Being a ‘Terrible Car Salesperson’ Means That You’re Too Honest

What makes a good car salesperson? To most car buyers, a good car salesperson is someone that’s attentive, respectful, knowledgeable and, most of all, honest. But did you ever think that that last trait may actually make for a bad car salesperson?

Believe it or not, if you’re working for a dealership, it does make you a bad car salesperson. That doesn’t mean you’re supposed to lie to people, but you are supposed to act in the best interest of the dealership from a business standpoint. And there were certain things I did during my time as a car salesperson that wasn’t helpful for the dealership as a business, thus making me a “terrible car salesperson.”

I wasn’t aggressive enough

First of all, to be a good car salesperson in the eyes of a dealership, you need to be aggressive. Admittedly, I was not. I wasn’t the guy that was chasing people down on the lot with a giant fake smile on my face, ready to shake someone’s hand like they were the best person I’ve ever met.

Instead, I waited for people to come into the dealership and look around for a few minutes to take in their surroundings before I casually approached them. I thought it would be better to let people feel like they were in a fine jewelry store instead of a shark tank, cars are expensive products, after all.

A car salesman showing a customer around
A car salesman showing a customer around | MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

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I gauged what people were looking for

After I did meet and greet my customers, I would lead them over to my desk and figure out what it was that they were looking for. In sales, this is referred to as the “needs assessment,” where you figure out what your client needs out of the product so that you can present them with their best options.

However, in the car business, you’re supposed to pepper that initial conversation with questions like, “If you’re planning to buy a car today, are you planning to finance, lease, or pay cash? And do you have a trade?”  For questions like that, I would often get an eye roll followed by the answer, “I just want to look at a (insert whatever car here).”

I didn’t like to waste time with unnecessary questions, so I would quickly figure out what they wanted and then walk them out to the car on the lot for the test drive. If you’re in sales, and it makes you feel any better, I would ask them more questions on the test drive and when going over the features on the car because I found that people were more relaxed at that point in the process.

Ari Janessian says he was a terrible car salesperson too | YouTube

I let people test drive and walk away

After going on the test drive, I would walk the client back to my desk and ask them what they thought about the car, how they would want to pay for it, and if they wanted to buy it today. More often than not, the client would say, “Oh, well, I was just looking today and I still need to think about it.”

I would still show them the pricing for the car so that they understood exactly how much the car would cost, but then let them walk away. As you can guess, in the dealership land, this is a big mistake as you’re supposed to get them to buy that day since they may never come back.

Salesperson showing vehicle to potential customer in dealership; Shutterstock ID 447213895; Purchase Order: -
Salesperson showing vehicle to potential customer in dealership; Shutterstock ID 447213895; Purchase Order: –

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And I admit, I probably lost a good amount of sales by letting people walk. But there were a lot of times that people did come back, not just because they liked the car, but they also liked the fact that I wasn’t pushy like the “typical” salesperson.

I could have sold more, but…

As you can tell by now, my strategy was to maintain my “nice guy” personality knowing full well that it would gain the trust of a few, but with the hopes of selling many. And for what it’s worth, it actually worked a lot of the time. I consistently sold 15 cars a month on average and even had repeat business during the few years I was in the car-selling business.

Sure, I could have sold more if I was more aggressive, but then I wouldn’t have felt like I was lying to myself and, at the end of the day, no one wants to do business with a liar.