Sales Talk : Buyers are liars!

Mike Humble

My man was in the market to buy - I simply called his bluff and sped up the process.
My man was in the market to buy – I simply called his bluff and sped up the process

Regardless what you may think about some car salesmen, I actually used to take pride in myself as being a four square and straight kind of seller. There are only two ways of to get anywhere in the motor trade long term… Firstly, there is the quick kill approach which works at first by steam rolling every prospective punter into a sale. This seldom gains the all-important referral or repeat business customer. The other way is to simply smile, be as honest as you can and sell yourself before the car – which takes longer, but pays long-term dividends so far as customer satisfaction and personal remuneration is concerned.

If I had a pound for every time I hear people moaning and complaining about the car dealers, I wouldn’t need to work any more and I would be typing this from my entirely mortgage-free cottage near the Norfolk Broads – maybe I ought to start charging for listening. My own experience tells me that, in many of the cases, it’s the customer who has brought their angst and grief upon themselves by lying, hiding the truth or trying to (usually failing) deceive the dealer. The reason sales staff can get away with it is because we are trained to and have that sixth sense when it comes to crunching numbers – it’s that plain.

I heard one close family friend recently playing hell about being accosted in a Ford showroom when he called in to look at a Mondeo. What the jingo did the man expect? Sales folk are sometimes paid a miserably poor basic in some cases as low as £8500 – so every penny on top comes in commission of the sale. Would you be surprised if you walked into a Pride of Lions and got mauled? Exactly! So, by walking into a car showroom packed with hungry salesmen pacing the floor eyeing you up and down sizing your threat, you are, in effect, showing an interest in buying – trust me, it’s a jungle out there and only the best survive.

The usual rebuffs customers throw at a salesman include: I’m only looking. It’s not for me; it’s for a friend, I’ll be back tomorrow or I don’t have the time right now etc. By far the most well-used “Get out of Jail” statement is the old classic ‘I’ll have to speak to the wife/partner’. To be fair, this one makes absolute perfect sense. After all, can you imagine the sparks and misery bestowed upon you after returning home when initially only popping out for a shower curtain and telling your loved one you’ve bought a brand new Audi as well? This is excuse, despite being seemingly cowardly, is understandable.

There is, of course, a way around this. My own take would be to invite them back as a couple or, better still, offer to take the car round to their house to be viewed on their turf. Should the customer still make excuses or go jittery upon suggestion, you know they are a messer. All you can do then, is staple your card to a brochure and sling them out into the car park. Harsh as it may sound, we’re not there to talk but there to sell, and all I ever expect is for customers to be honest and fair. You see, the problem is that many people like to waste time and stroke their own ego by feeling important, but sometimes that can backfire.

A prime example of this came in the form of a Mr Silverbrook who wandered in to my Vauxhall dealer a few years back and made a beeline for an Arden Blue Astra Sport Hatch that was right next to my desk. He spent the usual first few moments opening and closing doors and nodding to himself in approval before I made way over and introduced myself.

A few moments of conversation transpired he could be in the market to buy after stating his current car was finance free and he was a habitual Vauxhall buyer. His licence was copied for insurance purposes (an also a nifty way of gleaning personal contact info) and we took a test drive.

Another sure fire way of knowing your punter could be genuine was the mute silence during the drive – if they chatter away like a three year old toddler about anything and everything, it’s obvious they are not concentrating on the car and just killing time or thrill seeking. Silverbrook drove hard but safely, paying attention to items like the brakes and handling, he was bonding with the car – which is the key thing. I only speak when spoken to or to point out a key feature on a test drive. It makes the punter feel confident and besides, a good car will sell itself without your pressurising banter clouding their judgement.

Arriving back at the site, I went for a trial close and he went stone cold. Sitting back at my desk, he had a worried look on his face – was he a messer after all, I wondered. ‘Shall we look at some figures?’ I suggested and with some hesitation he nodded. The car in question was a long stocker (we needed rid) so a super slick ultra cheap deal for no part exchange was put on the table – how could he refuse? During my opening chat on first contact he made no reference to his wife/mother/insignificant other so I was a bit taken aback when he stumbled and stalled like an old van stating he would need to ‘speak to the wife.’

My showroom colleague had a red hot prospect on the same car so I was damned if this one was going to slip through my fingers. He wanted to chat to the wife about the deal and maybe pop back – no good, the car would genuinely go by the next day and this was explained to him and the customer became slightly fractious accusing me of pressuring him into buying. This was not the case; it genuinely would sell by the end of the weekend to someone else so I offered him the use of my telephone and some privacy while he spoke with her. An excuse came back so I offered to run him and the car round to his gaff – more excuses!

You see, he wanted the car badly but wanted to think about his consequences before he took the plunge – that’s all. Amazingly, he then talked about some further discount on the cost. Stopping him dead in his tracks I raised my hand and said ‘go home, if your wife okays it all, come right back and I’ll see what I can do’ – this provoked a response.

By now I was bored with him but he got a bit shirty claiming he didn’t need anyone’s permission to buy a car. With this I said let’s talk and he squeezed a free first service (in reality worth about 8p) signed an order and left a plump deposit for handover a few days later.

Pretty risky you might think? Well, yes, but, while we were sitting at my desk going through figures and so on, my manager had been checking his details on our system. He had bought a used car a little while back from one of our other dealers and his mother paid his deposit. In fact, he wasn’t married either he was still living with his mother paying a token amount to her no doubt while enjoying the fruits of his well paid civil service job.

Sometimes you have to apply a little pressure to get that sale!

How most salesmen see the customers other half - The wonderful and much missed Yootha Joyce
How most salesmen see the customer’s other half – the wonderful and much-missed Yootha Joyce
Mike Humble


  1. Bet you’d be worried if George Roper appeared in your dealers with his old bike and sidecar outside.

  2. I can’t stand hard sell tactics in any business, and will avoid any shop were the staff behave in that way. You might say the car business is different, but I am not so sure.

    A few years back there was a documentary about an American car salesman going over to spend time in s British dealership (used cars in both). He thought he would teach the naive Brits about how to sell cars, he was a showman, and he would go after the customers the moment they came through the door.

    The British dealership left the customers alone, allowed them as long as they liked to look at the cars. The dealer only bothered the customers if they asked. The British dealership sold 10 cars for everyone the American dealer sold in the same amount of time.

    The British dealer let the cars sell themselves, and was far more effective.

  3. I recall recently, the time I was idly browsing a used car section of a multifranchise dealer, on the way back passing the Renault franchise and a beautiful white Laguna coupe caught my eye.

    The salesman was quick, up and saw me as a prospect. As much as I liked the car, arriving home to drop the news that I’d bought a 17k car wouldn’t have gone down well.

    He offered me a test drive etc., tried to size up my then current car (which itself was a coupe). It was a nice car, but I didn’t want to waste his time, so looked for an escape route.

    Needing to ask the other half was the perfect excuse.
    (Besides, my credit file is less than sparkling, the finance algorithm would’ve spewed “computer says no” anyway.)

  4. There was a story recently about a Volvo dealer in Norway who responded to the “I need to talk to the wife” or “i need to think about it” by presenting them with a bottle of wine labelled “wine for thought”. Apparently it was quite successful 🙂

  5. Why is ” I’m only looking ” an impliedly false get out of jail card ? I have never bought a car without weighing up the options very carefully , and like bartelbe, the hard sell just will not work with me . If you treated your potential customers with contempt as evidenced by “we’re not there to talk but to sell”then it is hardly surprising that you were not a very successful salesman

  6. @ Christopher

    I`m only looking means just that, not a get out of jail card – the words do say that.

    But in fairness, every aspect of our economy / business / financial status is based on selling. When you sold your house did you sit there like a dummy and say nothing? Or did you big up the pro`s like good local amenities or a quiet area? THATS selling.

    Everyone quite rightly needs to weigh up the implications of purchasing a high vale product as you state, something I fully endorse and agree with. But from a behind the desk point of view, sales staff are there to advise and sell for a living and its the most cut throat environment you will ever possibly imagine.

    High pressure is wrong but so often used especially in motor village type dealers, those who work on those pitches are hired and fired with alarming regularity. But you do have to persuade or signpost customers if you have a gut feeling they are in the market to buy.

    Only three customers ever backed out of a deal on me (and they were due to financial problems) simply because my ethos is to be straight wherever possible. You can make money by trying to be fair with people and the reason I walked away from the game was because the dealer groups answer to the recession was to ramp up the pressure and force the sales team to go for the kill.

    Stick with the show chris… these articles only serve to show how the trade works – surely as a car fan you must have wondered?

  7. Very honest article Mike and I would have bought a car from you. When I purchased my new vehicle 12 months ago, I decided I want to get three quotes – 1 from the main dealer closest to home, the main dealer where my parents’ had bought their last two cars from and the main dealer where my previous car had been serviced. First quote was from dealer 3 and second quote was from dealer 1 as it was on my way home from work .When I explained to him after he had issued me their quote that I was going to see one more dealer he promptly turned round and said “if you think this is going to turn into a Dutch auction you can forget it”. As a sensible consumer, I get quotes for everything and weigh up the pros and cons. I don’t always go for the cheapest option.

  8. A car is the second biggest purchase most of us will ever make.

    It makes sense to take your time, get quotes, weight the benefits and cons.

    Of course, I’m trying to sell a second car myself at the moment, and am sick to the back teeth of timewasters. So I can see the seller’s point of view too!

  9. @10

    Would be interesting to see him in a sleepy little dealer like Hallidays of Bushmills or Central Garage of Crossgar.

  10. Never forget the time I bought my first car from a dealer. i was after a Mk3 Fiesta and as they were only 4 years old at the time prices were too high for me so I regularly rang dealers on a Friday to see if they had any older stock coming in. One Ford dealer said they had 2 going on the forecourt that Saturday morning but ‘be quick coz they will go’. Went along at 9am and saw the Fiesta, it was 4 years old with only 15000 miles on it and was totally mint, absolutely in showroom condition and most importantly in budget. Saw the salesman who showed me the car, took me on a test drive amd kept saying that for the money i wouldnt get better and it would sell over the weekend. Slightly annoyed with the pressure sell i sat at his desk and he gave me a few moments to have a think. I decided to go for it and we signed the paperwork there and then. i walked out the door with the salesman (who had a ‘sold’ sign in his hands) and over to the car to have one final look before i left. Another couple approached the salesman and said they are very interested in the car, the salesman smirked and put the sold sign in the windscreen, gave me a wink and promptly marched them over to the other Fiesta which looked like it had been driven through a hedge backwards. My motto is the salesman ‘can’ be right!!

  11. #7. Well, that’s a fair enough reply Mike, but somewhat at odds with what you stated in the article, which was full of frustration. As I have posted on other threads, I was the Finance Director of a fairly substantial BL dealership in the early 1970s , and I was appalled by the way customers were treated . It seemed to me to stem from the arrogance ( and contempt ) which Stokes showed towards the customer , and the cue was taken from him by dealership staff. It was not the cars that were no good, but the attitude to the customer that was completely stupid . No prizes for guessing what happened next – fortunately some while after I had moved on

  12. @ Christopher

    Staggering that is considering Stokes was viewed by the Commercial and Bus customer as a true gentleman that knew his craft / product & marketplace.

    One further point of note:

    BL & Austin Rover dealers right up till the late `80s used to operate some VERY high pressure sales tactics, in some cases based on the American ‘Pendle’ system. But look at it from a sales aspect… if your product is flawed and seemingly second rate, you have to apply extra pressure to sell a customer a Maestro for example instead of a Golf.

    Rival marque’s would try their hardest to headhunt BL & ARG salesmen simply because they were damn good at shifting the tin.

    • The company’s market share was in big decline in the seventies and eighties and some of the cars were rubbish, as the salesmen would probably admit to after they’d moved on, so they had to try and shift everything. Also there was the constant risk that a dealer, tired of selling substandard Austins, would end the franchise to sell Japanese cars It’s not surprising Austin Rover wanted very aggressive sales tactics, but sometimes it could backfire on them and some dealers became known as arrogant and disinterested in after sales care.

  13. Another great “Mike” Story. When I change car, I do my homework and have a good idea on model, trim, engine, age and preferred colour… oh, and mileage. When part exxing I know what I can expect to be offered and usually haggle around this and get a palatable deal. Sometimes even get my first choice colour!

  14. I don’t think I would ever find myself in a situation where a sales person was having to work hard, go through lengthy persuasive argument. When I visit a car showroom (or any other establishment) I’ve already done my research, know what I want and am keen to buy. If I subsequently decide against purchase I will quickly and firmly state as much. Similarly, I will quickly dismiss an approach over something in which I have no interest. If I had been browsing for sometime without real interest I would quickly leave if then approached by sales staff making it clear I had no real interest.

    Mike, how would you rate me as a customer? Feel free to be as honest as you like!!!

  15. @ Dave D

    Dealt with plenty like that….. The ideal punter

    Well researched
    Ready to deal

    A textbook customer. But to be fair, most of my old PSV customers were just like that

  16. My experience of buying a new car recently was positive and negative. We needed a bigger MPV and narrowed the choice down to a Galaxy and Alhambra. We were going to go for a 12 month old used motor. The local Ford dealer went through the charade of writing the deal down on a bit of paper and sliding it over to me as a starter for ten to negotiate with. I wasn’t really interested and simply wanted his best price. I was particularly annoyed when he said about our mint VW Touran ‘i’ll see if the local VW dealer will take if off us’. In contrast, the local Seat dealer said why bother with a used motor, we can do a great deal on a new one – just have a look at our prices on an online comparison website. We got 20% discount off list on a good spec Alhambra with no hassle negotiating. This made it comparable the the used Galaxy. He was also honest enough to say we will offer CAP for your VW, so if you can sell it privately do so – which I did and got £2.5k more for it. Like Mike said above, they knew I was informed, well researched and ready to deal!

  17. Just looking – Surely if someone is to make one of the largest purchases they ever will they are entitled to at least take an un-pressured look at cars and explore options before going into do a deal. Thats the only way most punters are going to become the well informed buyers that salesmen eventually value. Sorry if that upsets commission hungry salesmen, but frankly my bank balance is of far more concern to me than theirs.

  18. We (Mrs Wolseley knows a thing or two about cars remember) have often gone looking for a car – and bought what takes our fancy. We often have no shopping list other than it must be ‘different’ .
    We buy from someone we meet, like and think we can trust. We bought the Bini Clubman from a really nice genuine guy living in an immaculate house and who kept the car in the same state – perfect. The Bini has been a testament to his careful ownership and honesty.
    We have chased vintage cars half way across the country – rare cars that we really wanted – but if the guy turns out be a cross between Arthur Daily and Dell Boy we have it away on our toes.
    When we enter a showroom I like to be acknowledged. At my Bini Main Dealer I get coffee and a Danish (and thats just when I have its amazingly cheap service!) If ever I bought a new Bini I’d go nowhere else. They don’t hassle us. We don’t like hassle – me and Mrs Wolseley.

  19. I must be a car dealers wet dream , – I only ever go to see cars I want to buy and I have already checked that I can afford it beforehand – and when it comes to talking figures I dont think I have ever haggled , I pay the asking price every time as I cant be bothered with all that hassle!

  20. In 1994 I was looking for a used R8. I looked at a 214 in Bristol, and wanted to drive it (not least to compare 214 with 216), but it was inaccessible. The dealer would have had to move six other cars to release it, and couldn’t be bothered. No sale there – I bought a 216 privately.

    A few weeks later, I entered an Opel showroom in South Africa, and picked up a bilingual (English and Afrikaans) Astra brochure. The salesman asked me if I would like a quote. I specified a 1.8 saloon with AC, he said 77,700 rand. As I turned to leave (I was on holiday, and purely souvenir hunting), he said “we could do you a discount”. Some irony in these two experiences!

    More recently, I was buying my Mondeo, which was advertised as having 12 months’ MoT. The salesman was suitably embarrassed when I checked the paperwork and found it actually only had two days’ test. This was rectified before picking up the car, but it was a rush job – I still had to fix the steering and brakes. Nothing important, then.

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