By on July 8, 2012

“This place smells like a distillery!” roared the Dealer Principal, hurling a previously useful phone book across the office. The veins in his neck popped out like redwood trees and I thought he was going to have a coronary right there on the spot.

“Clean yourself up or you’ll be looking for another job by 5 o’clock!”

In reality, his rage was not directed at me but rather at a co-worker who, by all accounts, seemed to have rolled into work that Saturday morning straight from the downtown bar district. Ron and I were both in our early 20s, but he had started at the dealership about a year earlier. Known for being greasier than an oil slick, Ron’s charm and sales ability generally kept him in the good books with his co-workers and the Dealer Principal. This time though, I wondered if his luck was about to run out.

“Shit, Ron. What the hell did you get up to last night?” I asked him. Ron truly did look like death warmed over.

“Not a clue, Matt”, he replied. At least I think that’s what he said. Now that I think about it, the words sounded more like “Nobaclew, Mzzz”.

“Listen, there’s a minivan I took in on trade last night that’s not entered into any of the systems yet. It’s parked around the building. Go lie down. And take these Tylenol”, I instructed. Ron grunted his thanks, shambling off in the direction of the back lot. It took him a couple of hours to resurface.

It was hardly his first time being threatened with job loss. The previous summer he and I had done particularly well with a specific leasing program on full size trucks and both of us were rewarded with a sport coupé each for a company demo. A dealership supplied car for personal use is a perk afforded to all sales staff, one for which I am grateful every waking minute of the day.

The quality of one’s demo is always directly proportional to one’s sales, or lack thereof. Do well, you drive well. Languish near the bottom of the Big Board, however, and a base model Penalty Box is your punishment. One month, all hands were deemed unworthy and the manager busted everybody down to used vehicles. His efforts were for naught. As there were a plethora of SUVs and trucks in the used inventory, most of us ended up driving better used demos than the new demos that were taken away. It wasn’t long before the manager wised up and we were all back in our original cars.

The sport coupé wasn’t in Ron’s possession for very long. A couple of weekends after being presented with the keys, he decided to attend a concert just outside of town. This was fine, except he chose to drive right down to the bottom of a steep grassy field – not unlike, upon reflection, that episode of Top Gear UK where the hosts bought crap cars and drove them like teenagers in a series of challenges.

After a night of partying and a morning of sobering up, Ron decided it was time to depart. It was at this time he discovered the grass had the approximate traction properties of the Jell-O shooters being consumed the previous evening. In a fit of frustration, the coupé was given bootfuls of right foot, creating a cloud of acrid clutch smoke that most definitely remedied the blackfly problem in that part of the world for at least three weeks.

Limping back to the dealership, sporting a burnt and now useless clutch, the coupé was put on a lift in the service department for repairs and Ron was read the riot act by the Dealer Principal. Predictably, he got away with it based on his most recent sales performance and the assertion that he would be driving the worst car on the lot for the next two months. Unfazed, Ron continued to outsell almost everybody on staff.

Ron’s not at the dealership anymore, having moved on to greener pastures of his own volition. It’s the people that make this industry bearable and, dare I say it, fun. Ron is just another one of life’s characters. Wherever he is, someone’s probably throwing a phone book at him – and I mean that as a compliment.

Matthew Guy buys and sell cars. He tweets as Matthew the Car Guy (@matthewkguy) and writes for the British website for young enthusiasts, Car Throttle.

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34 Comments on “The Car Salesmanuscripts: Rewarding Bad Behaviour...”


  • avatar
    carbiz

    When I was a newbie, the used car manager (not my boss, fortunately) came to me on the new car manager’s day off and demanded that I p$ss off the next 3 prospects so much that they storm out in a huff.
    I’m nor kidding. That bully thought I was being too conciliatory and that I was too ‘nice’ for the ‘biz, so deliberately aggravating prospective clients was going to toughen me up.
    Lucky for him it was 1998 and were actually getting 3 prospects on a weekday each. Ten years later it was that many in a week.

    I dunno, I think most salespeople start out with the best intentions. (How hard can it be to sell cars? I love cars. I’ve forgotten more about cars than these other hacks think they know. People love me! I’m a great talker! Classics, all!) But after being harangued by the managers, teased by the seasoned folk, run ragged from the 50-60 hour weeks and being lied to by customers, the armour starts to get a little dull.

    For me, my coming of age was in month 6 at 70 year old lady came in late on a Friday afternoon. She wanted an Intrigue. We drove it, I did all the Joe Verde classics, but it turns out she has a sister in Saskatchewan and wants to feel the Olds on the highway. Hmph – Toronto freeways at 3:30 on a Friday? The Don Valley Parkway is not called the Don Valley Parking Lot because someone was being cute.
    We made an appointment for the next afternoon, and off she went with cash price, finance and lease payments all neatly tucked under her arm.
    I was crushed when she didn’t show up on Saturday. On Monday, I finally got hold of her: I’d spent 90 minutes with her 3 days before and now she barely remembered me. Not a good sign. Oh, she said, she had gone to another Chev dealer up the road and bought the Intrigue there.
    That old bitty had no intention of buying from me. She let me do all the work, give her our ‘best price’ (which was a decent price, too!) and all somebody up the street had to do was duplicate the numbers on their screen, knock 5 or 8 dollars a month off the payment and the car was hers. I spent 90 minutes doing a professional walk-around, product demo, test drive – even trial closes.
    Obviously, that never happened again. I got tougher. I hammered a little more. I learned what types of clients were a total waste of time (especially if they had a young Asian kid in tow) Most of all, that was the last payment sheet that ever went out that door from my printer.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Everybody should sell cars (or at least a somewhat expensive consumer product) for a couple of months once in their life. It will definitely change your view of people and human nature.

      Car salesman don’t necessarily start cynical manipulators; once you get lied to, used, bullied, and manipulated enough times by people you thought were nice and/or honest you will get very cynical very quick.

      Sales (much like police work) will either make you tougher or will wash you out pretty quickly. It’s not the “selling” that does it, it is dealing with the worst behaviors of the general public.

      • 0 avatar
        SuperACG

        Yup, which is why I’m such a ball-buster when I go in to buy something. I still can’t believe how well I did when I bought a mattress a few years back. And pricing for furniture is worse that cars…

    • 0 avatar
      Mazda323

      I enjoyed reading your story.

      I understand how that must have been frustrating when the old lady went down the street to buy, but in the end you looked her in the eye and lied to her that it was your “best price”. Who can blame her for not coming back when the other dealership can beat what you have promised is your best price?

      I know that’s not how the game works, but that’s where it gets frustrating for customers.

      • 0 avatar
        frenchy

        That’s bullshit. He spent 90 minutes of his time doing a professional sales presentation. Gave her a good price and she went somewhere else and had them match it.

        I do sales and I am allowed to set my own pricing on the things I sell (industrial supplies). Sometimes my “best price” isn’t the absolute lowest I can go. A lot of times it is a fair price, and in line with the work I did. Car dealerships aren’t in the business of giving stuff away and I would bet his commission is based on the sales price. Go too low and don’t get paid. Best price does not always equal the absolute lowest price. Service is worth something.

      • 0 avatar
        SuperACG

        Are you sure the salesman “lied” when he said it was the “best price?” What does the salesman have to gain by dropping his pants all the way, when the old woman hasn’t committed to purchase?

        I believe the salesman told the truth, his truth, on what his manager presented to him. Could they have gone lower? Likely. But would the manager approve the deal? Not likely.

      • 0 avatar
        Mazda323

        SuperACG – if they could have gone lower, it wasn’t their best price. If they couldn’t have gone lower, then they avoided a bad deal and there shouldn’t be any frustration.

        I’m not saying a dealership should drop their pants all the way from the start. I’m saying they shouldn’t claim their pants are around their ankles when they’ve only just loosened their belt.

        Taking an old lady into the sales room, giving her a price that you could actually beat while looking her in the eye and saying “this is our best price,” and then complaining about how misleading customers are – it just grates on me for some reason.

        I know that’s how it is everywhere, and I freely admit I’d probably think differently if I’d ever worked in a dealership. Just pointing out how it appears from the other side.

      • 0 avatar
        SuperACG

        Mazda – I think you missed the point. Allow me to explain further. The salesman has two jobs, one for the manager, and one for the customer.

        For the customer: Present the deal and close it.
        For the manager: Get a commitment and/or agreement to purchase.

        Seems like Carbiz did everything right, EXCEPT letting the customer leave with figures. Now, Carbiz did present the deal and close with the agreement to purchase the next day, but I STILL do not believe he lied.

        Why? His job is only to present! He’s a messenger! He repeated what his manager told him! Carbiz did not set the pricing or figures! In my experience, if you can’t get a same-day-commitment, then its customary to “hold onto” some money so when they come back, you can be a hero by saving them some more. Remember, the old lady would not buy that day. So she likely was already thinking of shopping the offer. She did not tell this to Carbiz, so he did not have a backup plan. This is why customers are misleading. Had she told she would shop around, Carbiz might have told her that there might be another option…if she’s serious about returning the next day.

        The “wild card” in this example is the old lady performed her due diligence and shopped the deal. Again, Carbiz made the mistake of letting the customer leave with printed figures, likely on dealer stationary, authenticating the offer. (Most dealers will laugh at figures hand-written on the back of a salesman’s business card.)

        Now, let’s assume the competing Chevy dealer lost money by beating Carbiz’s offer. Is that a bad thing? No! You see…sometimes, it’s a lot more satisfying to take a deal from a competing dealer! So even if the Chevy dealer lost money (they likely made money on the back end) they enjoyed stealing a customer. And in my experience, it was sweet to steal a customer away, especially if you knew the salesman at the other dealer.

        I would call a competing salesman’s personal phone when I took a customer.

        “Hey buddy, you know Mrs. Smith?”

        “Yeah why…wait, is she over there now?!”

        “Haha yeah…she’s getting a Toyonda Mega Fuel…WITH THE WARRANTY!”

        “YOU FUCKING BASTARD! I SAT WITH HER FOR AN HOUR ON THAT CAR! I BOUGHT HER LUNCH! RAH…RAH…RAH…”

        “hahahaha!” *CLICK*

      • 0 avatar
        daiheadjai

        At the end of the day, a car dealership is in it to make money.
        The car salesman as an individual, is caught in the middle – like SuperACG says.

        This type of behaviour on the part of the customer isn’t a victimless crime – you basically wasted the better part of the salesman’s afternoon (time they could’ve used to look after a customer who doesn’t have it in mind to screw around).

        Guess what? At the end of the day, these car salesmen and women have families to feed too.
        What do you think happens when you cost them their afternoon? It’s not just your “sale” that they’ve lost – but also another (or perhaps even two) potential sales lost.

        Admittedly, as the son of a car salesman, I’m biased – true, there are dirtbag dealers and sales reps too, but seeing someone go through the sales process in good faith, and doing all the legwork, only to get played for a few dollars per month more by clients who are often disrespectful and dishonest, only makes me sympathize with folks like carbiz.

        I fully intend to pay above cost when I buy my car.
        Not exorbitant amounts, but hopefully a fair enough amount that I know I didn’t get shafted, and the sales rep can make his house payment or take his kids out to dinner.

        Life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

  • avatar

    I used to violate many company policies on a regular basis, but then I was retailing over 80 units a month. amazing what volume production allows you to get away with.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      To quote my late father, “If you’re the best salesman in the dealership, you can shit on the sales manager’s desk and he’ll put up with it. However, if you do, God help you the first month you’re not number one.”

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I cross shop, I test drive, I go to more than one dealer, and sometimes I test drive more than once. I try to do all these things on slow weekday nights(oxymoron there?). It’s my money and my decision. I do realize that your time is valuable, this is what you do for a living. Yes, I’ll take your phone calls, Once I decide, I get my own financing and go in to buy. What do you guys think of the customer who doesn’t need to buy a car, but is picky about buying their next one? No, I will not think disparaging remarks are flaming.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    -Wow. Personally, I wonder why buying a car can’t be like buying,,,tires or something. My last buying experience at a new car dealer (trading for a used car) was a pleasant experienxe and a fair deal financially too. And a month later, the salesman saw us in the grocery store, he came up to chat with us, so he must have felt good about the deal too. I mean that we didn’t become BFFs, but don’t despise each other either. Can’t we all get along ? (Rather than trying to rip each other’s throats out.) It’s a CAR DEAL, not life and death. Amirite ?

    • 0 avatar
      SuperACG

      Because every deal is different, even if you buy the exact same car. No two customers are alike, and therefore will qualify for different offers, or can only afford a certain payment.

      Best example is I sold a car to a black kid. It was a limited-edition sport model popular among the “fast & furious” crowd. Most salespeople dismissed him as a joyriding kid. Well, he came back a week later with his mom who had perfect credit and $7000 cash down payment! His mom was a decent negotiator too, and got a pretty good price on the vehicle. The discount + down payment + low rate offered by credit score made for a very sweet monthly payment.

      Another week goes by, and a spazzy blonde who’s been in the dealer many times before, yells about the black kid getting a sweet payment on the sport model and she can’t even get a base model. When we told her the low qualifying rate and $7000 down payment, she was hearing none of it. Finally, we told her we would sell her the EXACT car for the EXACT price. But with no money down, and her credit score, her payment would be…

      Yes, she walked. Eventually, she bought a used car from another salesman. Apparently she talked to EVERY salesman until she found someone willing. What she didn’t know was it was the SAME sales manager who did every one of her writeups and it was his idea to put her on a used car.

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      It can be as easy as buying tires and here’s how: pay the price they are advertising or asking, buy something already in stock on the lot, dispose of your old car on your own and don’t expect the dealership to play any part in it and either pay cash or arrange your own financing.

      • 0 avatar
        "scarey"

        You may not be aware that tire prices are also negotiable, as are the prices of major appliances. In the case I referred to, I traded a used car for another one. The difference, which was paid in cash, was $2500 better than their first offer. I got the car I wanted for less than book value, and got book for my trade. I got the car I wanted at a fair price, and they made a profit (of course, I don’t know how much profit, but it is none of my business.) It was a good deal for everyone.

  • avatar
    RayH

    Back when I sold in the mid to late 90′s, our “punishment demonstrators” in the new department were actually used cars, a 1992 Nissan Maxima that smelled like a rotting corpse on the inside, and a 1995 Oldsmobile Ciera that had severe frame damage and drove “crooked” down the road. I was fortunate enough to only be punished with both cars once for less than a month duration each time.

    Our rewards weren’t necessarily nicer demonstrators, since we got to order pick our own, as long as we sold them by 5500 miles. I would get black on black Maxima SE 5 speeds every six months. They were easy to sell and I’m proud to see them in the Dayton Ohio area to this day even though I’ve been out of sales more than 10 years now.

    Our reward was a lower number dealer plate based upon gross including unit bonuses, and the service department and body shop managers were thrown into the mix too. The general manager always had plate #1, his wife #2, but everything beyond that was up for grabs (the sales managers took a higher number because they drove the nicest demonstrators). It was always a fierce competition by individual sales staff to beat out the body shop and service managers! Beating service wasn’t easy, but every few months someone was able to do it, including myself because I was working unit bonuses hard. My plate number usually averaged around 11, and as low as 18. You probably weren’t going to have a job too long if you hit the 20′s.

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    What’s funny about this business is if someone gets fired for misconduct, they can be re-hired if enough time passes!

    A guy I worked with at one dealer was a bit of a crazy guy. Let’s call him “Jay.” jay was one of those guys who always needed to be busy or he’d go crazy. He was a sergeant in the military before going to car sales, so he was generally clean-cut and respected authority, but if nothing was going on, he’d rally the sales staff and engage in penny tossing, prank phone calls, teasing the receptionist, etc.

    Jay made money. Hook or by crook, by the end of the month, he made his quotas. Most of the management put up with his antics because he was such a good salesman. The only manager who actually stood up to him was a female F&I manager who’d been in the business for decades, and if you know females who spent years in the car business, they can be worse then the men!

    One day Jay was fired. He showed up, they called him into the GM’s office along with his Sales Manager and they were in their a long time. We had to submit our writeups to another Sales Manager if ours was in the GM’s office. After a good 45 minutes, the Sales Manager came back to the tower with a big sigh, and said “Jay’s gone.” We saw Jay, final paycheck in hand, walking to his truck, hopping in and driving away with no good-byes.

    We heard that he “unzipped his pants and whipped it out” to one of the female employees. While none of us saw it happen, all of our immediate thoughts were “sounds like something Jay would do.” There weren’t many female employees, and we asked a few of them if Jay did it to them, and they all denied it. We KNEW that he wouldn’t do that to the Female F&I manager because she would’ve chopped it off right then and there! We narrowed it down to the female salesperson who was sleeping the Sales Manager on Jay’s team, and she couldn’t stand always coming in behind him, despite what she was doing with the Manager.

    The female salesperson was moved to another dealership in the same network as F&I trainee, and we all thought she “slept her way to the top.” I was eventually moved to that dealership too, and saw how much more of a spazz she became…let’s caller her…”Carrie.” After a few months of tumbleweeds and chirping crickets, I gave Jay a call. I told him to come over for an interview, and he did.

    The Sales Managers knew about his behavior, as did Carrie, who rolled her eyes when she saw him come back. All Jay did was smile. He was hired back and did well. Carrie wasn’t even complaining because not only was she in a different department, but ol’ Jay was good at pre-selling warranties and paint sealant!

    Jay met his demise when, in a gesture of affection, spanked the new Service Manager in front of his customers, and the entire Service Advisor staff! In less than an hour (more like 20 minutes) he was given his walking papers and final paycheck. I shook my head wondering how he “could do it again.” The Sales Managers shook their head at me while giving me the stink-eye. Carrie was already long-gone. The Service Manager actually felt bad, and didn’t want him to be fired, only disciplined, and if he could do it over, he wouldn’t have told the GM, who happened to be the same GM who fired him the first time.

    Last I heard he was selling electronics, which I dabbled in as well. If you think there isn’t anything worse than selling cars, you haven’t sold electronics! I won’t even touch furniture sales. I’d sooner do telemarketing!

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Did telemarketing at age 16

      Conversation:

      “Hello Sir………”

      “How the hell did you get my number?”

      “From your wife sir, she said she may have forgotten to take her pill that day and I was just calling to check in”

      Telemarketing is a great job just as long as you don’t need a job.

      And yes whoever said above or below that this is a great thread is correct.

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      One of the ironies of car sales is that at any particular dealership there is very little to no job security. However if someone has sold cars at one dealership he can usually get a job at another dealership very easily, so in that respect even if you end up getting fired you can usually make a few phone calls and have someplace to go to work the following morning.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Since I just sold a car privately, I learned a couple of things. One is that you can clearly feel it when somebody is selling himself your car; don’t mess up his narrative. Two is that you are being judged on honesty; gosh is it painful to describe all your car’s faults to a potential buyer. Three, when more than one person wants to see your car, letting them know about each other is a sweet power trip; but when no one’s calling you want to weep at how your baby is unwanted and unloved. I recommend the whole experience to car guys, if only to learn a bit more about the game (and maybe deny the new car dealer an easy score).

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      And one more thing. Courtesy, courtesy, courtesy. You feel this in your bones.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Honesty brings its own rewards, too.

      I just sold our 2007 MX5 to a neighbor across the steet and am probably going to either sell or trade my 2004 Impala next week.

      I value my integrity and being fair and all my friends who have bought our cars have never complained and I have never regretted selling to them.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      “One is that you can clearly feel it when somebody is selling himself your car; don’t mess up his narrative.” I felt so bad for guy doing this to himself for a riding mower my brother had that I was forced/felt compelled to give a demonstration of it in action, luckily he walked away and I learned to pay for my weed in retribution. (honesty is costly sometimes but always the way to go, brother runs his business this way and word of mouth advertising does wonders)

  • avatar
    sudden1

    This is a great thread! I was just thinking about all the small town new car, successful dealerships that had to close recently. Imagine selling (and buying) a car on Friday, and sitting next to the other person in church on Sunday.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby

    In my business the old adage is “If their lips are moving, they are lying to you.”

  • avatar
    rnc

    My last new car a 2001 camry, third time the speed sensor failed on the interstate (the sensation of a car shifting from 5th to 2nd at 70-75 isn’t a good one), I understood why the dealer told me four or five times during the process to never turn the overdrive button on and off (they knew there was a problem)*.

    My wife was an accountant at a caddy dealer (pre-CTS) and thier days were filled with black person after black person wanting the full details and test drive on fully loaded escalades when thier credit couldn’t get them a moped (I’m not racist but it’s true, this was at a point when caddy’s customer base amounted to old white people who still refused to buy foreign and gangsters).

    My grandmother walked into a buick dealership with a copy of good housekeeping and said I want this car (early 90′s, new model, park avenue, champaigne(sp) pink of course), dealer put every option imaginable on it, I had to take it once a week to put gas in b/c she couldn’t figure out which of the many buttons opened the gas gap (if I was dealer probably would have done same).

    *Car before that (and I was young) first question dealer asked before we made it out the door was how I intended to pay for it? answer “F*cking cash, as I turned around and asked loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Who wants the commission, because he sure as hell isn’t getting it”. Haven’t been in a dealership since the camry, of course only on second car since then (98′ jeep made it to 216k miles before engined died and 216k miles on a 98′ chryco product was an act of god and my old lady neighbor had a 02′ saturn with less than 40k miles on it and asked for $2k, a few years of walking over and putting her flag back up paid off, hate the car, but some deals you don’t pass on and I’m a fan of hoarding cash these days, plus having a shop owning brother makes up for alot of GM’s shortcomings)

    Some of the funnest, shadiest charaters of my past are damn good salespeople these days (still wouldn’t leave a dollar bill on the table next to them even if they make 6 figures), just like psychopaths are alot of fun just as long as you remember they’re called psychpaths for a reason and too never turn your back or put yourself in situations where there’s them in front of you and walls going the other three ways (Yes I used to live life in a way where paranoia was more of an essential life skill rather than an illness).

  • avatar
    challenger2012

    As a non-salesman, (engineer) to you salesmen types (car), I find nothing funny or flattering about the various personal stories. It only confirms my distain for the car business, and I am sure I am not alone in this opinion. I ask, why would someone want to work in such a work environment? I realize there are snakes in any work place, but why work in a den of vipers?

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Most sales types would rather eat bugs than be an engineer. While engineering is a (very) important occupation most people are not suited for it. There are lots of different personality types and they are generally drawn to different types of occupations. Strippers don’t want to be nuns, emo’s don’t become auctioneers, artists don’t become bankers, etc.

      Engineers are stereotypically not gifted socially; the rare engineer that has technical skills and knowledge and also has the communication/social skills for sales can become very wealthy very quickly. That person can literally write their own ticket.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    It’s a 2 way street, for every sales guy that pushes the 600 buck paint protection and pin striping on some boob that doesn’t know better, there’s a weasel that filled his transmission up with Marvel and limped into the dealership ready to “buy today”.

  • avatar
    AJ

    At each of the five car dealerships that I’ve bought new cars from (and some used car lots I’ve visited), at least someone in the dealership has lied to me, given me an attitude for turning down an up-sell, and has wasted my time in an attempt to break me down with their games.

    In my younger days I worked retail and I know that the public can be challenging, but I don’t know who could get use to breaking people down and the games? Certainly someone that hates society and is out to take revenge. :)


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