Honesty Is the Best Policy

All of this probably sounds obvious to you, but I have seen salesmen kill a deal by trying to put down the customer with the truth rather than tell a small, kind lie. When a customer asks the salesman how much he’ll allow for his trade-in, I have heard salesmen say, “That piece of junk!” Now the car may have four bald tires and no spare. It may be burning more oil than a diesel engine. It may smell like the locker room after a basketball game. But it is his. And it got him to you. And he may love it. Even if he doesn’t, it’s up to him to knock it not you. If you do, you are insulting the man. I am not recommending that anybody lie to anybody. I really do believe that honesty is the best policy. But honesty is a matter of degree. It is never all one way or the other. Tell him how good a driver he must have been to get 120,000 miles out of his car. That will make him feel good, so good in fact that he may not give you much of an argument when you offer him only what it is really worth.

What I am getting at is people like to be flattered even when they know that what you’re saying isn’t completely true. More important, it creates a pleasant, disarming atmosphere when you tell a few small compliments about his kid’s cuteness or even the eyeglass frames he is wearing. Whatever you say like that, it is small talk that gets the customer over those first fears that you want to take the gold out of his teeth. It is what military men call a diversionary action. And even if the guy doesn’t respond, I try to keep it up until I get him to open up a little. But you never want to get so involved with some other subject that you forget what he why he came in. He may, but you never should, not even for a second.

You’re an actor in the selling situation, and that is something you never should forget. Timing is the most valuable quality any performer can have. But it is something you have to work into. You want the customer to trust you while you are selling him, and you want him to trust you after he leaves. That is why you never want to tell him a big lie that he can check later. You never want to tell him anything that he will get laughed at by his friends and relatives for believing. You never want to tell him anything that will make him feel foolish later. And sometimes you want to stop a person from doing something on his own that will embarrass him later.

There are a lot of businesses where the real price of a product varies a lot from what is on the price tag. In the car business, as everybody knows, there is a sticker on the window of every new car with the manufacturer’s suggested price at the bottom of that sticker. Some, like Corvettes, are hard to get and do sell for the sticker price. But most American cars can be bought for less than that sticker price tag and, as I said most people know that. But some people don’t, especially if they come from a rural town where the one or two dealers don’t give the usual discounts. A lot of people expect to pay the full price on the tag or don’t even know how to haggle. Some people just don’t like to do that. Then why not take the customer’s money you ask? What’s wrong with that?

In a lot of businesses, that’s what you do. But in the car business, especially selling a high-volume car like a Chevrolet that you can buy anywhere, this can be risky. A lot of car salesmen don’t agree with me but I think they are wrong to take the full price every time somebody really wants to pay it. One of the things about new cars is that people love to show them off to their friends and neighbors. When they ask “What did it cost you Charley?” and he points to the sticker they will tell him he must be an idiot to pay the sticker price for a new car these days. So what does Charlie think of me? That I embarrassed him and cheated him, and all of his friends now think that he is a dummy. I’ll give up the chance to make a couple of hundred bucks in commission in exchange for the chance to make a friend of Charley. Charley is going to think I am the greatest thing since sliced bread and recommend me to his friends and family. Give a little and you’ll get a lot back!