Best Practices

Handling the Used Car “Best Price” Question Over the Phone

Can You Handle the BEST Price For a Used Car Question?

Awhile back I wrote an article on 4 Ways to Handle the “I Want Your best Price” Question on new vehicles. Well this month we’re going to examine how to handle the same question on pre-owned vehicles.

I randomly mystery shopped five different dealerships across the country to see if anyone was delivering a powerful message when asked, “What is the best price on this pre-owned vehicle?” I used AutoTrader for my search engine. For each market I used a 25 mile radius search on a 2010 or 2011 pre-owned Camry. I then chose the dealer who had the most expensive Toyota Camry at the top of the list.

Call one was to a D.C. area Toyota dealer. On this call I got a salesperson who had limited skills when it came to handling phone-ups. When asked the best price question he offered me a couple hundred dollars off. He did take my name and number and offered to call me back. About 30 minutes later I got a phone call from another person at the dealership who was presumably his manager. He did give me a very good explanation on their pricing policy, but failed to ask for the appointment when finished.

Listen to call one here:

Call two was to a Boston area Toyota dealer. This salesperson was about as poor as it gets when handling a phone-up. When I asked the “best price” question I was told that the price advertised was the lowest. He never asked for my information by the end of the call, nor had he offered his information. I did get a call back from a sales manager about 30 minutes later and he played the range game with me.

Listen to call two here:

Call three was to a Detroit area Toyota dealer. This salesperson had some phone training, but the problem was that it wasn’t delivered properly and he was confrontational with me when I would not give him my phone number. Had he given me a reason to give a number, I would have provided it. He was very close to saying the right things, but could have explained the dealership process a little better.

Listen to call three here:

Call four was to a Dallas area Toyota dealer. This call did not go well for the dealership or the salesperson. When asked the best price question I was told they would consider any reasonable offer. I told him his price was high in comparison to another dealer on AutoTrader, and at that point he gave up without trying to get my information or offer his.

Listen to call four here:

Call five was to a San Francisco area Toyota dealer. The number listed on Autotrader directed me to a salespersons cell phone which is one of the worst mistakes a dealership can make. My initial call was off-lined since the salesperson was out of the dealership. He offered to call me back, but I told him I would call him back ten minutes later. When I called back he offered to take $600 of the asking price yet he never even asked me to come in. When I mentioned I might stop by he just told me to ask for him and never attempted to get my information or set the appointment.

Listen to call five here:

How should the “best price” question be handled?

  1. Ask about the trade! Just like with a new car we need to bring the trade into the equation.  Not one person asked me if I was going to trade in a vehicle.  When the customer tells you they have a trade, I encourage you to ask questions to indicate your interest in their trade.  Never tell a customer “oh that’s a wholesale piece.” What you should say is, “I am confident we can get you top dollar for your trade.  When is the last time you had your vehicle professionally appraised?  Not only will we get you the lowest price on this Camry, but we’ll also get you as much money as possible for your trade.  When are you available, now or later today?”
  2. Invite the customer to the dealership! Don’t get hung up on giving a price out over the phone.  I personally wouldn’t buy a pre-owned lawn mower without first laying eyes on the product, why should a car be any different?  I suggest saying something like this:  “(Customer first name), all of our vehicles are priced at or below book value.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be the largest dealer in our market!  The best thing for you to do is come on down to the dealership and look this vehicle over.  If you like the car, we won’t let price stand in the way of you making a fair purchase.  You are going to love this Camry and it really is a nice one!   When would be the best time for you to come in, now or later today?”
  3. Sell the dealership and warranty! Be prepared to tell the customer about your dealership’s advantages and warranty policies on pre-owned vehicles.  If your vehicle is certified it can often command a higher price and you will need to explain the value of certified to your potential customer.
  4. Give a price as a last resort. “(Customer first name), I am not authorized to give out final pricing and I’ll need to check with my manager.  I can tell you that he/she normally gives better pricing when customers are here at the dealership.  As you know your presence is your leverage.  Would you like a price over the phone, or would you like to come in and get a better price in person?”  Go for the appointment!  If they want the price over the phone, this will be a rare occasion where you’ll have to off-line the caller and call back with a price.
  5. You are your own little business within a business, invest in this process and watch it work. Would you spend $20 bucks to make a few hundred?  Then keep a few gas cards in your possession and offer them as a way to bring customers in.  “When you come to our dealership you’re going to be happy with the deal we give you.  If I can’t earn your business, I’ll give you a $20 gas card for your time.  That sounds reasonable, right?  Are you available today or tomorrow?”
  6. Use Video! If you are unable to secure an appointment, make a video of the vehicle of interest and sell, sell, sell!  Include videos of other like vehicles as well.  Make sure you secure the customers e-mail address so you’ll know where to send the videos.  Once delivered, make sure you make a follow-up call and ask for the appointment.

I would like to address all the managers reading this article.  We need to lead by example.  It’s easy to tell an employee what to say, but a good leader will pick up the phone and teach their employees how it’s done.  Often managers won’t do this for fear of failure themselves.  I often get managers on the phone when shopping dealerships and they struggle right along with the sales team.

I also suggest that used car managers take the time for regular meetings to introduce new units to the dealership.  Once or twice a week the sales team can walk the lot to learn about the inventory.  The salesperson who took the trade in can give the briefing on the new arrivals.  Vehicles bought at auction can be introduced by the used car manager.  Knowing your inventory will help increase sales.

Do you have a unique way of handling price objections on pre-owned vehicles?

It is like a wall when they talked that way, not knowing what to say...thanks for posting this one
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • May 12, 2011
Good stuff Jerry. Thanks for the post and recordings.

I need to add, as much as I hate hearing " “(Customer first name), I am not authorized to give out final pricing
and I’ll need to check with my manager. I can tell you that he/she
normally gives better pricing when customers are here at the
dealership. As you know your presence is your leverage." Eight times out of ten, it works.

As Mr. Pistell insists - many people are still conditioned to negotiating with the dealership.

  • J
    Jon Hyde
  • May 13, 2011
Mr. Customer, if the price on this vehicle would have been $2,000 higher would you have called?

If response is yes, then "Wow it sounds like I'm too cheap, but Ill still honor the internet price for you...when can you come in?

If response is no, then "It sounds like you and I can agree that this is a great price on this vehicle otherwise you would not have called.. when can you come in?

Jon Hyde 
Gillie Hyde Auto Group
Glasgow, KY
 Jerry, thanks. This was a great post. Calling thousands of dealerships across the country would yield the same results. A basic lack of training accounts for most of the problem here. What is surprising is that the manager's are only marginally better at handling these types of calls.
 No offense but your list is kind of lame... what the salesperson should have done is first secured a contact profile of the consumer.  I would have used and asked if there were near a computer... then instantly we could be looking at MY desktop, Now I have control, I would now have their email and of course the proper spelling and phone number ... lets start the selling process.  First I would have prepared a compare what you get form us chart... the old Ben Franklin Close ( Now you have their trust established. Explaining that their trade-in and that the features you want may affect what the price is.... you should of course have more than one of these on the lot with variation of features... Now, bring them into the dealership to LOOK AT THEIR CAR... and take the car they want for a test drive.  I would also have an upsell and lowsell vehicle to walk them up and down to make sure they have a car they want/afford. Basic 101 stuff really - doesn't surprise me you got such mediocre sales people - If you put your sales people on 100% commission they will first sell their customer's soul, your soul, then their soul as they slide into desperation to make a living... is this the world you want?  When will Dealer's get with the modern world!  Look at Redfine in the Real Estate market - they are killing everyone else (who have people on 100% commission).     ).     
  • Anonymous
  • May 16, 2011
Don't forget to ask about financing! 94% of car purchases last year were financed. As a franchise store with a captive lender that offers the best financing there is little reason to let the customer direct you to  "best price" when it's going to be about payment anyway and Mr. Customer I wouldn't want to concern you with a payment on a vehicle you haven't driven yet so when is the earliest I can schedule you to drive this and our many other certified pre owned __________.
  • L
  • May 24, 2011
Please tell me you blocked your number, its safe to presume if you didn't and your caller ID said NY or maybe had an NY area code, these 100% commission salespeople may not want to push you too much, and knew they'd lose the "just get them into the dealership" battle like call #3. Your idea of only telling the customer what they want to hear seems flawed, in an era where dealerships are fighting the old stereotypes of telling someone what they want to hear, just to get them in honesty works more than you think. This seems like the old school approach to phone and internet department. Believe it or not customers tend to enter the dealership more to get questions answered if you leave them with some questions. Next time you may want to  let the above salespeople know they are being recorded, which I know for a fact you didn't. Good luck with your flawed mystery shops! A real tip would for managers to include their associates in training.