Why Used Car Salespeople Give us a Bad Name! {And What You Can Do Differently}

used-car-salesmanI bought a used car recently. Well, let’s start at the beginning. Twelve years ago I purchased a brand new 2002 BMW 325i, the sport version. The salesman was excellent (and my husband was just as encouraging), so I did something I thought I’d never do: I purchased a brand new car. Everyone had always warned me not to buy new because it’s a poor financial decision. You lose so much value the second you drive off the lot. But I fell in love with this car, so it was too late. As I once heard someone say, “We buy for emotional reasons and then we justify with logic.” I loved that car. I felt great in it! I worked hard, so I deserved it (true). I could afford it (true). And I made the decision that I would drive that car for ten years and get my monies worth. (Side note: Yes, lots of limiting beliefs are tied up in all of those statements, but that was ten years ago, before I really started to work on those things for myself.).

I bought it. And I drove it for twelve years, not ten.

So when we moved from California to Minnesota, I sold that car to a good friend who said he had admired it for a long time. I had driven it for twelve years, two more years than I had thought I would, so I felt like I had “gotten my monies worth.”

However, that meant I was without a car when I arrived in Minnesota. Since freedom is one of my highest values, it was very difficult not to have a car. And, yes, I understand that having a car is a luxury compared to the rest of the world. Not having a car for that period of time reminded me how fortunate I am and gave me an even deeper appreciation for ALL that I do have.

All that to say, it was time to go out and purchase a car. I knew what I wanted. My goal was to purchase a used Lexus SUV with a gold exterior and a tan interior. But I was willing to look at BMW and Mercedes as well. (I sound like a total car snob, but I know what I like. My husband is a Ford guy, so we are on completely different pages when it comes to cars).

I ended up falling in love with a Mercedes SUV. Not what I had planned on, but it was really clean, nice and I thought it came with a warranty. We called the used car salesperson Frank. We met him at 6pm on a Saturday night at the car dealership. He poured on the charm and even brought out the sales manager to try to impress us with the fact that he lived in the same small town that my Mom did (I wasn’t impressed. I just wanted a fair negotiation on the car). The bad news was that the dealership closed at 6:00pm that day and dealerships aren’t open on Sundays in Minnesota, so he said to email him my information and an offer on Monday.

He also said, “I really want your business! (Translate: ‘I REALLY need to get some more cars sold this month’.) Everything is negotiable and we can probably throw in the warranty as well.”

Okay. I was excited! It sounded like I could get this car at the price I desired and get a great warranty along with it. Fred and his sales manager were willing to negotiate.

I did exactly what he told me to do. On Monday morning I emailed him an offer along with all of my contact information.

To his credit, he replied immediately. However, this is what he said, “We cannot accept your offer.”

Really? That’s it? No niceties, no counteroffer, no phone call, nothing else?

I replied immediately and asked, “What part of the offer are you not accepting?”



No response.

Nothing, not even a negotiation. For someone who apparently really needed some sales, what he REALLY needed was some sales training. However, I wasn’t about to give him any free sales training. I would just find a car somewhere else. He needed a sale, but he wasn’t willing to work at it.

In that moment I realized exactly why used car salespeople give us a bad name. It’s because SOME used car salespeople (Disclaimer: Not all. So if you sell used cars, do not get fired up. You are not included!) really are only in it for the next deal. They’re in it for themselves. And, of course, that’s true in other industries too, but for some reason the stereotype is really strong amongst used car sales professionals.

Now let me contrast this story with the car sales professional whom I DID purchase my car from.

I met Thomas at a BMW dealership. He had a Mercedes SUV on the lot similar to the one I had looked at, except at a better price with new tires and more. I test drove the car. I liked it a lot. Thomas told me that the service center at BMW was going to go through the car again and make sure it was up to the level they needed it to be before they sold it to me. Thomas told me that he would only sell the car to me if he felt like it was truly a great deal.

Wow, really? He was looking out for my best interest? Awesome!

And THAT is one of the main characteristics that separates average sales people from GREAT sales professionals.

As promised, Thomas called me the next morning and left a voice mail asking me to call him back. I did and he said he had some bad news. He said he could sell me the car, but for $2,000.00 less than they were asking because it had some problems.

I was impressed with his honesty. I said, “I so appreciate your offer, but I’d rather not purchase a car with problems.”

He said, “I understand and I really wouldn’t want you to purchase that car with those issues. I also want you to know that I have a gold Lexus SUV on the lot that might be perfect for you.”

Guess what? He had the exact car that I had wanted from the beginning. The perfect car at the perfect price point. I bought it. And Thomas got another sale that month. I also know he’s one of the top sales professionals at that BMW dealership.

How do I know? Because he does what all top sales professionals do:

  1. He finds out what his clients really want by asking great questions.
  2. He doesn’t treat the client differently based on how much they are paying. He treats every client like they are purchasing a $100,000.00 BMW.
  3. He does what is in his client’s best interest and not in his best interest.
  4. He follows up quickly.
  5. He knows how to professionally handle negotiations.
  6. He finds the perfect solution for his client, even if it takes several tries.

And guess what? Not only can we learn from Thomas and do exactly what he does to take care of his clients, but also we can remember what Fred taught us NOT to do.

Fred taught us:

  1. Never neglect to do what you said you were going to do.
  2. Don’t give up on a client if the first negotiation doesn’t go well.
  3. Never use poor communication or interpersonal skills.
  4. Never end a conversation or negotiation by not replying.
  5. Never think that your prospect isn’t going to buy from someone else.
  6. Never treat someone like they are “less than” someone else.

Thanks to both Thomas and Fred for being great teachers.

And, a special thank you to Thomas for showing us that used car sales professionals can be some of the best salespeople out there. We learned a lot.