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A Tale of 2 Car Salesmen

By Bob Parks

A Tale of 2 Car Salesmen

Last week I was talking with my neighbor about his new car. He was proud of his purchase and told me how he had a salesman who went above and beyond during the buying process. I was intrigued to understand more about why he thought his salesman was exceptional.

He explained to me how they timed their first visit to the dealer on a Saturday with only an hour until close. They pulled in and were greeted with a smile and a handshake by the salesman. They told him the exact two models that they were interested in, so he got two sets of keys and the family took two different test drives. He told me how the salesman did a great job because he did not pressure them into a model with any type of agenda. They proceeded to come back to the dealership two more times to look and each time the salesman smiled and answered all of their questions. Once they made the decision to purchase, the salesman kept his easy going demeanor and the negotiation was simple and quick. My neighbors enjoyed their experience and felt that they had received a good deal with a great salesman.

I disagree.

I asked my neighbor, “so what type of questions did the salesman ask you?” He looked at me with a puzzled look and replied, “None that I can remember.” So I took this opportunity to ask some more questions about the salesman’s behavior. “According to your story, if I was the manager of the dealership, I would have thought that he did not do a good job. Your salesman hid behind the product and your narrow focus of interest. He did not try to relate with you by sharing his commonality, competence or intent. All he did was smile and nod his head. WRONG!

By way of contrast, I shared with him one of my car purchases from a few years ago. I explained how the salesman greeted us and started with some small talk. He took a few minutes to learn a little bit more about us while sharing a little bit about himself and creating an environment for more open communication. He was relating to us from the beginning. My neighbor’s salesman was not actively engaging in the process; any person with a smile and willingness to say ‘yes’ could have done his job.

I then shared with my neighbor how our salesman started to ask us questions about our intentions for our new car: Daily commute? Road trips? Runaround car? We explained how we travel a couple of times per year to visit family and we would like to be comfortable in a safe vehicle with good gas mileage. He proceeded to show us the vehicle that we thought that we wanted. In doing so he continued to ask us more questions. He was discovering our goals by intentionally and responsively listening to understand our issues and needs for our new car. My neighbor’s salesman again failed to provide any insight into why the vehicle that they were looking at would be the best fit for their family, or better yet, whether there was a better fit in
another vehicle. He was acting as a conduit for a sale, not as a salesman.

Our salesman proceeded to show us a different model and ask us to consider other vehicle options. His started advocating a different model that was a little larger and designed for touring. He explained that this model included navigation. He also said that even though we can use our phone to navigate, the car’s system was not dependent upon cellular service so it was a safer alternative to the phone because of its integration into the car’s speaker system. He also showed us how this larger vehicle provided enough room to travel with both our dogs and our luggage. I couldn’t disagree with his recommendations based on our conversation. However as with most car buying processes, we thanked him for his time and insight and left the dealership. My neighbor’s salesman didn’t advocate any other options or alternatives based on his discovery. He smiled and he nodded.

I proceeded to visit multiple dealerships to find a better deal as most people do but in the end I returned to my first salesman. Why? He was the only salesman that I met who took the time to understand our goals for the car along with our personal motives. I entered the dealership with a smaller, cheaper model in mind and ended up purchasing a larger vehicle that happened to be more expensive but it was the best vehicle solution for us. He had earned our trust and our business because even in a crowded automobile market he was able to provide us with a solution and to support us through his service. We were so happy with our purchase that we have continued to purchase vehicles from him and the dealership. He had taken the time to become someone we could trust to advise us on our car purchasing in an industry notorious for manipulation and sales quotas, in essence a “Trusted Advisor.”

Was my neighbor satisfied with his purchase? Yes. Was he satisfied with his salesman? Yes. So what is wrong with his salesman’s approach? The research my neighbor did reading the manufacturer’s marketing material, online reviews and asking other owners at gas stations about their satisfaction with the vehicle sold my neighbor the car, not the salesman. His salesman was merely an “Order Taker.” And certainly there are times when the buyer has gone all the way through the buying process on his own. In those cases, after a few questions, the salesperson can determine this to be the case and it is perfectly appropriate to ‘just take the order’. But my neighbor’s salesman hadn’t determined where my neighbor was in the ‘buying cycle’ and worse yet, he had no idea what my neighbor wanted his car to do or how he was going to use it. Maybe there was an even better solution for my neighbor, but we’ll never know!

How many more vehicles do you think he could sell if my neighbors could tell all of their friends and family about how their salesman really helped them purchase the best solution for their family?

Are you an “Order Taker” or a “Trusted Advisor”?

Published: September 26, 2014


Bob Parks

Senior Partner

Bob, one of the founders of Strategic Enhancement Group, has over 40 years of experience in business. Prior to starting Strategic Enhancement Group in 1984, he held sales, sales management, senior management and board of directors’ positions with three international companies. Bob earned his B.S. from the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland and his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Executive Program. SEG has consistently been one of Wilson Learning’s top performing and award-winning partners for over two decades. Bob has won both the Crystal Wisdom Award and the Summit Award given by Wilson Learning for outstanding contribution to the culture and growth of Wilson Learning’s agency network. He served as President of the Board of Advisors to Wilson Learning as well as on several charitable organization boards.

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