The Secrets of Selling Like a Skeazy, Slimy Used Car Salesman

The Secrets of Selling Like a Skeazy, Slimy Used Car Salesman

It’s time to get schooled in the sales tactics of the much-revered, much-admired used car salesman. Hurray!

Okay, sure, people say they despise these types of salespeople…

Yet when we’re talking about selling online, we rarely jump to learning how the masters – like Napoleon Barragan or Dale Carnegie – do it. All anyone wants to hear is “how to avoid sounding like a used car salesman”. Car salesman are top-of-mind when we’re talking sales. And our fear of becoming like them is so powerful, we’ll even surrender opportunities to make money just to avoid any risk of being associated with the flabby underbelly of the sales world.

They say know your enemy. So let’s take a look through the Skeazy Used Car Salesman’s Handbook of Slimy Secrets and see how not to move products like a slickster.

If you will just don a plaid polyester suit and stick this toothpick between your lips, we can begin reviewing the handbook…

Handbook Secret 1: Inflate the price so you can have a “blowout”

Secrets of selling like a used car salesmanWho cares about being FTC compliant? Suckers do, that’s who! That ain’t us.

Look, most of the people coming to the lot will be cheap buggers – er, “price conscious shoppers”. They’re looking at the sticker first, the car second.

If you’ve got a car you wanna move, mark it up by, say, 50%. Then draw a big ol’ line through that number, write the figure you want below it, and stick a red flag on the antenna that reads “Price Just Reduced!” Sold.

Pricing is all about starting with the cash you want to make in mind. Anyone who thinks it’s about those loosey-goosey concepts like “market value” is more hassle than they’re worth anyway.

Don’t suggest price reductions that don’t exist! According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if you show only your discounted price rather than your discounted and regular price, the discount needs to be significant in order for you to use messaging like “Reduced to”.

Handbook Secret 2: Sugarcoat the facts

This secret will take you far, my friend! Now, you’re bound to get some know-it-alls on the lot who’ve read their Kelley Blue Book and want to fire questions at you.

Dumb questions.

Like “was this city or highway driven?”, “has it ever been in a collision?” and “what’s that smell?”

Selling like a car salesmanEvery used car salesman will do well to gloss over specific answers to such questions. Try using any of these 5 tricks:

  1. Pretending your phone just vibrated in your pocket
  2. Looking pensively skyward before breaking into a story that seems relevant but isn’t
  3. Talking insanely fast thru a massively technical response
  4. Offering a “100 point inspection”, which means nothing but sounds great
  5. Using air quotes around uncomfortable phrases, like “brakes that work every time”

If they’re relentless, simply tell them your mother drives this car and loves it. Only a jerk would question your own mother’s sense!

And, at the end of it all, remember this: the fineprint covers all manner of sins!

Be transparent. You don’t have to make the fact that your software doesn’t work on a Mac the headline of your home page… but, to people visiting your site from a Mac, you could serve a landing page with messaging that makes it clear 1) that Macs won’t cut it and 2) what other options they have.

Handbook Secret 3: Distract your prospect

Secrets of selling“Yeah, it’s missing the back bumper – but have you see how nicely the doors open and close?! Not a squeak to be heard. Come try this!”

That’s the essence of distracting.

To distract best, start by fitting your prospect into a stereotype, which always makes selling easier for you.

For example, the overworked middle-manager will be distracted by the lovely lady from Financing picking something off the floor, so drop something near her. On the other hand, the sixteen year-old girl shopping with her dad would love to see the cup holders and easy-to-empty ashtray – not the bald tires – of the Sunfire!

You can also try interrupting them. If they brought kids with them, ask the kids if they’re ready to go for a ride… and let their shrieks of joy interrupt any pesky questions.

Stereotypes are limiting and often waaaaay wrong. Personas and scenarios, on the other hand, can be great. They can help you present the most meaningful images to your visitors, set a tone for your copy and find the most emotionally resonant messages.

Handbook Secret 4: Talk trash behind their backs

Secret of selling like a car salesmanEvery person who sets foot on your lot is a moron.

After all, they think your smile is genuine. Ha! Morons!

With this secret alone, you’ll meet your sales quota. Of course, you’ll tell these morons you’re struggling to meet your sales quota for the month – and, ch-ching, land another sale with that little white lie!

Um, don’t talk trash about people. Especially not the people who are considering giving you their hard-earned money. If you do user testing, listen to your users. If your customers complain, listen to them. They ARE right.

Handbook Secret 5: Prey on their vulnerabilities

Secrets of selling used carsIf your prospect is a woman over 50, make wild assumptions about her knowledge of cars – which we all know is nil – and talk over her head. Tell her she should have her son come down to the lot, and you’ll give him the same answers you gave her. She’ll like that.

If your prospect is in a hurry, take your time consulting with your manager. Take your time looking for the car keys. This will wear them down and reduce the likelihood that they’ll ask hard-to-answer questions.

Everyone has a vulnerability of some kind – and a lack of willingness to read contracts is perhaps the most common. Which brings me to the final way to use this secret, mentioned previously but worth repeating:

Put it all in the fine print.

When you’re getting to know your prospect, you’re likely to uncover some of their weaknesses, dark desires and vulnerabilities. It’s okay to know those. It’s okay to think of those when you’re communicating with your visitors. Just don’t use it against them to your own advantage. (You’ll know if you’re doing this. Cuz you’ll suddenly have a hard time sleeping.)

The things that make salespeople look bad are things that YOU are unlikely to do on your landing page. You’re not selling junk at an inflated price and stuffing everything in the fine print. You’re not sugarcoating or distracting. You don’t make offensive assumptions about your visitors, stereotype them or think they’re morons who’ll buy whatever you’re selling.

Rather, you:

  • Persuasively message highly desirable benefits
  • Target a market segment that’s likely to dig yer stuff
  • Use testimonials from actual customers
  • Offer money-back guarantees you’ll honor
  • Use limited-time-offers sparingly
  • Sell a great product people will actually need & like

Remember that, to convert people, your landing page is going to need to sell. Don’t be afraid of it – because you’re not a skeazoid, so you have nothing to fear.

Of course, if you’re still worried that selling equals scamming, click here for a free Federal Trade Commission checklist that’ll help you sell without selling your soul…

— Joanna Wiebe

About Joanna Wiebe
Joanna Wiebe is a conversion-focused copywriter and the founder of Copy Hackers, where startups learn to write copy. Sign up for her free weekly newsletter and follow her on Twitter.
» More blog posts by Joanna Wiebe


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  2. Reuben

    Great post, as always. However, I have to take issue with this section on pricing:

    “Pricing is all about starting with the cash you want to make in mind. Anyone who thinks it’s about those loosey-goosey concepts like “market value” is more hassle than they’re worth anyway.”

    This is simply wrong. If you don’t consider your customers and their other choices in the market, including not buying anything, you’ll either overprice and lose sales, or underprice as leave tons of profit on the table. Figuring out how to give customers what they really value is a critical part of your business. If it turns out that the money they are willing to pay is less than your costs or the money you want to make, you have a big problem, but you can’t just look at what you want to make without considering the market.

    With that said, I completely agree with the larger point of that tip, that your pricing should be honest, and discounts should share mutually created value, for example, you get a discount for prepaying, or buying in bulk.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, it was a joke. :) As you say, you definitely shouldn’t price based on the money you want to make… unless you’re a skeazy salesman. Which you’re not. Unfortunately, some unethical marketers out there come up with pricing strategies by determining what they want to make rather than identifying what the market will bear (a.k.a., “market value”).

  3. Siegfried

    HAHAHA Excellent post!
    I guess we all should be car salesmen ;D
    best regards!

  4. Reuben

    Ha ha– guess I misread where the satire ended. Keep up the great writing.

  5. PattieLynn

    Nice is helpful..i appreciated your effort..I would like to see more posts like this.thanks

    true existence

  6. Darek

    Great article Joanna! Funny and informative that’s what I like.

  7. Harry

    Clever, insightful and entertaining – as always!

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  11. Mike

    I cannot stand always hearing about “sleazy car salesman.” I have been in this business for a long time and work with plenty of stand up people. Generalizations like that are wrong, closed minded, and prejudicial. Furthermore, who is this person to give any advice on how to conduct business?

    • Adam

      I agree, too many of these shills out there writing about how crooked car salesman are. What is mentioned here is literally from them Mom and Pop shops like ABC Auto Sales to use an imaginary name. And much of this is from the 70s and 80s. Big dealerships are regulated and cant do near what is mentioned here. Sure, we want to turn a profit, but everything is up front.. Too much of this crap is getting put out there and giving disinformation to consumers..

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  15. Brendon Ross

    Hilarious post! Of course I can’t use all of these tips for fear of losing my job as a used car salesman but funny nonetheless. I love the negative stigma us used car salesmen have surrounding our selling strategies. I blame Hollywood haha!

    Keep up the good work!

  16. Carsnow

    Nice article showing how to sell your secondhand car in a good and bad way. LOL :)
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  21. Richard

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