Showdown at the Used Car Corral

They wanted to sell a used truck. My son wanted to buy one for his business. He asked me to come along to help negotiate.

An enticing ad had gotten us onto their lot. At this point, the truck was pretty much pre-sold. All that was left was to agree on a price that worked for my son, and to pass our mechanic’s inspection. Done deal.

That is…until they decided they had to sell us.

My son was an eager buyer. But instead of asking my son about his business, or even why he wanted the truck, the salesman was all about getting the sale.

The Negotiation

It started with a little lie: “There’s another customer looking at that truck now”

This annoyed my son. Claiming scarcity only works when it’s true. The only other folks on the lot were looking at cars, not trucks.

Then the salesman began to negotiate price. It turns out that the trade-in value was within my son’s range, but my son wanted a lower final price. After some discussion, the price went down a little and then I gave our bottom line number. It was ok. The salesman then stuck out his hand and said: “This is our final price. Deal?”

The “presumptive close,” accompanied by a smug smile. It just didn’t work.

He was all about trying to sell a truck; he couldn’t see this was about my son buying one.

Despite his eagerness, my son ignored the salesman’s attempt to close. We said he’d buy if the price was really final, with no additional document prep fee–and, we still needed our mechanic to look at the truck.

“EVERYONE pays the documentation fee,” said the salesman.

Funny; after more discussion, the price was reduced by the amount of the fee. Then came the final issue – our mechanic’s approval.

“Our policy is that we don’t let cars leave the lot for mechanic’s inspections. Very few of our customers even ask to have cars looked at by their own mechanics,” said the salesman.

My son called our mechanic from the lot. The mechanic said he’d never heard of a dealer taking that position.

My son got more doubtful by the minute.

The salesman explained that the reason customers aren’t concerned with having used cars seen by their own mechanic is because they buy the dealer’s extended warranty which protects them. Another follow-on service for us to buy, in other words.

We said no, and got up to leave, whereupon the salesman made another offer: “We’ll give you another $500 off.”

I said my son would pay the price without the additional $500 off, as long as the mechanic could OK the truck, but he couldn’t buy without that inspection. The response: “Do you want to put down a deposit? There’s another customer interested, and the deposit will hold it for you.”

They just weren’t listening. At this we gave up and left, disappointed and discouraged. My son really wanted to buy the truck. But we understood they had a policy, and we accepted that was endgame.

But Wait There’s More…

Then, two minutes after driving out, my son’s cell phone rang. Now the dealer was willing to bring the truck to our mechanic–a request we never even made. This last sale attempt convinced my son: “I wouldn’t buy a truck from them at all. I don’t trust them.”

A Few Simple Guidelines

How did this seller permanently lose such an eager customer? What are the lessons this dealer can learn?

  1. Just stop with the lying. Just stop it. Why do dealers lie so much?. Lying loses trust, and trust loses sales.
  2. Don’t fake scarcity. Yes it’s used a lot as a sales tactic. That doesn’t make it right.
  3. Make sure policies are grounded in some principle that is important. “You can’t take the truck to your mechanic” was a policy. And if you’re going to claim you have a policy, at least have the good sense to stick to it.
  4. Stop with the closing. Good closing happens when the buyer is ready to buy. It doesn’t happen because the seller says “deal!”
  5. Listen to your customers. Should it really be that hard?

I guess it’s not all bad. My son got to see how trusting (or not trusting) the salesman can affect a decision to buy even more than the object itself. I’m pretty glad about that.