With Today’s Informed Customer, Do You Still Have Game?


Have you ever watched any of the popular televised poker tournaments like “World Series of Poker” or “Celebrity Poker Showdown”? If so, you have probably noticed how the players protect their cards from view at all times. Not only do they protect their playing hands from being seen, they all have some kind of ‘poker face’ that allows them to mislead or hide their emotions from the other players.  You can learn a lot about what cards another player is holding if you know how to read their facial expressions and body language.

Selling cars is a lot like playing high stakes poker. The salesperson tries to read what the customer is saying by his or her words and actions and the customer tries equally as hard to hide what he or she is thinking so they are not taken advantage of by the salesperson.  It’s a game that has been going on for many years and as a professional salesperson, I was taught to play it when I first entered the business over 30 years ago.

Let’s Play the Game

Let’s believe you and I are playing a game of poker and I am dealing the cards. I am going to deal my cards face up and your cards face down. You are able to see everything that I have, but I cannot see anything in your hand.  Does that sound fair to you?  Of course it doesn’t.  However, this is exactly how the game is being played at car dealerships around the country every day.

Car buyers have seen how we play the game for decades and they are well aware of what kind of hands we play in our attempts to win the sale. We still have no idea what they are holding, but continue to play the same game with very little chance of winning.

In essence, we are playing with our cards exposed while having no knowledge of what the customer is holding in their hand. For those buyers who haven’t played the game before, there are plenty of websites on the internet that have made a lucrative business out of teaching them what to expect when dealing with a car salesperson on the lot. In short, ‘the gig is up’ and it’s time we find some better cards to play with.

Winning Fresh Ideas

With that in mind, let me ask you this question: Are you playing poker with an exposed hand? Let’s examine a few of the standard techniques that have been taught and used in our sales process for far too long.  It is time for some fresh ideas if you expect to stay in the game and win enough hands to make a good living.

To begin with, let’s start with the common Meet and Greet.  We typically approach the customer as soon as they arrive, welcome them to our dealership, give them our name and ask for theirs. The customer may give their name, but will often quickly make their first defensive statement such as “We’re just looking.” This is where we typically lay our first exposed card on the table by asking, “What is it that you folks are looking for?” or by responding with, “Fine, I’ll help you look.”

The unique and professional salesperson plays a card the customer has never seen before. It is a card that is designed to lower the customer’s defensive posture and allow the salesperson to move forward with their sales process in a unique manner.  While the customer still has not shown any of their cards, they may reply by stating, “Just so you know, we’re not buying a car today.”  Typically, we will play our next exposed card by responding with, “How soon will you folks be in the market to buy a car?”

Next, we move forward into the qualification process with questions that nearly every customer is prepared for and expects when we ask them, “What budget were you looking to stay around? Do you have a trade? What do you expect to get for your trade? Are you planning to put any money down?” 

The ‘Lie Card’

We continue to expose our cards for the customer to see and regrettably, they respond with a card that we cannot see ― the ‘lie card.’ They give us a budget range that is lower than what they actually plan to spend. They may say they have no trade or if they do have one, they tell us an amount they already know is much more than what it is actually worth. This and other statements keep their cards hidden while we have basically laid ours on the table for them to visibly see.

Obviously, you can tell where I am going with this analogy and I’m sure you can relate if you have been in this business for a while. If we are not unique and different in the way we deal with customers, we are playing the same old cards that we have always played. The customer can clearly see our strategy and already has a plan to defend themselves from our attack.  Even worse, we are playing the same cards that other salespeople have played on them and the customer has seen and already prepared for as well.

Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?

So what is the solution for this dilemma? It is time to play the game with your cards face down so you can catch the customer pleasantly off guard and give yourself a better chance to win.  Discard that old hand and get a new deck with fresh cards that aren’t already marked where the customer can read them.  When poker players have dealt from the same deck for too long they shuffle the cards to create new arrangements that will break up the hands that have already been played.  That is exactly what you need to do when you see that you are not winning enough to stay in the game.salesperson

First, be willing to examine your current cards to see how much of your hand is face-up allowing the customer to see what you are holding. Ask yourself honestly if these cards give you a good chance to win and if not, get rid of them. Unless you drop those cards from your strategy, you will always fall back on them when you feel resistance from the customer.  Remember, the customer already knows what you have in your hand and the only way to avoid that is to get new cards that give you a better chance of winning.

With the right training you can educate yourself with the latest and best processes and procedures that are geared more towards today’s informed buyers. Learn how best to respond to customer obstacles and how to lower their defensive posture in a way that will present you as unique and inspiring and show the customers that you have more to offer than what they are used to in a car salesperson.

Let go of the old cards and pick up some new ones that can give you a better chance for success. By being unique and inspiring, you won’t be laying the same old cards on the table and you’ll find yourself winning more often and having customers who want to come back to you when they’re ready to play again.


David Lewis is the President of David Lewis & Associates, Inc. a National Training and Consulting Company that specializes in the Retail Automotive Industry.  He is also the author of 5 industry related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The LEADERSHIP Factor,” “Understanding Your Customer,” “The Common Mistakes Automotive Salespeople Make” and “Winners versus Losers.”