There are many things in the retail automotive business that have become central to the car buying experience. Probably nothing has stood the test of time more than the demonstration drive. It is one reason why over and over again customers still prefer buying from a dealership rather than just purchasing a vehicle online. They want to drive it, feel it and smell that new car smell.

After thirty-five years in the business, I can testify to the power of a dynamic demonstration drive to help the customer take mental ownership of a vehicle.  At the same time, I realize that today’s customers are more prepared than in times past and they want to have a lot more say in their purchase decisions than ever before.   Though salespeople have traditionally thought that controlling the customer was critical to our process, in reality, we have seen how that approach has turned the public off to our methods. Car salespeople still rank at or near the bottom of the list of unsavory characters not to trust when the public is surveyed on such things.

Let the Car Seal the Deal, not You

There are several mistakes that salespeople continue to make with customers, some of which take place during the demonstration drive. The typical demonstration drive is too short, too sterile and there is too much talking being done by the salesperson.  At the very point when the customer has the best opportunity to take mental ownership of the car, we are selling, telling and trying to close the deal. When they should be focused on driving, feeling and experiencing the vehicle, they are instead busy answering questions that the salesperson is asking them. Rather than letting the vehicle sell itself, most salespeople have been trained to start applying pressure with closing questions that drive the customer back into a defensive posture.

First, let me say that you are probably not totally at fault if you do things this way.  It’s the way it has been taught for a long time and is usually built into any training that a new salesperson receives from the dealership when they start selling. But that does not mean you should keep doing it. I cannot think of any worse reason for doing something than to state that it is because “that’s the way it has always been done.”

In the old-style sales training, it was generally taught that during a demonstration drive the salesperson is to ask the customer questions about their experience:  How does it feel?  How does the car handle?  Can you see yourself owning this car?  Could you visualize this car sitting in your driveway?

These questions only make the customer nervous and defensive. They are bad and they work against what you really should be doing — giving the customer a good opportunity to take mental ownership of the vehicle. The customer already knows what you are trying to do and they will usually shut off their emotions and respond in a way that puts cold water on your enthusiasm. They do this so you will stop trying to pressure them to buy. They recognize that you are trying to box them in and get them to make positive statements about the car. The more questions you ask, the more likely it is they will withdraw and hide their emotions from you.

Bring the Emotions Back!

We all know that buying any big ticket item is an emotional decision. People buy what makes them feel good most of the time. So why would we want to do anything that shuts down their emotions? We don’t!  In fact, we want every emotion that they are experiencing to be in full bloom so we can read their buying signals and understand what will be important to them in their time of decision making.

When we fail to do this we are repeating the same thing that most other salespeople do and we sound just like everyone else. Instead of using the demonstration drive to be unique and different from the competition, we prove that we are the same as every other salesperson they will speak to or have spoken to in the past.  Avoid this blunder.  Let them ask the questions and show them that you are different and unique from others.

So how do you accomplish this feat?  By being silent during the demonstration drive and not asking any questions at all. I guarantee you that it will not only be unique; it will be totally unexpected, and a welcome and pleasant surprise. If they are a couple, they may even forget that you are in the car and start sharing their emotions with each other and in turn, reveal the things that will help you make the sale.

Imagine for a moment the following scenario: the customer you are working with has brought his wife along and they are looking for a car that will primarily be hers. The wife is in the driver’s seat and the husband is sitting in the passenger seat. You, the salesperson, is in the back seat sitting quietly as they pull away from the dealership.  You have already surprised them by telling them that they can drive wherever they want on their demonstration drive, and that they can take as much time as they need.  That alone has caught them pleasantly off guard and they are now talking openly about where they would like to go.

What are you doing at this point?  Sitting absolutely silent in the back seat enjoying the ride and letting them have a driving experience free of any questions or input about the car. You are not selling or telling. You are just there letting the vehicle do its job of selling itself to the customers, and of them selling it to each other. They have the opportunity to experience all that the vehicle has to offer their senses including the touch, sound, smell and feeling they get as they drive down the road.   You let them verbally express what they are feeling with each other and stay out of the way while quietly observing how they respond to each other’s words and expressions.

Now of course it won’t be long before they notice that you are not saying anything and they may even apologize for ignoring you. Someone will probably decide to break the silence at some point, just make sure it isn’t you. Most likely it will be the passenger who will start asking the driver how the car drives. Do they like the way it feels? Is it comfortable and roomy enough?  Do they like the way it handles? They are both starting to realize that this is just what they are looking for and more.

Let the Demonstration Drive Do its Magic

You still sit silently in the back seat witnessing your customer’s going through the motions of taking mental ownership of the car.  Unless for some reason they do not like the vehicle, you have just greatly increased your chances for a successful sale.

Can you see how this is a much more logical and inspiring approach to the demonstration drive? If you have done a good job and you are sure this is the vehicle that fits what your customers said they were looking for, why reverse your good work by using pressure and trial closes?  It’s unnecessary and is contrary to the goal of true customer service: to meet and exceed your customer’s expectations.

When you have confidence in your presentation and you know you have done your best to put the customer in the right vehicle, let the demonstration drive do its work.  If you have done your job well, you don’t need to hammer it home with pressure.

Silence truly is golden and can be the salespersons best friend during the demonstration drive. Not only does it give your customers a chance to fully enjoy the vehicle and all it has to offer; it gives you a chance to see what things are most important to them. This will prepare you for doing your inspiring external walk around after you come back to the lot.

By now, they have been sold on the vehicle and on you as their salesperson. Now it is just a matter of showing them all the rest that the dealership has to offer those who choose to buy their car from you. Once that is done just make sure you don’t forget to ask those seven powerful words: “Would you like to buy the car?

1 COMMENT

  1. I would love to see salespeople’s comments on this.
    To me, as a website photographer, it aligns with my #1 goal – to effectively put the customer IN the vehicle, with my assumption that, if they can imagine themselves IN the vehicle, they are more likely to buy it. If they should hold off and be undecided when they see the vehicle in person, and they visit or revisit the dealer’s website, I expect my photos to accurately and realistically reproduce their “in person” visit.
    I usually enhance the skies, so the overall photo is appealing but, I don’t manipulate the vehicle aside from lightening dark areas, toning down bright areas, straightening vertical and horizontal lines and subtle color corrections. My competitor spends a measly 50 seconds to edit 20-24 photos…I spend 600 seconds to edit 26-30 photos – the difference is striking.
    (FWIW, aside from a Facebook page for my business, I don’t believe in a personal website because of the temptation to cherry pick the best of the best photos. If what I do, day after day, for my customer’s isn’t testimony to my dedication to being the best, then nothing is. They deserve my very best, every day.)

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