The art of the car deal: Inside secrets from a veteran salesman

So you want to buy a car. What's going on in the head of the salesperson who greets you at the dealership? A veteran salesman spills the beans on the tricks of the trade.

Understand the stages of the sale and some common tactics employed at dealerships

From the meet-and-greet to the closing, there are six stages that kick in when a customer steps into a car dealership. (Shutterstock)

When you step into a car dealership, you've got a lot on your mind. You're about to make a big purchase that you'll be driving for a long time.

You might be mildly apprehensive about being taken for a ride. You arm yourself with some research on the make and model, the price you're willing to pay, and a steely resolve not to take the first offer.

But what's going on in the head of the salesperson who's shaking your hand? As we researched our CBC I-Team car dealership fee story, a veteran salesman let us in on the tricks of the trade.

We agreed to protect his identity because he continues to work in the industry — an industry he says has changed a lot over the decades.

But the art of the sale — that's pretty much stayed the same.

Take for example, the stages of the sale that kick in the moment you come face-to-face with the sales representative.

1. The 6 stages of the sale

First, there is the "meet and greet," where salespeople get to make their first impression. A friendly introduction, a warm handshake and a helpful solicitation.

This is followed by "the interview," where the salesperson sits down and gets to know you as the customer: the car you want, your line of work, your income and what you're willing to pay. Then there's "the selection," where the salesperson tries to match the customer with the right vehicle.

Car customers who seek a certain make and model may be subject to a little pressure technique employed by some salespeople in the form of competition. (Getty)
Once you've found the right car, you do what is called a "walk-around," during which the salesperson reveals some of the key features of the model and maybe starts to introduce some of the dealership's special packages — including those extra fees.

"When they do the walk-around, for instance, you reach the tires. You tell them about the tires, the quality of the tires," the veteran salesman said.

Then, the sales representative gets the customer thinking about how expensive it might be if the tire is punctured, purring a well-rehearsed script. 

"That could be very costly for you because an average tire now, it's probably, you know, $150, $200. Now, we will take care of that. There's a program that we have; we'll take care of that."

We got a car salesman to spill the beans on some of the industry's secrets. 0:42

The next step is the "test drive." In winter, it's a chance for the salesperson to shine by making a bit of a show of going out into the cold and pre-warming the vehicle for the customer. The courteous behaviour helps broker trust.

Finally, there's the "closing" — that final sit-down with the salesperson before you, the customer, sign on the dotted line.

A winning strategy, according to the salesman: don't discuss price until you get to this part of the sale with a proposal sheet in front of you.

2. Get the customer to stay a while

The longer you stay at the dealership, the more committed you are to the deal.

Salespeople will employ a lot of little tricks to make you stay and leaf through their glossy brochures. Some will fetch you coffee and secretly heat it in the microwave, the salesman said, so it is served up extra-hot and it takes you longer to drink it.

3. Family photos

Personalized office space: note how the salesperson has decorated the cubicle.  Are there family photos and little league team pictures all pointed in your direction?

This is all part of humanizing the salesperson, the veteran salesman tells us.

Certificates of volunteer work and awards from charities all make you like the salesperson more and make you more likely to purchase from him or her.

4. Competition for the car

Competitive customers, if you are looking for a certain make and model, some salespeople will employ a little pressure technique in the form of some competition.

You might be told someone else is looking at the vehicle or slated to take it for a test drive later in the day. Salespeople will go so far as to give you this person's name, says the veteran salesman.

Is there really a Valerie Smith who wants to see that Corolla at 3 p.m., or is it a ploy to make you commit? You'll likely never know … but it works.

5. Think long and hard before you put $$ down

Don't throw down a deposit or partial payment until you are sure you want to go through with the deal, the salesman says.

Once you put money down on a vehicle, the dealership has more control over the negotiation. The bigger the deposit, the bigger the control.

Deposits can be hard to get back if you see a better deal on the same car somewhere else the next day, he added.

So do your research before you go the the dealership. Look at the manufacturer's website and reference it while you are at the dealership during negotiations.