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Please Mr/Ms Customer, Let Me Waste Your Time, I’ve Earned It!

by David Brock on March 2nd, 2010

Last week, I wrote about inspirational customer service.  This weekend, the pendulum swung to the other extreme.  I went out looking for new cars.  No blog is long enough to contain my rant on how disfunctional the process of buying a car is, so I won’t go through the whole thing, but focus on a few low points-and not the lowest, I have to keep this reasonably civil.

On Saturday, I went to look for a new car, I had settled on 4 different models, done my research, knew what I wanted in each and what a fair price might be.

The first dealer, things started out great, he asked me what I wanted, showed me the car, answered all my questions expertly, then we start talking about the deal.  Some manager, I hadn’t met, comes in to take over.  He starts with “Are you committed to buying this car?”  I was a little surprised, responded, “I’m interested enough to ask you to give me a serious proposal on what it would cost to get this car.”  I had hoped he would read that signal and present me a price.  His response, instead, was, “It doesn’t make sense for us to present a price until we know you are serious.”  At this point, I’m starting to get a little angry (Why should buying a $100K car make me angry?).  As calmly as I could, I responded, “I’ve come into your dealership and invested my time trying to buy a car.   The lease on my current car is ending, I need a new car.  I’ve told you exactly what I want, you have a car I like, now isn’t it reasonable for you to tell me how much it will cost?”  I went on, “My time is valuable as is yours, I don’t want to waste it, so let’s try to get to your best offer as quickly as possible.”  Well, he read my signals and said, “OK, I respect this, let me give you the best deal, we want you as a customer.  Here’s what we can do….”  I said, “Clearly, you must understand I’ve done a lot of research on the internet.  This price is far above what the a good price is.  If this is your best deal, I’m not sure it makes sense.”  His response was, “Well we can do better on it, but we need to know that you are serious about buying the car.”  I said, “How could I be any more serious than sitting here right now trying to understand what you are going to sell the car to me for?  Thank you for your time, I take it this is your best offer, I am considering some other models, I will get back to you later.”  “But Mr. Brock, please give me a chance…..”  “I thought I was giving you a chance, I’m interested in buying this car, but I don’t know what the price is, I keep asking you, but you seem reluctant to answer my question, what am I missing?”

It couldn’t get worse than that.  I went to the second dealership, after the test drive and the initial stuff, we went to the sales person’s office.  I sat down, without a word, he walked out….OK I thought, he needs to get something….15 minutes later…I’d finished my obligatory bottle of water, I went to another sales person, “I seem to have lost my sales person, could you find him, I’d like to talk about buying a car.”  5 minutes later, he returns, I’ve found the perfect car for you.  It’s got $10K more in features than I had asked for, I asked him what the features were, he refused to tell me, instead he said, “The features aren’t important, let’s talk about the deal.”  “But, but…I’d really like to know about those features, I’m not sure I want them, I don’t know why I should buy a car with features I don’t want.”  “Don’t worry about that Dave, here’s the deal……”  At that point I apologize, “I’m sorry, clearly you don’t want to sell me what I want, thank you for your time.”  I stood up and walked out.  All of a sudden the sales manager comes up to me asking if he can help.  “I responded, I have another appointment I have to be at, I sat 20 minutes waiting, your sales person won’t present me the car I want, I’m not sure you can.  You have my email, if you want, you can email me an offer on the car I want to buy, that you have in stock.”

The other two dealers weren’t any better, fortunately they weren’t worse.  I’d spent an entire day, talking to people who were selling me what they wanted to sell, not what I wanted to buy.  I spent the entire day telling people I needed to make a decision on a car within a few days, the lease on my current car was ending.  I tried to explaing that I had done my homework, I wasn’t necessarily looking for the “best deal” just a fair deal for both of us.

Sunday was month end.  Early in the morning, the calls started coming in, “Mr. Brock, thank you for visiting us, we’re now prepared to have a serious discussion with you, can you come in?”  My response was, “I thought we were having a serious discussion yesterday, why were you wasting my time?”  Silence…….  Each dealer seemed to be thinking the same thing, some tried to argue they could be serious now, none could explain why they couldn’t be serious when I was in the showroom.

It’s no wonder the automotive industry is in such trouble.  The entire process is broken. It’s built on an old model of manipulating the consumer.  It doesn’t recognize the impact of social media in helping make sure customers are informed.  It’s not just a dealer problem, it’s also a result of the manufacturers, their policies, and how they train the dealers.

I’m a salesperson, I don’t begrudge a salesperson getting a commission or the dealer getting a profit, they have to.  However, I resent having my time wasted, I resent being manipulated, I resent not being able to buy what I want to buy, but being pressured into buying what they want to buy.

There is a happy ending, yesterday a salesperson from another dealership called.  I told him I was sick and tired of dealing with the manipulation.  I told him what I was looking for, I told him I had shopped several dealers, I told him how frustrated and angry I was.  I told him I wanted a fair deal for both of us and that he had one chance to present me a fair deal.  He asked me if he could call me back in an hour to tell me what he could do.  He presented me a good deal, yes I probably could have argued another $500-750 from him, but I felt good about the deal.  We did the deal in about 20 minutes, all over the phone.

Postscript:  The sales manager for the second dealer called me up today, apologizing for my experience.  We had a good talk about what happened and my frustrations.  Despite what happened, it takes courage for someone to admit they made an error.  I really respect that.  In the future I would try them again.

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  1. Hard to believe dealerships still teach their people to behave this way. But the sad fact is it works on too many people, so they do everything they can to take advantage of them. I hate buying cars! Bret

    • Bret, thanks for the comment! It’s flattering to have you visit. I did have an interesting call with the sales manager of one of the bad dealers. He had the strength of character to call, apologize, and genuinely wanted to learn what went wrong and what could have improved the buying experience. It was a very interesting call (only wish he could have credited me the “free consulting” in a discount on the car–then we could have had a terrific deal 😉

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Wow . . . what an experience!

    Sadly, this isn’t exclusive to the auto industry, nor is it the times we are living in. I experienced this when I refurnished my entire home 2 years ago, with a wedding planner (23 years ago) and numerous other times throughout my career.

    The great news is that it provides opportunity for those “who get it”!

    I really enjoyed this post and will make it a point to take extra special care of my cars so I can avoid the experience 🙂

    Paul Castain

  3. Wow. I’ve had much of this myself, but reading your write up about it, wow. Just amazing.

    How did we get here? How did automobile salespeople get so screwed up that it has come to this?

    Is it really true, as Bret says, that it works on some people? I’m not convinced that it does. I have this suspicion that this is one of those marginal benefit things, where yes, if you hold a gun to someone’s head and threaten them, you probably can get them to say they love you and give you their money. But it’s the last time you’ll play that game.

    Wouldn’t even Bret agree that this is scorched-earth selling? Why would anyone ever want to do repeat business with someone after being ravaged like that? And why would any intelligent dealership want to employ people who ruin future business prospects like that?

    A few months ago Chris Brogan wrote an interesting piece too on how clueless auto dealers were–he even gave them, as I recall, a complete turnkey roadmap to doing it right. But somehow I think hardly any of them will have the smarts to believe him.

    This all reminds me of the boiling frog metaphor (yes, I know, it’s been proven a myth, but it’s still a helluva metaphor): some people (like auto salespeople) believe that just because holding a gun to a customer’s head leads them to sell, that they should always hold a gun to a customer’s head.

    This kind of thinking just totally ignores the effect on the customer–which is to never come back, and to tell all their friends what jerks they are at that dealership.

    What do you think it is, Dave? Why do they do this?

    And thanks, by the way, for writing a really funny (funny painful, not so much funny ha ha) narrative of this horrendous sales experience.

    • Charles, thanks for the comment. It is interesting how, despite being the butt of any joke about sales people, isn’t able to redeem themselves. Someday someone will break the code.

  4. Mary Butova permalink

    When will someone break the code??? Good luck to any new salesperson who cares about customer satisfaction. I think that the CONSUMER will eventually break the code by filling out the surveys and providing valuable feedback after the sales process is over…. and they need to be HONEST! Don`t be reeled in by dealerships bribing you with free oil changes if you give them a perfect score on the survey. It`s a nickel & dime way to ensure the same aggrivation the next time you need to buy a car.

    If you want to better the overall experience, it helps to be an honest customer. Everyone wants the same outcome; customers want to pay the least and dealerships want to make the most.

    At the end of the day, hopefully we both go home satisfied. The difference is, next time my satisfied customer comes back to see me, I`ll have been
    run off by the old crusties in management who have been holding a gun to their customers heads for decades before you or I bought our first car!

  5. I am a Salesperson at a new car dealership. I understand your frustration Mr.Brock. However, you need to understand where we as car salespeople come from too.

    I work at a dealership that does not pay a base salary. We get 100% commission. Therefore, we need to know if a customer is serious about the vehicle before we offer them the “best price”.

    I have a lot of customers come in and say “hey, can you give me the best price on this vehicle?” My first response is the same as every sales person you dealt with. Are you serious about purchasing the vehicle?

    You said that by being in the showroom, asking for the best price is considered being serious. Well unfortunately thats not always the case. We have people that come in, get our best price, and then go to another dealership and get them to beat our price. Waste of my time? I think so.

    Why would i want to give you my best price, when all you’re going to do is shop it elsewhere. I dont get paid to give quotes, thats what our website is for.

    Until you are ready to put your credit card down and sign on a piece of paper, you will not get any dealers best price. There is just too much competition out there, and as you said, the customer is much more educated about the product when they come in.

    If I were getting paid hourly, maybe id have a different attitude towards customers, because id get paid regardless of whether they bought or not.

    That’s like going in to a mortgage brokerage, getting them to give you their best rate, and then going to your bank only to have them beat the interest rate by 0.01%. Wasted the brokers time.

    This is why we are like this. Not because we dont trust you mr.customer. Not because we dont believe that you are “serious” about the vehicle. But because we would like to secure your business before moving ahead with the important stuff.

    We would like to feed our families too.



    • DL: I am sympathetic to the needs of any 100% commission sales person and the need to feed your families. Indeed everyone in our organization works on 100% commission, including me. I also believe the “deal” has to be fair for the salesperson, dealer, and consumer.

      Having said that, what more does one need to prove to say they are serious about buying? I told each sales person I needed to buy a car and intended to buy one that day. I told them I was a well informed buyer and that I didn’t want to waste my time playing games on pricing. Yet two of the sales people chose not to believe me and to play games with me. The sales person that chose to believe me got the business immediately. The “deal” took 20 minutes.

      Every sales person needs to qualify the customer. Sometimes we misread them–we qualify customers who really aren’t qualified, or we don’t qualify customers who really are qualified. The sales person has to live with those consequences.

      Selling cars is one of the most difficult sales jobs I can think of. I respect those sales people who are very successful at doing this. However, I can’t help but think the dealers have brought much of this on themselves by using sales models that were created in the 1930’s.

      There are dealers and sales people that have broken out of that mold. When I find those dealers and sales people, I reward them with my loyalty. They create hassle free buying experiences, giving me fair prices, and responding to my needs as a customer.

      The issue has nothing to do with a person being on 100% commission or on straight salary. It has to do with how dealership values the customer and the buying experience they want to create. I suspect those that create great buying experiences have fewer customers who “take advantage” of them. I tend to believe, and there is research supporting this, that the tone set by the seller in the experience they create is mirrored by the customer. So if you set a tone of trust and service, the customer is likely to be more trusting. If you set a tone that creates apprehension in the customer, then the customer is likely to be more suspicious, less trusting, and less responsive.

      I do appreciate you taking the time to comment and am very sympathetic with the challenges you face. Every sales person faces those challenges. Every sales person has time wasted by customers who are not serious, whether it is buying a car, getting a mortgage, buying enterprise software or buying consulting services.

    • Eliot permalink

      DL, when a customer has already spent a lot of time with you, what good does it do to withhold your price for the car? You’ve already spent the time, so how does another 5 seconds waste any more of it?

      And why insult the customer by accusing him of wasting your time? That’s a lose-lose situation – if he IS serious, telling him that he isn’t serious and frustrating him by withholding the price is professional suicide, and if he really isn’t serious, you’ve already wasted all of your time up to this point, so what time are you saving?

      Browbeating your customer when you practically have the deal sealed is outrageous. I would bet money that you lose a lot more customers than you gain with that tactic.

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