How Buying a Car Made Me a Better Automotive Sales Trainer

Automotive training

Guest blogger and BetterCarPeople Product Manger Tiea Roper talks about her car buying experience and lessons that she has learned from the other side of the desk in this second part of her series.

At first, she thought the dealer was completely to blame. Now she understand how, as an automotive sales trainer, she also dropped the ball.

63 days.

That’s how long it took for us to finally purchase a vehicle.

Now that doesn’t include the prior 6 months of casually gazing at different vehicles on the road and thinking “hmmm, now that looks kinda cute!” Instead, I believe the clock actually started ticking when my sister took delivery of her new vehicle. Her process was much shorter, to the tune of about 4 days from when she decided she was buying until she drove it over the curb. Her short list of requirements included a reasonable trade in value, a specific monthly payment, and to be treated with respect.

The first dealer lost her business with the “great news” voicemail she received the very next day at work. When she returned the call his great new was “So what are you gonna do?!? You won’t be able to beat this deal.” Hardly great news and I believe at that point she took it as a challenge. On her way to pick up the return of her deposit she stopped at a different dealership, they gave her all three of her requests, so she purchased from them on the spot.

Lesson four: Stop the old school practices for new school customers

When I say new school, you may think, UGH those stinking Millennials and their new way of wanting to buy things! Not the case-- she is hardly a Millennial. Instead, she is simply a customer who has never attended a Saturday morning sales meeting, thinks the 10 steps might be a new hustle dance craze, and has never heard of the (insert any famous sales trainer) sales tactics.

It is not the customer's job to understand our antiquated process; it is our job to redesign it. As an industry, I feel like digital is taking over every conference we attend. We can’t seem to get enough SEO, SEM, Big Data blah, blah, blah, blah. You will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars this year getting customers to your store, but the salespeople will be ill equipped to engage with them. Congratulations!

After the first lackluster dealership visit, we re-grouped and turned back to the internet to focus on the vehicle and that list of must haves. There was a dealership about an hour away from home that seemed to have what we were looking for. Unlike my sister,  I knew what would likely happen and tried to play a game of hopscotch between the steps I would prefer to avoid. It’s like watching a horror movie and as the music intensifies you know something is coming, but exactly what and from what direction is not quite for certain.


There it is, not as bad as I expected, okay let’s keep going.

The salesperson was pleasant and seemed to actually enjoy what he was doing. He gladly exchanged the keys to the car for a driver's license and proof of insurance. Before getting behind the wheel, he did a quick overview of where everything was to ensure it was not only a comfortable ride but also a safe one.

Gas, check! Music, check! Better experience, check!

Upon returning to the dealership, the same game is under way. However, the vehicle fit the bill and the search was exhausting, so we were a little more prepared to lay it out on the table and get it over with.

“Please appraise our vehicle, factor that into the price of yours and include the 5yr-100,000 mile extended warranty. What are we looking at?”

In the end we received about $1,000 more for the trade than expected, the vehicle price was competitive and the warranty, well, that was still some unknown mystery that was not to be discussed outside of the F&I office. (Please refer to the above lesson four!)

It’s now 8:45pm; let’s keep it movin! We reached the final step in the process and at this point were satisfied with how everything came together. That would be until we get to the cost of the warranty.

Looks like the mystery was solved to the tune of $4,000.

“Hold on, excuse me, what?!?” I had a couple different quotes and know the price will range from $1,500 to $1,900 depending on dealer markup. I can appreciate that everyone needs to make a living, but ummm, not all at once, at our expense, today! There was a lot of back and forth before finally the price was adjusted to $2,195. She was sure to mention that she may lose her job over that price reduction and they make very little money on used cars! (gasp) Thinking back, I wonder if I should call to make sure she is okay.

Lesson Five: Are you just making a sale or looking for lifetime customers?

Customers are being sold for several hours (or for all you know months) before finally getting to the finance office for another sales pitch.

Products are not to be discussed before darkening that office because it’s better for the customer or better for the dealership? An extended warranty was important to us because we have always appreciated the peace of mind they bring. The F&I manager was willing to go for the gusto on the price of the warranty but never asked to schedule our first service appointment. You may think that’s not her job, but it should be!

Everyone has gone home for the night so there will be no service walk. We are not from this area and have never purchased this brand before. Had she just given a competitive warranty price and set up our first of what will become many service visits, we would be willing to make the hour drive to go to a place where we feel comfortable.

Instead we will find basic service closer to home.

Everything wrapped up a little after 10 pm. At that time of night no one is in the mood for demo, and everyone would just like to go home. We all did just that. It’s been a little over a week since taking delivery and we are adjusting to all the bells and whistles this vehicle has that our other one didn’t. Literally, there is a bell and light flashing all the time!

You know what would be nice? An opportunity to actually go back to the dealer during daylight hours and have someone make sure we are utilizing the vehicle the right way to maximize its full awesomeness. Instead, we will figure it out but other customers may instead complain for lack of understanding or just turn off all of the things meant to make the experience easy and return to what they are comfortable with.

Lesson Six: I have been training dealers too much like a dealer and less like a consumer.

The first 10 years of my automotive career was spent in the dealership, so I thought as a trainer it gave me the relatable edge that dealers could appreciate. Looking at it now I realize I allowed for too many excuses as to why their customer experience was average at best. The surveys that your customers receive after the purchase, well, they just don’t understand that they should give you all 5’s because well, just because. No, actually they gave you a 3 or a 4, which means you were not bad but you were not outstanding!

I should instead coach dealerships to stop trying to train customers that a mediocre experience is equal to amazing for us automotive folk and instead, good is piss poor and only outstanding will be tolerated!

Once you have had a good customer experience anywhere you rethink every experience after that.

Final note: The vehicle we purchased was my husband’s new vehicle. He knew that if he ever wanted me to split any part of any road trip, or more importantly, not endure grumbling from the passenger seat, my opinion was equal to if not greater than his own. Women influence about 80% of all car-buying decisions. Keep that in mind as you shake his hand first and let me know you sell cars not colors. Big data might suggest you start selling colors and options at a competitive price minus the games to be successful.