Tweed jackets with elbow patches, slicked-back hair, a plump mustachioed man with a suave demeanor. It’s the image that comes up when you think of salespeople from decades ago. Today’s typical salesperson is very different, particularly as the sales role is less about presentation and has turned into an advisory position.
Still, overcoming the car salesman stigma isn’t easy. A frank conversation with friends, family, or customers will reveal that the idea of the sleazy salesperson is alive and well, even if their personal experiences reflect it.
Where Does the Car Salesman Stigma Come From?
In an era where information was less readily available – until the 90’s, really – car shoppers relied on car salespeople to help find the car that best fit their needs. Unlike today, access to Fair Market Value, model comparisons, and product reviews was extremely time consuming and the information available was thin at best.
Car salesmen developed a bad rap for working outside what we’d now call fair business practices. ‘Sticker price’ was inflated, shoppers were slammed into cars that didn’t fit their needs, the 60/60 warranty was prevalent (60 feet or 60 seconds), and there was no support after the sale. It was about making the most money from every customer, and at any cost.
What Has Changed
Those practices simply aren’t accepted anymore. Honesty, trust, and transparency are themes that prevail. An overriding emphasis on customer satisfaction with the intention of repeat business and referrals is the motivation for most dealerships.
Today, car salespeople are customer-centric problem-solvers for the transportation industry. Like visiting the Apple Store, the salesperson isn’t hocking product but finding a solution for the customers’ needs.
How to Supplant the Stigma
But customers are gun shy from the old stigma, and it’s a tough one to overcome. In an industry where large purchases are the norm, customers have heightened sensitivity to any small mistakes or missteps their salesperson makes, immediately labelling them the ‘typical car salesman’.
There are a few ways to get past the stigma in the dealership. It will take time, and most of all, diligence to avoid what’s perceived as the actions of the old-school salesperson.
Get Involved in the Community
Community service awards and certificates of appreciation are great to display at the salesperson’s desk, reinforcing their ‘humanity’. But it goes much further than a few documents. Community involvement demonstrates caring and develops relationships with community members. It also changes the volunteer by seeing the public primarily as people and less as a paycheck.
Use a Different Job Title
‘Salesperson’ has a connotation. The customer expects to be ‘sold’ on something using pressure or backhanded tactics. But change the wording and the connotation disappears.
A product advisor, new vehicle consultant, or vehicle selection specialist all mean the same thing but without the dirty word. By just changing the job title, it can help to disarm customers.
Change the Role
It’s possible that some salespeople still relate to the old-school tweed jacket-wearing person. If that’s the case, it’s time to change the sales role. Explore different structures in the showroom that achieve sales success without the negative connotation.
It could be an all-in-one approach with one advisor who deals with car shoppers start to finish, including F&I. Perhaps it’s a no-pressure Apple Store-style environment with salespeople facilitating the purchase.
Can It Be an Advantage?
If ‘car salesman’ is still a dirty word, it can be used as an advantage. It requires the salesperson to completely contradict the customer’s negative expectations at every step.
From the needs-based assessment to vehicle selection, from sales walkaround to test drive, and especially in negotiations, transparency is fundamental. Undue pressure must be avoided. Open communication and impeccable customer service are most important – more so than the price.
The automotive industry has come a long way to change the image of the car salesman from decades ago. That image remains in customers’ minds, but it’s starting to get a little fuzzy. Continuing to foster top-notch customer care goes a long way. Perhaps there will be a time that ‘car salesman’ will no longer be a dirty word.