Landing your prospect on the right car is a magical combination of art and luck. Many a Car Man has discovered midway through his deal that the car he has written up is way more than the customer can qualify for or afford. I like to call it the sand-to-bag ratio. You can’t get ten pounds of sand into a five pound bag. So if your customer is telling you he has a grand to put down and wants a $250 payment, it’s probably not a good idea to show him a $40,000 SUV.
But alas, it's ultimately the customer’s decision on which vehicle to buy, and no amount of cajoling or attempted hypnotism will steer him away from the object of his desires. If you’re lucky, he may be intelligent enough to choose something that fits his budget. If you’re unlucky enough to have latched onto a goof with champagne tastes and a beer budget, there’s not much you can do about it. After all, it’s your job to write prospects up, and I certainly won’t tell you any different here. No sir! I won’t tell you that sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and find another up. You won’t hear that from me!
But if you’re smart and have a little patience you can influence which car your customer lands on. The trick is in your words and your actions. It starts with a little number sometimes known as profiling. All Car Men are excellent profilers. That’s why we should be put in charge of national security—but that’s something for another post.
Profiling starts the moment the customer parks his car. We’ve already talked about checking out the trade. If your customer is driving a newer Lexus it tells you a number of things: He might be a person of means and may have (or at least once had) good credit. But be cautious. The Lexus might be a warning sign that he’s buried in his car. You should immediately say a brief prayer to the Car God that he isn’t going to trade the sucker in! (Also keep in mind that people that drive expensive cars think they know everything!)
If your customer is driving a broken-down Mitsubishi Gallant it tells you something else: He’s not that particular about what he drives, and he probably doesn’t qualify for that $70K Cadillac Escalade on the showroom floor. This is not to say that he can’t buy something, but you have to be careful about what you show him. When it comes to finding the right car it’s easier to go up than down. Once he falls in love with something that’s too much for him, it’s damn near impossible to switch him to a less expensive car. Even if he realizes you’re right, his feelings get hurt and to save face he may leave and purchase the cheaper car from someone else who doesn’t know he’s a borderline idiot!
So your prospect gets out of his car. What do you do next? At least at the beginning you can’t do much. You have to let him roam a little and get a feel for the lot. This is when you begin the process of having him see you as a thinking feeling human being and not the seed of Satan. Once you’ve gained his confidence you can begin to steer him toward a car that’s right for him—and for you.
Of course the right car is a used car! In my humble opinion new cars are the work of the devil and should be viewed only as a necessary evil. The new car franchise sign on your building is the gateway to the little jewels on your used car lot. For the most part new cars are a mini-commission, something to be avoided at all costs. But sometimes you have no choice but a new car. Just accept the fact that money-wise you’re probably screwed and try to do the deal as quicly as possible.
As you show him around discreetly ask your customer what price range he’s trying for. These are code words for “how much down, and how much a month?” If you get an answer you can better steer him toward the vehicle that gives you the best chance of making a deal—hopefully with some gross in it.
Hint: Customers never want you to make money. It’s in their DNA. They also think (thank God!) that you make more money on a new car than a used because a new car is more money. You can use this mistaken belief to your advantage. If it comes down to choosing a used vehicle versus new try this: “Of course I’d make more money on you if you bought the new car, but the used car is your better buy.” (Flop!) Ironically this is usually the truth. New cars depreciate faster than a piano being thrown off the roof of a high building. A later model used car is best for everyone involved.
Remember: The time to switch a guy is at the beginning of the sale, not in the middle. Try not to”change horses in the middle of stream” as they say.
You might get wet.
NEXT: Test Drive Advice