Auto Maxed

Is there any greater beat down than shopping for a car? My daughter is about to turn 16 and she needs a car. So my wife, my 2 daughters and I went car shopping. And I learned a few lessons about persuasion along the way.

The first lesson in persuasion was imparted by my wife. The woman holds a 5th degree black belt in the art of persuasion. She will ring you up before you even knew you were shopping. In fact she is so good, that morning we stepped out the door to look for a car for my daughter and we came home that afternoon with a new car for my wife. And my daughters are master apprentices. Picture my head on a swivel with three girls taking turns at making it spin. With long sticks. And colorful ribbons.

The second lesson came from the traditional greasy new car salesperson. We went to a local Ford dealership and we were greeted by a “hale fellow well met” at the door. This guy was a caricature.

“What brings you folks out today?”

I told him we would like to look at the Ford Escapes for my daughter. So he showed us one in the show room. “Not the right color” was my daughter’s immediate reaction. “Too small” was my wife’s and “too expensive” was mine.

Not a good start. So he showed us a few others. I tried to short circuit the afternoon by telling him my price parameters. Guy didn’t even blink. He went to the key board and came back with a set of keys.

“Why don’t we take one out for a spin. You don’t need me to sell you. This baby sells itself.”

So my youngest daughter and I stayed behind while my wife and 16 year old went out for a drive. When they came back it was clear that they had had enough. The car salesman then says: “I’d like to talk to Dad alone a minute.” Dumb move.

We all go to his office and he asks: “What is it going to take to get you in that car today?”

“A handful of Ambien with a tequila chaser. Or the immediate transmutation of your body and soul with Jenifer Aniston.”

He never wavered from the script. He mentioned he had some specials on the Ford Escape that had just expired but he would talk with his manager and see if they could extend them just for us.

I worked about half of the 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with a picture of Siamese cats he had on his conference table when he finally returned.

“Let me show you what I’ve got. Here is the sticker. I can knock 3000 off of that and get you in it for x dollars per month.” I had had enough but I wanted to teach my daughters that this is a negotiation and in a negotiation you need to be patient, consistent, firm.

I asked him about the interest rate, the warranty etc. Then I told him I wanted to see whether he had any 2010 models with low mileage left over. Perhaps those would have a better price. “You don’t want one of those”, he assured me. “They’ve had some problems with that model.”

I politely stood and thanked him for his time and we left.

I was whipped and I did not want to keep looking at cars. But my wife wanted to go to the dealership up the street because she had heard good things about them. I told her “10 minutes. That’s it.” Clearly I had hit the wall.

We walked in and my wife asked to see Wes. He came right over and we all went to a nice lounge area where there was a tv, a computer, wifi access, and magazines. He knew there were some in our group who needed a diversion. Nice start.

Then he made another smart move. Make the experience about the customer. He asked our price range, the kinds of cars we were seeking, the colors, and the number of miles we thought it would be driven per year. He even engaged my daughter in the process in a relevant way. He asked her what her friends were driving and what her dream car would be.

We talked about prices and the difference between leasing and purchasing. We talked about safety ratings, maintenance and warranties. He was low key and unhurried. I told him it had been a long day and I wasn’t ready to make a decision. He then went and got some keys and told us to take one home for the rest of the weekend. What?

He said we could take it and see whether it was a good fit. If we liked it we could call him Monday and tell him the features we wanted and he would get everything ready. So my wife decided she liked the car. Sold.

I called him Monday and told him what we wanted. He prepared all of the documents and I went over and signed everything. Total face time: 30 minutes. But we still needed a car for Sophie. I told him what I wanted. Color, price, mileage maximum. He called a week later and found the perfect car.

I could write a book on the techniques Wes employed to sell us not just one, but two cars. But the real “persuader” was my wife. I told you she is a master. She beat me down with the first car salesman and I was so relieved when I met Wes I was ready to sign anything.

There’s a lesson to be learned from her but after 20 years of marriage I’ll be damned if I know what it is.That’s the mark of a real salesman.

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