Defending the used-car salesman stereotype.


Yesterday, I bought a car.

I'm taking a risk, because as of the end of this week I'll be joining the ranks of the self-employed, so the days leading up to this were more me sitting huddled over my pennies, nursing them tenderly and a bit obsessively, muttering 'precious' under my breath, than throwing notes up in the air a-la Julie Andrews singing 'the hills are alive' as I wantonly squander my fortune. 

I bought it from my local dealership, because I understand loyalty in a way I never did as a customer in the past,  but would have been happy to buy from any of the other dealerships I visit - I've trained and coached hundreds of staff and managers across nine sites - and almost all of the people I've met have been awesome. 

After four years 'in the motor trade', I've learned a thing or two that might be helpful to know about, should you ever be in the position of buying a car, and be feeling less-than-excited about the whole experience (armouring up for going into battle, anyone?)

I should probably say, I think the manufacturer makes a difference to our experience. Buying a car from Lexus, Audi or BMW will have  a different atmospheric 'flavour' than buying one from Ford, Renault or Peugeot, for example. I'm a Honda girl, and my experience has been that the workforce matches the brand = reliable, trustworthy, friendly, exciting (the latter if you're at the touring-car-racing and maybe less so if you're in a 1.2 litre Jazz pottering around town (no offence intended). 

The old me wouldn't have had a clue what she really wanted ("I like the red one"), would have approached the test drive with a serious case of the heebie jeebies, hoping that I would 'pass', and would have probably kept quiet at the negotiation stage and sat by passively whilst I let my badass husband face down the salesman with steely glares and a pokerfaced 'silence-off' because everybody knows when you are negotiating on buying a car that HE WHO SPEAKS FIRST, LOSES.

Gone are the days of the sales manager throwing your keys onto the roof of the dealership and threatening to leave them there until you buy a car in a 'no-one walks' scenario. 

I had a completely different experience this time, mostly because I understand the process better, and because I bought my car from people I like and trust - we've built a relationship over time so it was easier to have confidence that I was getting the best experience I could have.

Here are five things I've learned, based on my own experience and I'm not saying I'm an expert - but might help someone else shift their thinking hence writing this post.

1. Give them the opportunity to serve you well. Salespeople (yes, even used car ones), at least the ones in the main dealerships that I visit, are warm, empathic, honest and smart human beings. They 'get it' that you don't want to be 'ripped off'. Often, they are working in a culture that values the sale, granted, that's what they're there for, after all, but the individuals I work with are emotionally intelligent enough to recognise that you're a human being, who wants things to be fair, and they, too, value honesty, trust and respect

2. Ask for what you want! Be really clear that you want the very best deal they are able to get for you, without to-ing and fro-ing whilst you both negotiate. My salesman (get me, 'my salesman' :)) yesterday said "I'm not even going to try to sell you a car" with a non-resistant and humorous style because a) I've been training him for years on the value of having the customer feel in control, and b) I'd been clear that I was definitely interested in a car, but that I was also exploring other options. It helped him, to know exactly where I stood.

The 'smoke and mirrors' dance of entering the sales process and getting to a 'deal' (I think) has been created because of a lack of trust and honesty, often on both sides (car sales environment has often been blamed for this - but I know I've added to that in the past by not being open and clear about my intentions). (Hello... transferrable skill useful in many other situations!).

Show your hand. Otherwise, you will be playing the game you thought they were playing before you walked in, and they may not be. They don't want to sell you a car that you're not happy with.

3. Trust your first impressions. The salesmen (and one or two women) in the dealerships I visit, are decent humans, too. If you can help it, try not to stereotype or pigeon hole them. Give them the opportunity to help you find the right car for you. One or two are still 'old-school' and may try to come over all alpha-male and salesy, in which case you should absolutely hot foot it out of there quicker than Quicky McQuickface. Otherwise - give them the opportunity to serve you respectfully. 

4. They are there to sell cars - it's what they are rewarded for and what the business exists to do. That is okay. It can be done with fairness, honesty and they will look to get the best deal possible for you.

5. There isn't always a lot of profit in a car. Not eleventy-thousand in each one, contrary to customer-popular-belief. Really. Sometimes a used car sale might make a hundred quid for the dealership. Sometimes less than that, or nothing.  

Ask for the best deal, but don't take the mick. And the 'can you throw in some mats' request costs them money - so by all means ask, but don't assume you're being 'seen off' if they can't say yes. It maybe beyond their control.

As customers, we want fairness, trust, and reliability - 'please don't rip me off', 'will you look after me?', and 'do what you said you were going to do'. As salespeople (at least, the ones I've had the privilege of working with) want the same. It's about time we stopped stereotyping and gave them the opportunity to serve us well.

[No salespeople were harmed in the writing of this post.] And I'll be back to write about aftersales staff because they are awesome, too, in my experience.

For me, this is an opportunity to practice inclusion, and believing the best about people! And also good boundaries, and the ability to sniff out any 'power-over' techniques or anything that feels shady. It's totally ok to walk away from that or anything that doesn't feel good to you.

Would love to know about your car-buying experiences in the past. Have you had similar good experiences as a customer? Comment below, and share if you liked this. Thanks!