Are Your Customers Smarter Than Your Salespeople?

As car buyers arm themselves with more vehicle-specific information, sales professionals find themselves at a disadvantage.

August 2017, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Patrick McMullen

Photo by Thomas_1 via Flickr
Photo by Thomas_1 via Flickr

Let’s face it: Customers are getting smarter and savvier. They may or may not be smarter than your salespeople, but they quite often know more about the particular vehicle they are looking to buy.

This isn’t surprising, considering the average consumer conducts 15.2 hours of research before they end up purchasing a used car, according to a 2016 study by Autotrader. From all their research, they have picked that vehicle from your dealership out of the hundreds or thousands of cars available. So, is it possible they are more informed about the car than your salesperson who has 100 cars on the lot? It’s not only possible, it’s probable. The fact is, it’s tough to be an expert on every car on the lot when you have 100-plus vehicles that turn every 30 to 40 days. 

That’s not to say the salesperson doesn’t know more about cars in general or even a particular make and model. But on the used-car lot, every vehicle is unique — a “snowflake,” if you will. Two black 2015 BMW 3 Series may look identical, but one could have 7,000 miles per model year with a tech package, and another has 20,000 miles per model year with no upgrades. Are those cars worth the same? Absolutely not.

Retail in general is changing, fast. Once-indomitable brands like J.C. Penney, Macy’s and The Limited are shutting down brick-and-mortar stores to focus on online sales. Amazon is the new shopping mall.

The car-buying process is changing rapidly as well. Gone are the days when customers visited five or six dealerships, trying to find the best price. People used to kick tires. Now we like to say they “click” tires. Today, the average customer only visits 1.5 dealerships. That’s because they’ve already done all the research upfront.

So the deal is now yours to lose. In other words, if you mess it up and they don’t buy from you, they will buy from the next guy.

Turn Salespeople Into Product Experts

It’s clear that the buying process has fundamentally changed, so we must adapt the way we sell. To level the playing field between today’s savvy customer and your salesperson, you must ensure your salespeople are experts on each and every vehicle on your lot. We call this evidence-based selling — using proof points to communicate the quality and value of every vehicle.

The old-fashioned way of doing this was to put together big binders, or “brag books,” that showed all the specifics about each vehicle. But this method takes a lot of time to research, print and put together. If your cars are turning every 30 to 40 days, this can be a huge burden. And who wants to deal with bulky binders? Not the customer, and probably not your salespeople either.

Your sales team should have at least as much information as the customer. If they can’t access your inventory on their smartphone, tablet or desktop, there are tools available from my company and others that can facilitate that.

In many cases, your salespeople will only be confirming what the customers already knows. And that in turn builds trust, leading to a greater likelihood they will buy from you. According to a December 2016 Gallup poll, 91% of consumers said they don’t trust car salespeople. So you better believe the first time a salesperson says something that contradicts what the customer already knows, you’ve lost them.

You also want to make sure to be consistent across all touchpoints. So the information the customer sees on the third-party sites is the same they see on your dealership’s website, when they call to speak to the dealer or BDC, and then when they physically show up and you are engaging them on the showroom floor.

By becoming product experts and using pricing poof points, you are building quality and value in every sale. It becomes a very different conversation rather than focusing on price alone and haggling down the price of the vehicle. At the end of the day, if you follow evidence-based selling tactics, not only are your profits sure to be positively impacted, you can also improve your reputation with customers, and keep your salespeople happy with more closed sales and commissions. Sounds smart to me.

Patrick McMullen is senior vice president of strategy and innovation at MAXDigital. Contact him at


  1. 1. Raymond Domionguez [ September 10, 2017 @ 05:32PM ]

    Once the customer has made up what dealership he will purchase his next vehicle because by know it boils down to walk around and every client must be given a hood to trunk that is, so much needed that a reality tour on line cannot match this type of experience which could mean not a close on the 1st time in as know invoice are all the same so a detail of not only sport and appearance along with zero to sixty but safety and cargo space become more important than just haggling the price with the proper walk around and experience could mean an extra 500 profit to the bottom line I think all new car dealership should put on there an official walk around there new vehicles and reward those that can master a perfect hood to trunk.

  2. 2. Buddy [ October 24, 2017 @ 04:56AM ]

    As a customer, by the time I actually visit a dealership, I know about what I will pay, what my trade is worth, and what financing I want. I also have selected the dealer based on their response to my on line price request (any dealer who fails to provide a price is not considered), reputation, and location.

    When I arrive at the dealership, I engage the sales person, let them perform the test drive, and offer a price. I then tell the sales person the price I would like to pay, the amount I want for my trade. My price is intended to be lower than the price the sales person is authorized to accept but not so low as to be silly. This almost always gets the sales manager involved. Since the sales manager is the person within the dealership who can actually negotiate why spend time with the middle man, the sales person.

    Typically, a net price agreement (sale price less trade value) is achieved within 45 minutes.

    Of course, I then have to navigate through the dreaded Box. However, since I know my credit score and available financing from both the captive and outside banks, achieving my desired financing is easy. And yes, I always allow the F&I sales person an opportunity to provide financing. They always do.


Your Comment

Please note that comments may be moderated. 
Leave this field empty:
Your Name:  
Your Email:  



Jim Ziegler
Stupid Is as Stupid Does

By Jim Ziegler
The Alpha Dawg charts the brief rise and long fall of Johan de Nysschen, the recently departed president of Cadillac and author of the business plan that effectively crowned Lincoln as the new king of American luxury.

They Finally Killed Somebody

By Jim Ziegler
Ziegler believes Uber’s directors should face criminal charges for their role in an Arizona woman’s violent death.

20 Things a GM Must Do Every Week

By Jim Ziegler

All Things Must Pass

By Jim Ziegler

Opening Observations

They Took Cadillac for a Ride

By Tariq Kamal
Hindsight is 20/20, but at least one industry member saw GM’s latest mishap coming a mile away.

Stand Up and Be Counted

By Tariq Kamal
The Dealers’ Choice Awards are the Yelp of vendors and finance sources.

Over the Curb

This Is Us: Dealer Edition

By Jason Heard
Heard knows delegation and outsourcing are the quickest path to a work-life balance.