If you are a first-time car buyer or someone who hasn't set foot in a showroom in years, going to a dealership can sometimes be a bit intimidating. To help you get acquainted with the dealership sales staff, we've broken down who does what, more or less in the order of their appearance.
The Internet Sales Manager
If you want to keep your shopping as simple as possible, we suggest you work with the Internet sales manager. As the name implies, this person is in charge of selling cars via the Internet. The Internet manager communicates with customers online, but also meets face-to-face with shoppers and arranges test-drives and the car delivery. In our experience, the Internet manager is key to getting you the best deal with the least hassle.
When you purchase a vehicle from a dealership via the Internet, you can also usually arrange to have it delivered to your home. This is more convenient and helps you skip a visit to the finance and insurance office, where the finance and insurance staff sells additional products in what can be a high-pressure environment.
The receptionist will often be your first point of on-the-ground contact. The receptionist answers the phone and can direct you to a salesperson or the Internet manager. If you're only at the dealership to look around, the receptionist can give you vehicle brochures without involving a salesperson.
There are plenty of capable and ethical car salespeople, but the profession continues to struggle with a stereotype that is, unfortunately, sometimes true. Shoppers often see themselves as being at odds with car salespeople: You want the lowest price possible; they want to make the most money on the car. Ultimately, though, both sides want that car to leave the lot in your possession. It's good to keep in mind that you have that goal in common.
The salesperson will show you the vehicle, arrange and usually go along on a test-drive and start the negotiation for purchase. In many cases, salespeople will also begin the financing process by taking information for a credit application. Knowledgeable salespeople are helpful in pointing out certain features on the car, but they shouldn't be your only source of information. Take full advantage of Edmunds model reviews and test-drives so you have plenty of information before you arrive at the dealership.
The Assistant Sales Manager
A step above the salesperson on the management ladder is the assistant sales manager. He (and most assistant sales managers continue to be men) usually steps in when it is time to talk numbers. It's his job to close the deal, which is why the other name for this job is "the closer." He's there to gain a firm purchase commitment from you, and to ensure the dealership is getting the deal it wants. Though these folks have the term "manager" in their title, they don't have ultimate power to decide the price.
When you make an offer on a car, the assistant sales manager usually takes it back to the sales manager in the "tower." That's the name for the sales manager's office, which looks out over the showroom floor. The assistant sales manager is a mediator, shuttling between the sales manager and the consumer. He tries to avoid looking like the "bad guy," since he's just relaying the message from the sales manager, a person whom shoppers seldom see.
The Sales Manager
The sales manager is the person behind the curtain. When it comes to deciding how much a dealership wants to get for a car, he is where most of the power rests. For many buyers, it can be frustrating not to deal with this person face-to-face. The only way to influence the sales manager is to remain firm in your negotiations with the salesperson and assistant sales manager, and not be afraid to walk away from a deal that is going in circles or taking way too long to conclude.
The Finance and Insurance Manager
It's the task of the finance and insurance manager (or "F&I" manager) to print out the sales or lease contract and make sure that the buyer's financing is in order. The F&I manager also presents and arranges dealership financing. Often, the interest rates offered by the automakers are the lowest available, so this can be a valuable step in the process. There are a number of car financing pitfalls that can occur here, so it's important to be prepared.
The F&I manager also typically offers customers a number of additional products and services for purchase such as extended warranties, paint protection, LoJack or a car alarm system. These items can be very profitable for the dealer. If shoppers get drawn into buying products they don't really want, or don't negotiate their prices, they can end up spending more than they'd planned for their vehicle purchase.
The General Manager
The dealership's general manager is the highest authority at the business. He or she presides over both the sales and service departments. If you have a problem with your vehicle that hasn't been resolved by anyone in the normal chain of command, the general manager is your next step.
Porters handle the cleaning, moving and delivery of vehicles at the dealership, so you might not ever have occasion to meet them. If you've purchased a vehicle online and arranged to have it delivered to your home or office, however, a porter will usually accompany the Internet sales manager and provide a ride back to the dealership.
You Know the Cast, Now Know Your Part
Be sure to brush up on your negotiating skills before heading out to the dealership. Keep in mind the 10 steps to buying a new car. Finally, when the time comes to take your car in for service, be sure to check out the Roles of the Service Department Staff before the visit.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.