“Willy Loman: I don’t want change, I want Swiss cheese!” We sat and waited for the manager. The table next to us offered cold, charred hamburger patties on a paper plate and lunchbox bags of Cheetos. Our sales rep, a young, fit, handsome man in a golf shirt tucked into slacks, trimmed facial hair, tight haircut, sauntered by and asked if we’d like anything to eat. “No thanks,” we smiled.
This was our second visit to Big Dave Automotive (not the real name) where we waited next to charred burgers and half eaten chips. Our sales rep met us in the parking lot, showed us the car, tried unsuccessfully to answer questions. We drove it, asked how much, and waited. And waited. He had to ask his manager.
Across town at Independence Auto (alias again) we sat for almost an hour for the numbers to come. This time we sat in a cubicle where through the glass we watched a short, portly guy behind a tall counter chit-chat with anyone willing to stop by and tell him a stupid joke. This was the sales manager, the guy with the key to the golden deal. Meanwhile our sales rep, an older guy in an untucked, brown 1950s lounge shirt that reminded me of shuffleboard, clicked away at his computer, “Yeah he’s a little backed up right now. Shouldn’t be too much longer.” Twenty minutes later he attempted small talk, “Where do you work, how much money do you make?” No offer of charred hamburgers and Cheetos here; just a pencil probe in a glass box purgatory.
Before you think we are throw backs to another era having walked into a traditional car dealership, you must know I am the girl who buys a bottle of Advil from Amazon rather than drive to CVS. Dan and I are savvy seekers of information. We are not difficult customers; we do our research, show up prepared to test drive the car, and ask a few, simple questions. Your average user in this twenty first century.
Where we might be slight outliers is in our determined belief in free enterprise. Dan is the guy who enjoys scalping tickets at games and concerts. Sometimes I think it’s the only reason he wants to go. Firm capitalists, we have faith in a strong competitive market to answer the final question: how much and from whom? If there’s nothing that differentiates your business, nothing that sticks, we are going hard after the best deal.
In shopping for my new car, nothing stuck. No one was different. We shopped Carmax, local and distant online catalogs and dealer websites. We price-compared up and down the entire I-75 corridor, and believe it or not, but our best option forced us to endure a local car dealer ping pong match that makes fraternity initiation feel fun.
Where is the evolution in buying and selling cars? Why hasn’t the automotive world followed suit in making transactions easier for the customer? Remember Saturn? They tried. Saturn was the first national company to initiate “no haggle” customer friendly car purchasing. GM discontinued the line because it competed too much with their other brands. That’s a longer story. Today CarMax is revered in the world of automotive sales transparency. It’s a tempting strategy until you realize the wiggle room. All car companies find areas of negotiation—rebates, fees, your trade.
There’s no getting around it. It is 2017 and buying a car is still a miserable customer experience. At the hour mark, we finally got up and walked out of Independence. The sales manager chased us outside, his paper numbers held high over his head, flapping in the wind, “Come back inside. Let’s make a deal…We’ll do $500 less than any other written offer you get!” Back at Big Dave, our sales rep AWOL, the sales manager lied about car specs and refused to give us an estimate in writing.
Honestly, I’m still scratching my head. We bought the car from Independence because it was the lowest price. $1,500 made the sale. No emotion; just numbers. “We need to move these cars, so we’re giving you the same deal we give our own employees,” the sales manager said. “And we want to make you happy.” Happy? Dan wrote the check for a deposit that felt like a down payment on our funeral stone. Anxious to get out of there. Depressed that it took so long. Numb. “Did we just buy me a new car?” I asked him when we left. We both just shook our heads. “How can anyone do business like this anymore and stay in business?”
This essay is the first in what will be a series on sales and selling. I have a lot to say on this topic.
If you’ve read other posts on this site, you might remember my first essay on “What is a Teacher?” When I tell you that I am a teacher. I am. I am a teacher who sells. I sold Shakespeare and Chaucer and Virginia Woolf. I sold the importance of writing a really good topic sentence.
Next, I sold a line of women’s high end clothing. I “romanced the collection,” taught my clients how to put things together into a story of their own, one where they traveled somewhere beautiful for an hour or so while they shopped.
Most recent, I spent my days proving the value of a first grade that cost $20,000 a year. Right down the street there’s a first grade for free.
I talked to my dad on the phone the other day. He’s a salesman. We talk about selling every once in a while. After we hung up, he sent me a text that inspired this blog post. First he wrote, “Write another one, Missy,” and then he closed with this: “Btw, selling is about managing emotion. People just want to fall in love.”
I have a lot to say on this topic.