"You never get a second chance at a first impression." I must have heard that adage a million times during the 12 years that I sold cars. And it's true: If done well, the first impression a salesperson gives a customer can go a long way toward setting her at ease. A bad first impression, though, can set the stage for a bad few hours for all involved.
But what about the first impression the shopper gives the salesperson? Many buyers don't know (or don't think) that the first impression they give the salesperson is valuable, too. Those first several minutes can determine the flow of a deal and either get the salesperson on your side or relegate him to the role of a guy who's merely trying to sell you a car. And here is a car-business insider tip: You always want the salesperson on your side. A salesperson on your side might mean a few extra bucks off the deal, time shaved off the paperwork process or an extra-clean car when it comes out of the wash.
As a former car salesperson, I have a few suggestions for things a shopper can say to make a deal easier and let the salesperson know exactly where you stand: all for your benefit.
For starters, I always suggest that shoppers begin by smiling and being friendly, regardless of whatever bad sales experiences they may have had in the past. After that, here are 10 things you can say to get your deal moving quickly and flowing smoothly:
1."I plan to get my new car this weekend."
When you contact the dealership, be sure to tell the salesperson that you're ready to buy now (some people don't do this, for whatever reason). If you are frank about being ready to buy, you go from being an average sales lead to a hot prospect. A hot prospect is incredibly attractive to car salespeople, and being one will get you faster, more enthusiastic service and better deal offers. Conversely, if you're not planning to buy your new car for several months, tell the salesperson that, too. You may not want a lot of immediate follow-up from the dealership if you're not yet ready to pull the trigger. Telling the dealer you're six months away from a purchase will slow down the follow-up calls and emails.
2. "I'm calling to confirm my test-drive appointment this evening."
Here is a car business truth: Many customers who set appointments to test-drive a car or see a vehicle in a particular color simply never show up. After a few years of being stood up by customers, a salesperson who isn't confident his 7 p.m. appointment is actually coming may not take the extra steps to make the appointment easier. He might skip things like getting the car out of storage and having it rinsed off or gassed up ahead of time. In such cases, the shopper who keeps the appointment might have to wait while the salesperson handles the things that could have been handled earlier. Calling to confirm your appointment can save you some serious wait time.
There's another reason this confirmation call works to your benefit: Your salesperson may use the call to suggest things you can do to speed up the visit while you're there. This includes such things as paperwork to bring along and maybe even where to park on the lot. Another pro tip: If you're looking to see a specific car, this is a good time to verify it is in stock and ready to go.
3. "I have a trade-in, and I'd like to have it appraised as soon as possible."
Getting a trade-in appraised can take time. Moving that process up earlier in the deal-making can speed things along. It also lets the salesperson know that it's very important to you to get a good trade-in value. If it turns out you and the dealership are thousands of dollars apart on the trade-in value, the earlier you know that, the better.
4. "If you make me a great deal, I'm ready to buy right now."
If you're ready to buy on the spot (assuming you get the right deal), say so. Very few things fire up salespeople more than knowing they're in front of buyers who are ready to do immediate business. In addition to getting the salesperson's attention, that simple buy-right-now statement can move you from being a looky-loo to being a priority customer in the eyes of management.
5. "I want the cheapest car that will get the job done. Here are the features I need."
Here's a fact about car shoppers: Some people buy cars because they love what they are about to purchase; others buy cars because they need to fulfill a purpose. A salesperson won't know which buyer you are right off the bat. If you're the latter, buying a car the way you'd buy a refrigerator, tell your salesperson that. He or she may be able to suggest a vehicle that works just as well for your needs as the one you've picked out, but can save you cash along the way. Perhaps it's a holdout from the previous model year. Or maybe it's an unpopular color that can net you a nice savings. If you're flexible on brand and model, your salesperson might be able to save you a few hundred bucks.
6. "My credit is pretty beat up."
Got bad credit? It isn't the end of the world. Tell your salesperson early on in the sales process so she can work to find a solution for your situation. I can't tell you how many hours I spent over the years showing customers cars for which they wouldn't be approved. Ever. The time spent never bothered me much; I was already at work. But for the shoppers who'd spent an afternoon ogling cars that could never be theirs because they'd be too expensive once we'd figured the high interest rate? Well, let's just say those customers left frustrated. In most cases, if I'd known that a customer had poor credit, I could have shown cars and programs more suited to his situation and gotten him happily on the road.
7. "If you sell me the car for 'X,' I will buy it right now."
Got a price in mind? Don't be afraid to tell the dealer that. This can cut out a bunch of negotiation and save both you and the dealer some serious time. I understand that some shoppers prefer to keep their magic number close to the chest. They want to see what the dealer comes back with, hoping that it will be lower than their target price. But let me tell you: The chances of that happening are low. In my years selling cars, I was involved in thousands of car deals and can count on one hand the number of times a shopper told me that my selling price was lower than their target price.
8. "I know the deal is done. Can you throw this in, too?"
If you want a little something extra included in a deal, don't be bashful. Go ahead and ask for it. I once had a young couple slam me on a customer satisfaction survey for not giving them a brand-labeled keychain. Had I known they wanted one, I would have been happy to walk over to the parts department and buy them one. I might have even thrown in a free oil change or two for good measure. More important than me getting a good survey, though, is that the couple would likely have been happier with their purchase experience.
9. "I don't think this is the right car/right brand for me."
It's easy to walk away from a salesperson and ignore his follow-up calls and emails. But if you're really not interested, don't try to spare the salesperson's feelings. A quick "no thanks" can save you from months of unwanted voicemail and emails from the dealership, and save the salesperson the time of trying to chase you down. Some dealerships have a follow-up process that is two years long. If you don't want that, the sooner you cut the cord, the better.
10. "I'm in love with this car."
You'll hear that you should never tell a salesperson that you're head over heels for a car. Conventional wisdom says that the salesperson and sales manager will use that information to make you pay more. In my experience, things don't play out like that. In fact, I can't remember once telling my boss that I was going to charge a customer more money because she professed her love for a car. An informed shopper who has done his pricing research is in little danger of being overcharged just because he's willing to admit that he's found a car that gives him butterflies.
Here's why you have nothing to fear: The dealer wants to sell to people who love the product. These people become advocates for the brand and, the salesperson hopes, for the dealership and salesperson, too. This can lead to referrals and repeat customers. These additional money-making opportunities trump the few hundred extra dollars a dealership would make from preying on a shopper's burning desire for a car. If you're in love with the vehicle, tell your salesperson. And here's another insider tip: Telling your salesperson you abhor the car isn't going to get you a lower sales price.
Buying a car still isn't quite as easy as many shoppers would like. But saying the right things early on can help make your car buying process easier, faster, and maybe a little less stressful.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.