car to myself, or another salesperson. I’m unemployed until I get a customer in front of me. Second, the consumer has the ability to leave. I do not. If a customer decides to get up and leave in the middle of a deal, there’s little I can do. I have tased only one or two customers in my career, and believe me, it wasn’t worth the hassle. Third, you have the power to make me compete with other dealerships for your business. Imagine the power I would have if I had a dozen customers sitting in my office all trying to buy the same car at the same time. If one of them tried to negotiate a lower price, all I’d have to do is snap my fingers and yell “NEXT!” and another customer would step forward ready to pay full sticker. You, the consumer, have that power over your salesperson because we all know that there are three or four other dealers within a short distance all eager and waiting to take your money.

And like a superhero, today’s consumer has a power for which I have no defense. It’s called The Internet Review.

Anyone who buys a car these days can go to Google,, Yelp, or any number of other websites and writes a review about their experience buying a car at Pleasantville Motors. And hundreds—if not thousands—of other consumers will see it. If it’s a good review, it helps me sell more cars. But if it’s a bad review, it can really hurt me—and the dealership where I work—and there’s nothing I can do about it. None of these sites provides a “Rebuttal” section where the salesperson gets to tell his or her side of the story. The reader only sees one version of events—yours. That means you can go on line and name a particular salesperson and call him a liar and a thief — and those words will be on that site forever for everyone to see. Why this isn’t considered slander and grounds for legal action, I don’t know. But it’s truly frightening, the power the modern consumer has over the salesperson on the internet.

Let me give you one example. I had a 26-year-old man come to my dealership to drive an SRT-8 Charger. As every Motor Trend reader knows, this is the high performance version of the Charger and comes with a 6.1 liter Hemi. It‘s a lot of fun to drive, and the guy fell in love. We appraised his trade-in, and the man left in the Charger that afternoon, happy as could be.

A few days later, the man returned to the dealership with his father, a large man with a crusty attitude. He asked if we could go inside to talk. I said “sure,” wondering what the problem could be. It turns out he was mad because I had sold his son a “race car” and hadn’t disclosed to him that his car insurance would almost double. I kid you not. That’s what he was angry about.

I had to bite my tongue. Here was a 26-year-old man, married with one child and a steady job, using his own money (his father wasn’t on the loan and contributed nothing), making his own decisions, buying a car HE had chosen of his own free will. But I’m the bad guy. Why? Because I’m a car salesman.

Long story short, they wanted to trade the Charger in and get something a little more “sensible” that would be cheaper to insure. Which we did. We took a beating on it, but we did the deal to make the customer happy. And when the young man and his father left they told us how pleased they were with the way we had treated them and promised to recommend us to everyone they knew. Two days later, this is the review I found on a popular website:

“Son was pressured into buying a vehicle he could not afford the insurance on. No one at the dealer bothered to tell a mid 20s male that insurance for a “Muscle Car” would be nearly as much as the car payment. The salesman/dealer pressured him without totally informing him of all the financial implications. Attempts were made to seek a fair resolution to this dilemma with in 48 hours. Their solution was to buy the car back for less than it was purchased for two days prior and to offer a little or no discount on another car that was more affordable. Not Happy! We will never purchase another vehicle from Pleasantville Motors or any of their affiliates. We will tell our friends not to purchase a vehicle from Pleasantville Motors. It is dealerships and salesman like we experienced at Pleasantville Motors that give used car salesman the horrible reputation that they have and justifiably so. BAD DEAL!”

After I picked myself up off the floor, my first instinct was to call the man up and give him a piece of my mind. Fortunately, I didn’t do that. If I had, I would have said something like this: “For the record, sir, your son is an adult. He is responsible for his own decisions. Not me. I did not “pressure” him in any way. In fact, I couldn’t have talked him out of buying that car if I had tried. He never once asked me what the insurance would be. If he had, I would have told him it would go up, but I had no idea how much because I’m not an insurance agent. I’m a car salesman. However, it is not my responsibility to “disclose” the cost of insurance to him, anymore than it is my responsibility to inform him that he’s buying a car with 485 horsepower, and if he gives it too much gas on a slippery road he might just find himself wrapped around a telephone pole. I assume that intelligent adults who buy “Muscle Cars” have some common sense and already know these things. And finally, when you buy a car it starts to depreciate the instant you drive it off the lot. That’s why we can’t give you what you paid for it after you’ve driven it a few days and a few hundred miles. Even so, you only lost two hundred dollars on the whole transaction, while we lost about four times that trying to keep you as a customer. Do I expect you to appreciate what we did? No, that would be asking too much. But I do expect you not to trash me in a review.”

What this consumer didn’t realize—or maybe he did—is that he could cost a salesman his job with a review like that. Yes, that’s how closely dealerships monitor their reviews, and how much weight they give them. Fortunately, my employers knew the truth of the situation, and I kept my job.

If you’re a consumer, recognize that you have a lot of power. But as Spiderman once said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Next time you buy a car, use that power wisely.


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