Working for a Living: A Car Salesman
Often a car can't sell itself, so how do car salesmen move the cars off the lot? Four local car salesman talk about selling techniques and what their typical day is like.
In movies and television, car salesmen are often depicted as sleazy salespeople who will say just about anything to squeeze another dime out of the deal. Fighting that depiction is about the only aspect that isn’t enjoyable about the job for four local car salesmen, who look at other challenges of the job in a constructive way.
“It’s a field where it’s easy for people to get cynical because it can be trying. There are ups and downs,” said Steve Buckman, salesman at Sellers Buick GMC in Farmington Hills. “Sometimes you get a little nervous and start to question yourself when things aren’t selling.”
The process of selling a vehicle becomes more difficult when customers walk into a dealership with a preconceived negative attitude about salesmen. One of the other problems in the industry, depending on the brand, has been the decline in the economy.
Selling cars as a childhood dream
Having a passion for cars is the key to having a fulfilling career as a car salesman, said Joe Batchik, a 22-year-old salesman at Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield. Not only does it make the atmosphere more enjoyable, but learning the selling craft and details of each vehicle becomes a simpler process.
“I’ve always enjoyed being around cars, especially performance vehicles,” Batchik said. “When you’re excited and have a passion for the car you’re talking about, customers will see that passion and they will start developing a passion themselves.”
Fred Lavery Company salesman Jay Douglas of Birmingham said he has been obsessed with cars his whole life and gets a thrill out of working for a Porsche and Audi dealer.
“My dad always had muscle and antique cars and since the time I could walk, I wanted something to do with cars,” Douglas said.
Douglas said he enjoys access to sports cars in the Fred Lavery collection and he likes meeting interesting people who enjoy automobiles.
“Here you get a lot of really cool, auto-savvy clientele,” Douglas said. “One thing that’s also really fun is delivering someone their dream car. You have people who have saved their whole life and are purchasing this dream car for their retirement.”
A day at the dealership
The day for a car salesman begins around 9 a.m. First priority tends to be checking voicemails, emails, and for salesman in the website department, internet leads. Follow-up calls are placed to customers who recently purchased cars to ensure satisfaction. Buckman said salesmen go through backlists to see which leases are close to ending and contacting those customers and see what their needs will be.
Many auto dealerships operate on a first-come, first-serve basis for both phone calls and walk-in customers. Others rotate incoming phone calls.
“Phone calls here are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Same with the floor traffic coming in,” said salesman James Spezia of Honda Bloomfield. “Every now and then there’s a little tiff.”
After engaging a customer, the salesman gets a feel for what the customer wants and needs and what the budget is. The salesman describes features of each vehicle, the safety thresholds and then offers a test drive.
If a deal is possible, the salesman will go through the numbers with the customer. After purchase he will explain and describe how to operate the features of the car.
Selling and buying the product
The four salesmen say honesty is the best selling technique. Trust is important during a purchase decision like a car, said Buckman, and if the car salesman doesn’t seem trustworthy or honest, many times the consumer will move on.
“More important from a buying standpoint is to find somebody you like,” Buckman said. “When I went out and bought a big ticket item like a wedding ring, I chose the jewelry dealer I liked the best because I trusted and liked the service, not necessarily because it was the lowest price.”
Douglas agreed saying that being upfront and honest with people goes a long ways.
“I’m very honest—even if I have to tell a person the car doesn’t fit in their budget or it doesn’t work for them,” Douglas said. “Once they figure out that you’re up front and honest, they want to do business with you even more.”
Addressing the personality of the customer is important as well, Spezia said.
“Some customers like to be educated on the features a little more, some focus more on the price. I work according to their style and what areas they need more information on,” Spezia said.
Price has been a big factor for some customers most recently, but the economy hasn’t impacted every dealership in the same way. Some salesman, including Spezia and Batchik, noted that their sales have been down while Buckman and Douglas have been having success recently.
“If you know your product, like working with people and you’re straight with people, I don’t think you can go wrong,” Buckman said.