Best Practices

The Power Of A Test Drive

mustang test drive

Why does buying a vehicle have to be such a disappointment? My last two car shopping experiences have been less than pleasurable.

Three years ago my Acura TL was coming off lease and it was time to start shopping for a new car. Since my previous two vehicles had been Acura’s, I was ready for something different. My experience with Acura had always been top notch, so I guess you could say I was spoiled.

I had the itch for a convertible and decided one Saturday morning to stop by a Ford dealership. I told the salesman who greeted me that I was interested in checking out a GT convertible. He proceeded to walk me outside where he pointed out several on the lot. I informed him I would like to drive one to get a feel for the car and see if it was something I really wanted. We went back inside and he ventured off to the sales tower. When he came back he informed me that they did not have any to drive since the three they had were sold. I told him it didn’t have to be a convertible; a hard top would at least let me get a feel for the car. Back to the sales tower he went, when he returned I was informed the GT’s were sold out as well. I told him, “thanks anyways” and left. Needless to say, I was not happy about that experience.

The following Monday I ventured off to another Ford dealership in an attempt to get a proper demonstration of the Mustang. This time I got an eager salesperson willing to take me on a test drive. If what I am about to share with you does not sell you on the value of a test drive, then I don’t know what will! As I turned out of the dealership driveway I noticed the brute power of the car, it felt good! The sound of the engine was intoxicating. As I shifted through the gears, I envisioned myself driving the car down the road on a warm summer day with the top down. I was convinced even before returning to the dealership that this was the car I wanted to own. I sat down, worked out a deal that I was happy with and took delivery three days later.

I thought back to my prior experience at the other dealership and decided to write the owner a letter. I had hoped that they could learn from my experience and provide future prospects with a better experience. Three weeks went by and I heard nothing. Then one day I got a call from the GM of that Ford store. He proceeds to quiz me. One of his questions: “why didn’t you tell my sales representative that you wanted to buy one?” I told him that I didn’t know I wanted to buy the car until I drove it and fell in love with it. Then I explained to him that a customer shouldn’t have to inform the salesperson that they want to buy a car in order to be taken on a test drive. I was then verbally assaulted on the phone, which resulted in me hanging up on him. How that store remained in business as long as it did is beyond me. I am however pleased to inform you that they were forced to sell to a competing dealer who is well known for her excellent customer service.

This now brings us to the present and pending lease expiration on my Mustang. Six weeks ago I had to bring my car in for an inspection sticker. While I was waiting, I made my way to the show room to check out the new ones. To my surprise the salesperson who had sold me the car was still there. Of course I had not heard from him but once since I took delivery. I told him my lease was going to be up soon and that I would be interested in possibly leasing another one. Since he was getting ready to do a delivery, he told me he would work up some numbers and call me back later that day. After two days with no phone call I picked up the phone and called him. He apologized and said he was extremely busy and promised he would call me back shortly. Later that day he called me back and informed me that Ford was no longer leasing the Mustang. He told me that he thought they would be coming out with a program shortly and he would call me back. You guessed it, I have not heard from him since.

Last week I decided to check out the Infiniti G37 Convertible. The sales manager who runs the store was somebody I had worked with prior to becoming a trainer, so no issues with getting excellent service. They took me on a test drive and gave me a quote that was reasonable. Not being 100% sold on the car, I decided to think about it. One of the things that I did not like was the sound of the engine when operating in the higher RPM range. It sounded nothing like the Mustang which was what I was accustomed to.

After thinking about it for a few days, I decided to go with the Infiniti. On my way back to the Infiniti dealer a funny thing happened, my car somehow drove itself to a Ford dealership two miles from the Infiniti dealership. I should also mention that this Ford dealership was the one that previously owned the other Ford store where I had my prior bad experience.

I entered the showroom and after five minutes of standing around by myself, I decide to walk outside and look at a car in the front row. Another five minutes go by and still nobody to speak with. At this point I am now thinking this was a bad idea visiting this particular dealership. I started walking back to my car, but the lure of the Mustang pulled me back to the showroom. Finally somebody greets me; I proceed to tell the sales rep that my Mustang is coming off lease and that I might be interested in leasing another one. I inquired if Ford was leasing again and he was unable to answer my question. How can a Ford sales rep not know what’s going on — this is ridiculous! He has me sit down at his desk while he inquires. He comes back and tells me “no” but we do have zero percent financing with some really nice rebates, why don’t we work you up a payment on a purchase. I agreed to consider a purchase even though I’ve grown accustomed to leasing. He then asks me to fill out a form; I notice it’s a credit application. My reply: “why would you have me fill this out, I haven’t agreed to anything yet?” He tells me he needs to run my credit to figure a payment. I then told him he was @#%$&@ nuts if he thought I was going to let him run my credit before agreeing upon a deal. He then proceeds to inquire about my needs, which of course is a good plan. I tell him what I would consider for options and off he goes to see his manager. I am guessing he’s having his manager run some payments for me, but not this joker; nope, he’s off running a vehicle locater for Mustangs. So he comes back with a few vehicles which don’t even come close to what I am looking for. I then tell him “don’t you think we should agree on a price before you waste your time looking for a vehicle?”

While he’s off touching base with his manager again, I notice a Joe Verde training manual sitting on the floor behind his desk. I have to chuckle since this proves my theory that all the training in the world won’t make you a better salesperson. It takes discipline and commitment to want to get better. If there’s no accountability or measurement device in place, there’s no way you can expect improvement.

Upon his return he actually gives me what I am looking for, and surprisingly it was an attractive offer. Now he’s got my attention, I am actually thinking it’s going to be the Mustang and not the G37.

The Mustang’s had been changed a little since I bought mine, so I figured I had better drive one and see what’s new and improved. One of the things I had always disliked about my current Mustang was that the hood flexed and twisted when driving at higher speeds on the highway. The car did not have very good aero dynamics. It appears Ford fixed this issue with the newer models.

Well you’ll never guess what this guy tells me when I inform him that I wanted to drive one? Are you ready for this? “We don’t let customers drive the GT’s until they agree to buy one.” I should have just got up and walked out right then and there, but I wanted to beat some sense into this knuckle head, so I proceeded to share the story about my past experience at his sister store which they no longer owned. He then folded and agreed to take me for a test drive. When are these salespeople and managers going to realize that the test drives sell the car? Once again, I felt the strong desire to own one after the demo.

Now I had to decide, would it be the Mustang or the G37? The only thing keeping the G37 in the picture was the fact that I liked the lines and luxurious feel of the car. Cons, there was no room to store my golf clubs with the top down. Also, I wasn’t overly crazy about the sound of the engine when accelerating aggressively.

Part of me wanted to go back and drive the G37 again, but I decided to explore the Mustang more. I was close to pulling the trigger. I told the rep to see if he could get me the color combination I wanted. He came back and told me there were no cars available in black or candy apple red with a tan interior. I truly believe they were trying to sell me the car in stock which I did not want. I told him to call me if he found one and then left the dealership. I would have bought the car right then and there had they come back and told me they could get me the one I wanted. He called me ten minutes later and asked if I would consider another color and I suggested he keep looking. It’s been four days since that happened and I’ve yet to hear back from him. I don’t think he realized how close he was to selling me a car.

If he ever calls me back he’s going to get the, “you did” call since I ended up going back to the Infiniti dealer later that day and purchased the G37.

What should you take away from my experience?

  1. Treat customers with respect!
  2. Strongly suggest a demo, don’t wait for your customer to ask you.
  3. Do not skip steps! Sell the value in yourself, your dealership and the vehicle before quoting price!
  4. Do everything in your power to sell the customer while they are in your dealership.
    – Managers, TO your customer before they leave since your sales rep might not always be telling you the whole story.
    – Customers are often at the “tipping point” and a gifted sales team will find a way to tip the customer in their direction.
  5. Always follow-up with your customers no matter what you think. What you are thinking and what the customer is thinking are quite often two completely different thoughts. Bridge that gap with a follow-up conversation.

Do you have a similar experience to share? — when did you realize the test drive was crucial to the sales?

  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • March 7, 2010
Great story Jerry.

I don't have a story from the consumer side since I've been in this business since I was 18 and have never really had to be on that side of the desk. :)

I do remember EXACTLY when I personally figured out the value of a test drive and demo, and it was sort of a smartass mistake.

It was very early in my sales career..right at that point when you think you know it all but still know nothing.

This story actually point to 2 conclusions but I'll get to that later.

It was the break of summer and this younger guy steps into the showroom -- I was UP!

My first impression: Here I's been all day without a solid up and I get this kid AND he want to drive a Miata. Great!! I bet this kids too young to even have a license.

I figured I'd make the most of it. Grabbed the keys to a manual Miata, took control of the wheel first and gave this "kid" the test drive and demo of this life. With plenty of back roads and sharp turns through the mountain side right down from the dealer, I had this kid pissing himself with excitement.

After about 20 minutes (HA!), I decided to hand the wheel over to him. This kid was following my lead and driving the Miata to the limits and having a blast while doing so.

We finally make our way back to the dealership with about 1/3 less rubber on the wheels. He turned to me and said I'm going to buy this car. I was like..yeah right.

That evening he returned with his dad and a down payment in hand. He drove away that night with the top down in his new Miata.

From there on, everyone of my potential customers received a COMPLETE demo and test drive.

Not only did I learn how important the demo was but it also reinforced the fact that you never know who's going to buy regardless of their age.

I linked to an older article in your post here Jerry due to the relevancy. "Do Not Skip Steps" -- many times ISM's or "internet sales professionals" forget they need not forget the steps to a sale while many times go right past the test drive; thinking the "internet" customer knows exactly what they want.

- Only 23% of consumers actually purchase the vehicle they first intended to.

Just because your customer has done hours of research online, this doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the opportunity for you to show them the features and benefits of the vehicle they’re getting ready to spend thousands of dollars on? Who knows, your customer might be on the wrong car.

Get every customer in their vehicle of choice -- give them a million dollar test drive and product presentation!!

You'll sell more cars and make more money.
  • J
    John O"Connell
  • March 8, 2010
Never assume.... I would like to relate a story that happened to me some 20 years ago. I was working for a large upscale New England furniture store during college one summer and two thirds of the sales force was off at a product training session and I was doing delivery's but this one day they needed a body so I was sitting with the veterans on the sales floor. Not expecting to sell anything but getting paid for my day was going to be fine with me.
However this young guy walks in and one of the PROS says can I help you the young guy says I would like to look at some furniture he asks are you here to buy his response was look first. He says let me introduce you to John I walk over ask him his name etc and he says to me stay with me this will be a good day for you. Needless to say I spent the next 6 hours with this person who ended up buying 7 truckloads of furniture and shipping it back to Saudi Arabia seems he was a Prince in the royal family. My commission was over 10 grand much to the dismay of the pro's. The story even gets better I had to come back from school on a couple occasions to meet his family members to make a sale. I believe that is how I ended up in this crazy business but never underestimate or take shortcuts. Just ask the pro's!!!!
Thanks for sharing this Jerry, this is a great story. Unfortunately, I think many of us get so caught up on the "selling" side of the business, that we forget about the customer and what they are looking for. Or maybe it is that we forget how it feels to be on the consumer side of the equation, and what consumers are really looking for in terms of service...
Currently only 55% of all true “Up” count are getting test drives. Typically 50% of all test drives result in a write-up, selling 50% of them. Starting off with only 55% test drives a dealership will only have a maximum closing ratio of 13.75%. It’s unfortunate, but can be fixed easily.
Thanks for the feedback.

For those salespeople who have forgotten what it was like to have that car buying experience, let's look at the shoe industry. Remember the last time you went to buy a pair of shoes? The more shoes the clerk brings out the more apt you are to buy a pair. They leave all those shoe boxes there in front of you for a reason. You get to the point where you feel obligated to buy a pair since the shoe clerk put in all that effort. I've had this conversation with many Johnston & Murphy shoes salespeople. Yes, they have training on how to sell shoes.

I know that vehicles are a much larger price tag item, but for a lot of people they still feel obligated to buy something from you, especially with the more time and effort you put forth. Not to mention that test drive is what gets the buying juices flowing. Need a visual? Go to the store and buy a nice steak, then find a dog and let that dog look at and sniff that steak for about ten minutes. Watch what happens to the dogs mouth. The same type of thing happens to customers when they feel, smell, see and drive the vehicle. Exploit all your customers senses and sell more!
  • Z
    Zach Billings
  • March 20, 2010
I had a similar experience recently. I currently drive a Subaru WRX and have been in the market for a new STI. I took a drive to Planet Subaru in MA and wanted to take a look at STIs.

When I got there I was greeted by a very nice salesman named Jeff. We talked some numbers and considered my WRX trade value. My situation was that buying the STI would have been a stretch for me, however I'm young and am known for making small stretches beyond my reasonable financial means. Everything sounded ok on the numbers end, but then I asked if I cold test drive one. After all the 04 WRX and the 09 STI are completely different animals. Jeff informed me that they do not give test drives until the deal is all but made and all they need is my signature.

I stood up and said, "Alright Jeff I think I might hold onto my WRX for another year or so until I can better afford the STI." I left and won't be going back there when I next look for an STI.

I found it ridiculous that I couldn't test drive the car. I work at a Nissan dealership and we don't complain when a customer asks to test drive a $40,000 Maxima. Well guess what, the STI is cheaper. It's not like I was asking to test drive a Ferrari! Here at the dealership we'll even let someone test drive a GTR before committing to the buy if they seem serious enough.
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