Confessions of a Car Man


Gettin' Certified

I’m getting’ certified. Soon I will become an official GM salesman, welcomed into the bosom of the reborn corporation like a long lost son. Soon I will be qualified to sell new Chevy cars and trucks with confidence and clarity like there’s no tomorrow. As a bonus, I’ll soon be eligible for any GM spiff money--as soon as the federal government gives them the okay.

I’m freaking excited!

Regardless of what some of you might think, I have no problem with gettin’ certified. As a matter of fact I kind of enjoy the process. Though I prefer the simplicity and potential gross profit of a used car, selling new ones is a hell of a lot easier if you know what you’re talking about. Understanding how Stabilitrak works and what the hell DEF is may be the key to my future success in my declining years.

No, I’ve got no problem with it. Seriously. I’m learning how my product stacks up against the competition. I’m figuring out how to calculate a payload for a horse trailer and which truck will pull it even though I don’t really get along with those types of people. Ford salesman are shaking in their boots just thinking about it. David Teves will soon be unleashed on the unsuspecting new vehicle automotive world. Lock up your wife and children, pink slip and check book.

But I do have once little itty-bitty bitch about the whole thing. It’s the part of the certification program where they try to teach you how to sell a car. For me that’s where the whole gall darn thing begins to break down.

Any faithful reader to this blog knows that I have written rather extensively on this subject: the manufactures version of the sales process versus real life; also, their attitude toward Car Men in general. Early in the course, “Becoming a Professional Sales Consultant” the term “car salesman” is presented as an old, out-molded term for those of us who sell their products. As the name of the course suggests, we are now “Sales Consultants”. This is a grand concept for sure. We are no longer the brave Car Men who hustled their iron for the last one hundred years; we are now described like clerks at a Target store.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for new advances in the car business, and I’m all for meeting the new generation of cooperative customers that GM optimistically thinks are out there. I’m all for sitting them down in my office and presenting them with a “sales plan” prepared by my willing sales manager that the customer will go along with with only minimal amount of haggling. I’m all for introducing them to the used car manager who will happily let them help him evaluate their trade. (I’ve suspected for years that used car managers secretly enjoy that.) I am all for showing them an appraisal sheet with not only the ACV (actual cash value) of their trade but the retail value as well, even though I don’t understand why the hell you would want to do that.

As I went through the course I couldn’t help but notice the images of what Sales Consultants look like it. It’s as if the models in a “Lands End” catalog stepped off the pages and went to work in a Chevy store. They are all a very handsome and diverse collection of YOUNG people, all looking as if they’ve been waiting for the opportunity to sell cars all their lives. As I said in the very first post of this blog, no one graduates from college and says, “I’m going to sell cars for a living.” These people do not exist. The car business is filled, and will always be filled, with misfits and dreamers who are willing to take a chance doing something that 99.5% of the population would never dream of doing.

We are, according to GM, a young, chipper crowd, bursting with knowledge, eager to please, eager to cooperate in the process of the politically correct perfect sale. I was struck with the tall willowy blond in her late twenties who represents the image of a sales manager. I couldn’t help but wonder, are there actually people like this out there somewhere in a wondrous Chevy dealership that totally embraces the GM approved sales process and has a high CSI to match?

Regardless of what the GM thinks, the car business will always be at least to a certain extent a war zone, and the Car Men are the infantry who fight the battles. It will always be a place where salesmen continually come in conflict with people who do not go along with the blissful vision of what a customer should be and should act. The Others have never taken the course on how to act with Sales Consultants. They haven’t passed the test that makes them the reasonable people GM (and all the others manufactures!) think they should be.

We Car Men should take note that “beating up” customers is not something you can do today. We have to conduct ourselves with professionalism and honor. (Me included.) But we should always remember that this is a dirty business and those that survive will be those with the talent and guts to do the job.

After, of course, you get certified.


UP NEXT: The First Moment of Truth

Test Drives Advice

I’ve already written extensively about what can happen to a Car Man on a demonstration ride. For those of you that are new to this blog, please refer to my previous posts, “My Ride with Rudy” and “Demo Rides”. You can find them easily by typing the titles into the search box at the very top left of this page. Do it now; I’ll wait. . .

…Done? Okay. The basic rule of a demonstration ride is this: Any drive that doesn’t find you dead in a trunk is a successful one. It can only go up from there.

If handled properly a test drive can be a wonderful opportunity. Having the customer say yes to the drive is one of my little closes, and the drive itself can be used to extract useful information that might help you make your deal.

Some dealerships are very specific about demo rides and routes. I suggest that you adhere to the rules—if only for your job security. I’ve heard of salesmen being followed on their rides to make sure they go on the prescribed route!

As hinted above, the first thing to consider is your safety. If you get really bad vibes from a customer, DO NOT take him out in a car! Even in this troubled market it’s just not worth the risk! This is especially true for female Car Men for reasons I don’t have to go into. DO NOT go on a ride (even if you’re the one driving) with a customer you suspect is intoxicated! ALWAYS get a copy of the customer’s driver’s license and leave it with the desk. And if you can get a cell phone number even better.

Plan your route! Do not be stingy on the ride—unless you suspect you are being jacked-off. You can’t expect a customer to make as important decision as buying a car by driving around the block. I suggest you have at least three different routes of varying lengths. If you sense a jack-off, take him on the shortest route. A real prospect should be taken on a longer route, and the longest route should be used if there is more than one buyer such as a spouse or parent.

The general rule is the longer the drive the better your chances of having a customer bond with the car, and the more time you have to make him feel relaxed with you.

While on the drive, your customer’s guard is down. Though you don’t want to spend the drive grilling the guy, you can use it as an opportunity find out a few useful things. These questions should be asked as if you are merely making conversation. I suggest you gaze out passenger side window and speak in a casual tone. The questions should be paced so that the customer doesn’t get the feeling he’s being worked. Here are some questions you might ask:

“What you driving now?”
“Thinking about trading it in?”
“What ya' do for a living?”
“Owe any money on the trade?”
“Dang, that teenage daughter of yours is a sweet little thing, isn’t she?” (Use with caution!)

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now here’s a classic question that might help you gauge how much the customer is bonding with his new ride:

“When you buy a new car, where’s the first place you’ll take it?”

I once asked this while sitting in the back of a new Nissan Quest. The customer answered with a rambling story about taking his new van up the California coast to a little cabin nestled in the redwoods. Hell, it made me want to go with him! Needless to say I sold the van and made a nice pop besides!

Sales trainers mostly recommend that you remain silent on a test drive. Bullshit, I say! Use it as a selling opportunity!

Just don’t overdo it.


Note: I also have a short story about demo rides you might enjoy. If you’re interested, access my short story blog, “unexpected pleasures” by clicking the link at the right of this page and type “The Demonstration Ride” into the search box.

UP NEXT: Gettin' Certified