The art of the deal

Dr Alan Moran | 06 Dec 2018 | 0 Comment(s)

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Dr Alan Moran ruminates on the psychology of persuasion employed by car salespeople

Sooner or later, we all have to buy or sell something. Somehow we manage to trust estate agents for houses, yet car dealers are often the least trusted of all salespeople. Maybe the tricks of one or two have come to haunt the occupation, but the common perception is that these tricks are the rule, not the exception.

Over the years, I have bought and sold cars, but have stayed away from garages as much as I can. Not because of an abnormal fear, but the fewer individuals involved means more money for me. Dealers also have to provide a warranty on the car they sell, which needs to be paid for. I don’t.

So how do we win something back from garages when dealing with car salespeople?

Firstly, a story. A friend saw a Mercedes 200 for sale in a London garage. He took his sterling chequebook and went off to the garage. The car was marked for sale at £12,000. He left the garage having bought the car for £8,000. I was amazed and asked him how he did it. He said simply: “I just offered him £8,000 and didn’t budge. Of course, I went into the garage at 3pm and stayed until they closed at 6pm, and they wanted me out. But they never said ‘no’ to the offer, they just kept trying to talk me up.” I asked, ‘what if they did say no’? ‘Oh, I would just offer £8,500’.”

Another chap was buying a van. He saw one he liked, but wasn’t pushed if he got it or not. He thought he would just try things on a little. The van was priced at €30,000, and he knew the garage was in trouble. He went in and kicked the tyres, chatted, and walked out. A few days later he had the call from the salesman. He offered him €18,000. Again, he kept him talking. I said, “you didn’t get it for €18,000?”  “No, I had to give in, I paid €18,500.”

Salesmen want you to part with as much money as possible. We all know that. But how do they do it when we trust them so little? 

One secret is rapport. We are all familiar with that. They are nice to us, they remember us, they talk about our kids, our jobs, our houses. They match what we say and how we speak, and smile at our smart-ass remarks.

Another trick they use is to get us to say why we like the car we are thinking about. They want us to say all the positive things in our own voices. We do like the sound of our own voice — not the one on the voicemail, the one inside our own heads, and we believe it. So the more we say, the more we sell the car to ourselves and the easier it is to get a higher price.

We are offered food, biscuits, something sweet. No-one ever made a good decision when they were hungry. The best at this is Joe Duffy’s at the Finglas roundabout. Their food should be listed on TripAdvisor. And then there’s the old drug rep trick. Giving you something (car for a weekend is the best) so that you will give them something back, like a sale.

They never offer their best price first. Or second. I suggest you hang on until you get a ‘no’.

Another trick used by salespeople is the ‘€1,000 mistake’. You’ve made the deal, you’re happy, they may give you a car for a few days, they’ve washed yours, or maybe taken it off you, as there is a buyer keen to get their hands on it. All is well until the time comes to finalise payments, then they discover: ‘Oh, I’ve made a mistake with the calculations, I’m €1,000 short. I have to charge you €1,000 extra”. Now they’ve been so nice to you, they’re your new best friend; you feel you have to give in.

This was done to two of my friends at separate garages. The answer is simple. You say: ‘Thank you, but I am afraid I cannot go ahead at that price.” Funny enough, they put the sale through.

If you don’t believe me, may I suggest you read the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. He outlines this and other ways that we are influenced, and not just by car sales folk.

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