When Is It Safe to Assume?

GM explains why some assumptions are par for the course and others can cost you business.

December 2015, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Steve Fox

Many years ago, I studied automotive repair at our local community college. One of our instructors repeatedly warned us about the dangers of assuming anything about the vehicles we worked on. He taught us to take the time to accurately diagnose every issue. He even wrote “ASS/U/ME” on the chalkboard to drive the point home. Since the instructor also happened to be my father, I am sure I heard that message much more frequently than the rest of the class. I guess he assumed I was a slow learner.

In the dealership, we make numerous assumptions every day. It’s a part of life and a part of doing business. Most of the assumptions we make are based on previous experiences and are normally correct.

For example, we recently took a 2014 VW “clean diesel” in on trade. We assumed the book value would stand up until we sold it. Two days later, the emissions scandal broke and we learned how wrong we were. Was there anything wrong with our assumption? No, but the facts around our reality changed.

Several weeks ago, I put together a monthly marketing plan for our No. 1 volume unit. Forty-eight hours before the first radio spot was set to air, the factory issued a stop-sale order on them due to an air bag concern. Again, a safe assumption went out the window.

Those are two examples of assumptions we can and must make in the course of a day’s business but may, through happenstance, prove incorrect. Unfortunately, at times, it is easy to make assumptions that can be extremely costly.

Many years ago, I knew a gentleman who owned five or six McDonald’s franchises and had investments in several other businesses. He was extremely wealthy. He also enjoyed riding motorcycles and preferred to wear jeans and Harley-Davidson T-shirts. He was out for a ride when, on a whim, he dropped into a highline dealership to check out a new model. He parked his bike and walked around the lot for a while. No one approached him. He then walked through the front doors and all around the showroom. The fancily attired sales team did their best to avoid making eye contact.

Frustrated, he left and went to a competing dealership across town, where he was greeted warmly and wound up buying at least one vehicle. Nobody at that store assumed he couldn’t afford their products just because he rode a motorcycle.

How often do you think your salespeople make that mistake? How many times have they walked away from or pretended to not see an up on your lot because they didn’t look the part? If you aren’t aware of such behavior, don’t assume it’s not happening. I would feel safe in assuming you were wrong.

Spend a few minutes on this topic at your next sales meeting. Take a cue from my dad and put the word right up on the board. Finally, tell your team that, if they are going to assume anything, it’s that every customer can and will buy today.

Steve Fox is general manager of Lithia Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Santa Rosa, Calif., and a 25-year auto retail and service veteran.


  1. 1. Jeremy [ December 19, 2015 @ 12:56PM ]

    You wrote, Nobody at that store assumed he couldn’t afford their products just because he rode a motorcycle.

    I assume you meant to say that the salesmen at the dealership prejudge the gentleman based off his apperance, and therefore assumed he didn't have the financial means to purchase one of your vehicles. Is that correct? In Texas we call it "cherry picking" lol! It's one of the worst habits to develop as a salesman. Good article Steve...keep 'em coming!


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