Talking about intimidation and pressure in the forums the other day, I was reminded of a deal I wrote ‘back in the day.’
I think I was between my 2nd and 3rd year of selling cars, so this would have been 1998ish. I had “graduated” from the Honda showroom, and moved next door to our Acura showroom. I’ll never forget my first test drive with my first Acura customers:
“What’s the difference between an RL and RL Premium?”
“On a lease? About $10 bucks a month,” I replied from the back seat.
“Well, if you have to worry about 10 bucks a month, you shouldn’t even be looking at cars.”
Absolute music to my ears; I knew I was home. I had spent the first 15 months of my career in Honda where customers haggled over 75-cents a month.
Anyway, Acura was a low-volume showroom. I was replacing one of the two salespeople who manned the fort along with the single manager, Bill. I learned soooo much from Bill while in Acura, including how to desk my own deals. In time, I would cover the desk for Bill when he was off, my first desk-managing experience.
I was being considered for a promotion to management. Bill was on vacation, and I was covering the desk. The GSM covered 9 showrooms in our auto-mall — he was a busy guy — but he knew I was alone on the desk and made it a point to be available.
Susan was a beautiful soul, an absolutely wonderful woman. She had been with the dealership forever, at first as a member of our CDC (a sort-of precursor to the eventual BDC — she called Service customers after their visit), and later, after gathering the courage, Susan ventured into sales. She also watered the plants in the mall on Sundays. I believe to this day that Susan genuinely loved each and every one of the customers with whom she worked.
This afternoon, Susan was working with a young man named Mike on (if memory serves) an RSX, which was Acura’s sporty little entry car. I was working the desk when Susan touched-desk, asking for the opening salvo of numbers.
“Can you get an offer, Susan?”
“Mmmm… I dunno.”
Just then, the GSM wandered into the showroom. “Waddaya got?”
“Susan’s got a fresh one on an RSX — first up of the day.” Handing Susan the worksheet where I had just scribbled some numbers, I coached her up a bit, concluding with, “Whatever you do, don’t let him leave.” The GSM pursed his lips and nodded.
In what seemed to be about 3.5 seconds, Susan was back.
“That was fast.”
“Well, he likes the numbers, but he’s not ready to buy yet.”
“Why?” It was a simple question, but Susan was new, was still learning how to negotiate, and didn’t have an answer. It was time for a T.O. I was excited; this (running the desk) was still relatively new to me, I liked helping Susan, and to boot, the boss was here: time to show-off a little.
As I settled into Susan’s cubicle, I became hyper-aware that the GSM had cozied right into a cube next to us, in perfect listening position. Susan moved into the other adjacent cube, where she too could listen and perhaps learn something. I was surrounded.
“Hi, Mike?” Extending my hand as I sat to face him, I continued, “I’m the manager on duty, and wanted to take a quick minute to make sure you’re happy with your visit today.” Quickly sizing him up, he couldn’t have yet been 22.
“Oh yeah it was great!”
“Good, good,” I continued. “This going to be your first new car?”
“Congratulations! That’s awesome. And you picked a really good one! Not everyone is able to have their first car be something as cool as this. You must be excited.”
“Yeah… yeah I am.” And he was. He was a young guy, got himself a good job, and he wanted something to show for his hard work.
“I see you chose the red. Nice. You happy with the one you drove?
“Oh yeah, it was great.”
“Happy enough to own it?”
“Ummm.” Maybe Mike could sense that I was officially moving us beyond the small-talk phase. Just a little bit more seriously, he replied, “Yeah, I think so.”
“Well that’s great Mike. Believe it or not, finding that perfect fit for you is often the hardest part of this whole thing. So this is the right car. How do you like the price?”
Mike’s countenance was quickly turning from “youthful exuberance” to “suddenly sober.”
“I don’t really know.”
“Ok,” I countered, “that’s a pretty decent discount there, I mean, that’s a fair amount of money, right?”
“Well I guess so.”
It was time; all had been leading up to the simplest of questions:
“Well Mike, you’ve got the right car, and you have a fair price, why not buy now?
And there was Number 1: Simply, logically, ask for the sale. No pressure, just ask for the sale.
“I just wasn’t going to buy a car today.”
And there was Number 2: No reason not to buy now. With the GSM listening to my left, and Susan to my right, I jumped right in.
“Oh sure, I understand, Mike. Most people don’t realize they can actually buy and be driving the car the same day when they come-in. When were you planning to buy?”
“I’m not really sure.”
“So it could be now?”
“I hadn’t planned to buy a car today.”
“Why not now?”
“I’m just not ready to buy.”
“I understand Mike. What do you think you need to be ready?”
A pause. Some thought. “I had pictured showing my girlfriend.”
“Is the car for her, Mike?”
“No, no, it’s for me”
“Oh I see. You just want her opinion then. Well let me ask you this — if she were here, what do you think she’d say?”
Mike thought for a moment, cracked a smile, and nodded as he spoke, “She’d love it.”
“Of course she would!” We both smiled and laughed.
“What I’m hearing is that you have the right car for you — one your girlfriend will love — and a fair price. Why not now?”
“Can I think about it?”
“Of course you can!” I replied, chuckling. “Mike, we’re not a high-pressure dealership, but it’s my job to make this as easy as I can for you. May I ask, what is there to think about?”
At this point, Mike’s demeanor had physically changed. His face turned red and sweat started to form on his brow. His knee started bouncing as his leg started shaking. He developed a slight tick on his upper right cheek near his eye. He started staring at the ground, slightly rocking back-and-forth. “I… I jus…. I just wasn’t going to buy a car today. I wasn’t going to buy a car today.”
“Mike, I don’t want this to be hard. Let me make this easy. This is the right car, right?”
“Yes. But I wasn’t going to buy today.”
“We agreed this is a fair price.”
“Well, I guess so.”
“Your girlfriend is gonna LOVE it, right.”
Mike, in an hour from now, you can be pulling up in front of her place driving this car. How do you think that will go over?”
Mike stopped twitching, stopped rocking, and paused for a moment.
“An hour? Really? Tonight?”
“Susan can help you with the credit app right now.”
“But I wasn’t going to buy a car today.”
“Why not? We’ll make it easy.”
Another pause. I could see the words — the surrender — forming in his brain, sliding down his forehead, between his eyes, over the nose, forming his lips before there was any sound. “Ok, lets do it.”
OK — at this point in the story, I’d like to take a “time-out.”
- For the sake of brevity, I’ve reduced the 10-15 minute conversation with Mike to what you’ve read above. I’m not sure how many times Mike said “But I wasn’t going to buy a car today,” but, it was in the ‘dozens’ range.
- I wasn’t normally “that guy.” I did not routinely press that hard and “turn the screws” on customers like this. I could… I was taught by the best, and there was really no objection I couldn’t overcome. But if I really didn’t like you — if you were a real jerk — I’d hammer you into submission without mercy. Thankfully, that didn’t happen too often. I was a “medium” pressure guy — my favorite line was, “Look, I’m not one of those high-pressure guys, but why not now?” But I would normally let you off the hook if I sensed you were getting really uncomfortable.
OK — back to the story.
Mike agreed to buy the car.
“Susan,” I call, and she appears, eyes as big as saucers, white as a ghost. “Can you help Mike with the credit app?”
I shake Mike’s hand and return to the desk. The GSM follows me in. “Good job, you did well.”
“Thanks,” I replied, semi-pleased with myself. It was the right car, a fair price. He just needed a little nudge. At least that’s what I told myself.
Susan returned to the desk with the credit app a few minutes later, still white, still seemingly in-shock. “I could never do that,” she quipped.
“Just a close, Susan,” I tried to say nonchalantly.
3-4 hours later, Mike left with the car, as happy as can be, if not a little worn-out.
I have no idea how many thousands of deals I have desked over my career. I sometimes wonder why I remember this deal so clearly, even 20+ years later. Was that it I impressed the boss? Was it that I scared the bejeebers out of Susan? Was it a hard-fought victory? Probably not…
My most vivid image is that of a young guy sitting in a chair, squirming, sweating, twitching, rocking, knowing that he had run into an immovable force, and had no other choice but to surrender.
Now in his 40’s, I wonder what he thinks of automotive salespeople and the car-buying process?