How to Be a Good Car Salesperson

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Meg Prater (she/her)
Meg Prater (she/her)


For the first three quarters of 2021, there were 11.78 million car sales in the U.S. — that’s 14.2% better than a year ago. With momentum like that, I’d say it’s a great time to be a car salesperson.

good car salesperson closing a deal with a customer successfully for a new car

But even with those numbers, it takes more than having a license to get your customers to sign the dotted line — you have to be good at what you do to make them want the keys.

These days, car shoppers can easily find True Market Value, competitive sticker prices, and national inventory online. That means consumer choice has become less about which dealership offers the best price and more about which salesperson they like best.

So, want to know how to sell more cars? Brush up on car sales best practices, and ensure you always give customers an exceptional experience.

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1. Remember names.

Brain Coach Jim Kwik says, "There is no such thing as a good or bad memory. There is just trained memory and untrained memory." He argues, "Your ability to remember a new name has to do with your intrinsic understanding of why it matters."

Consider how much you stand to earn by remembering each new prospect's name. To help with recall, once you learn a buyer's name, use it immediately. For example:

Salesperson: "Hello, welcome to XYZ Motors, I'm Meg, and who might you be?"

Customer: "My name is Bonnie."

Salesperson: "Great! Nice to meet you, Bonnie. What brings you in today?"

Once you've used the name, repeat it silently to yourself several times. Use it occasionally in the conversation, and make sure to write it down once they leave.

Focus on a particular feature of a person's face. It could be blue eyes, their haircut, or a friendly smile. Connect their name to a visual anchor so you remember it easily. For example, "This is Bonnie. Bonnie does not have a bonnet on." It's also helpful to link each person's name to an image. In this case, I might visualize a giant bonnet on Bonnie's head.

2. Ask the right questions.

After you ask their name, your first question will likely be, "What brings you in today?" It's important to qualify their answer by asking the right follow-up questions. Ask, "Do you know which car you're interested in?" "What are your must-haves in a car?" and, "Will you be the primary driver of this car?"

These questions provide context about what your buyer is looking for, their budget, and who you're selling to. Their answers also allow you to cross-sell or upsell. If the customer lists safety as a must-have, consider upselling them on a four-wheel drive package or pedestrian alert add-on.

3. Build rapport.

If you notice your prospect crossing their arms, becoming quiet, or shifting uncomfortably, stop selling and focus on rapport. If you continue to push an overwhelmed prospect with questions or selling points, you risk alienating them and losing the sale.

Instead, ask them what they like to do on the weekends, what they do for work, or where they're from. These questions are non-threatening and easy to answer.

Once your prospect's body language has relaxed, ease back into the sales process by asking, "Bonnie, you mentioned you like to ski on the weekends, would you use this vehicle to get up to the mountains?" This steers the conversation back to the sale and averts a crisis of cold feet.

4. Listen twice as much as you talk.

Listen to prospects more than you share opinions. When choosing between a salesperson who talks over them and one who listens — they'll choose the latter every time.

It's tempting to fill any conversational pause — but don't. By immediately following their answers with another question, you risk cutting them off before they've completed their response.

Similarly, if you talk through a lull during the test drive, you might distract your prospect from formulating valuable thoughts or concerns they have about the vehicle.

Instead, pause for one or two seconds after your prospect has finished speaking to ensure they've had time to reflect.

5. Treat every customer equally.

My husband and I recently visited several dealerships to buy a car. We were motivated buyers looking for a car we would share equally. At every dealership, the salespeople looked at my husband directly and asked what he did for a living. Each time, I waited for them to ask me the same question — two months and a Prius later, I'm still waiting.

This might seem like a small or insignificant overlook, but it stood out to me. When partners are buying a car together, don't assume one is investing more than the other. Ask each of them the same questions so everyone feels like a valued part of the sales process.

6. Don't disparage other dealers.

Don't disparage other dealerships. When prospects mention competitors, avoid the temptation to trash talk. Reply with, "I see," or "Alright," and explain what makes your dealership different.

By focusing on the benefits your dealership offers, you avoid making a negative impression on your prospect, and you've further illustrated what makes your business the better choice.

For example, instead of saying, "Oh, Dealership X offers terrible warranties. I don't think you'll find what you want there," say "We're offering a five-year warranty on all new cars. This offer is exclusive to our dealership!"

7. Don't be pushy.

When a prospect is on their third test drive of the same car, it's difficult to keep yourself from asking, "So, are you ready to buy?" or "What do you think?"

Instead of asking direct or overly broad questions, say, "So, Bonnie, could you see yourself driving this car?" If you're feeling confident, ask, "Is this a car you would buy today?"

These questions continue to prime the buyer without cornering them or giving them too much to consider. The latter is also a great alternative to the desperate-sounding, "What can I do to get you to buy today?"

8. Make eye contact.

As your prospect is speaking, make sure to hold their gaze. Look directly into their eyes for up to five seconds before smiling, changing your facial expression, or altering your gaze. Any longer and you risk having a glazed, unnatural, or creepy expression. Any shorter and you might appear disinterested or impatient.

Remember, it's difficult for some people with autism or social anxiety to make or hold eye contact. If someone is avoiding your gaze, be sensitive to their needs and hold a soft gaze that doesn't make them uncomfortable.

9. Avoid using untrustworthy language.

"With all due respect," "I don't want to waste your time," "Honestly" and "To be honest with you," are obnoxious sales phrases that make you untrustworthy.

Instead, say, "I see where you're coming from. Would you mind if I offered a different opinion?" and wait for your prospect to respond.

And, instead of saying, "To be honest with you," or "I don't want to waste your time," simply be honest with your prospects from the start, and you won't have to clarify your statements.

10. Discuss price last.

When you ask, "Is this a car you're ready to buy today?" and the answer is "Absolutely," it's time to discuss price. Payment, cash down, and trade-in value are all part of this process.

Wait until the buyer is in love with the car and ready to buy. Then, leverage your sales manager to negotiate a price that will give your buyer a fair deal and maximize the dollars in your dealership's pocket.

11. Never be bored.

There will be slow days and weeks at your dealership. Use downtime to your advantage, and challenge yourself to never be bored. Use slow days to learn about your cars, read about next year's models, listen to podcasts that hone your skills, and follow up with prospects.

The best way to get ahead of the other salespeople on your floor? Use sales lulls to become stronger at selling.

12. Always follow up.

Having trouble getting customers to give you their phone number before they leave? Close their phone number before you take them on a test drive.

Your prospect doesn't want to jeopardize a chance to drive the car, which will make it easier for you to ask, "Alright, you're almost ready for the test drive. All I need is a phone number to reach you." Before they leave, let your prospect know when you'll follow up — and stick to it.

When you do follow up, start by asking how they are. Then, instead of saying, "Well, have you thought any more about the car?" ask, "Can I answer any questions about the cars you saw this weekend?" This question is less pushy and more likely to keep your prospect on the phone.

Your follow-up obligations don't end when your prospect buys a car from you. Call them a week or 10 days after their purchase to see how they like their new car. Write them a thank-you note and ask them to keep you in mind next time they're shopping for a new vehicle.

13. Be the last face they see.

If your customer buys a car from you, be there for the technical walk-through and personal inspection. Offer to take your buyer's picture and be excited for them. This is a big purchase and something most people want to celebrate.

If your prospect says they need a few days to make a decision, be understanding, tell them you'll follow up, and walk them to the door. This keeps you top of mind, and it avoids making them feel like you're frustrated they didn't buy.

14. Leave bad training behind.

You've likely encountered some bad advice during your sales training. Know when to leave it behind and go with your gut.

We’ve gone over what good car salespeople do, but now let’s discuss the skills they possess.

Essential Skills of a Car Salesperson

1. Good Communication

Strong verbal skills are a necessity when it comes to working in sales. Car shoppers are looking for salespeople to present the information they need clearly, and comfortably.

2. Active Listening Skills

When a client tells you what they’re looking for, you need to give them your full attention. Engaging in active listening lets them know you care and will help them find the car they’re actually looking for.

3. Adaptability to Client Needs

No two clients are alike. You need to be able to build rapport with all sorts of personalities and cater to all sorts of budgets, needs, and tastes.

4. Product Knowledge

This one seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re selling something, you should probably know the specifications of it. Your clients could have done their own research on the model they want already, and your job is to build upon that knowledge for them.

5. Organization Skills

Organization is key in sales. As you juggle different clients and tasks each day, you must have the correct information available when needed to close a sale.

6. Positive Attitude

Nobody wants to buy a car from a grouch, and it takes skill to maintain a positive attitude through the wins and losses of sales. Successful salespeople attract buyers with a cheerful attitude that is friendly and non-intimidating.

7. Self-Confidence

Yes, self-confidence is a personality trait — but for some, it’s a learned skill. Car shoppers are looking to buy from a salesperson who is confident in their ability to do their job, and good salespeople do just that.

So now that we know the behaviors and skills of a good car salesperson, what does it take to become one in the first place?

How to Become a Car Salesperson

1. Complete an education program.

Most job postings for car salespeople require a high school diploma or GED. While a college degree isn't required, it can be helpful if you hope to eventually move into a sales management position. If you aspire to manage the sales team, consider pursuing a degree in sales and marketing, general business, or economics and finance. This will give you the business knowledge to manage a team and structure your sales program.

2. Gain work experience.

Previous sales experience isn't always required. Car salespeople rely on communication, negotiating, and people skills — these skills can be developed in a sales or customer service role. Experience working face-to-face with clients and customers (e.g., retail sales) will help you excel in this role.

Plus, once you accept a position as a car salesperson, many car dealerships will provide training so you know exactly what you're selling and how to sell it.

3. Obtain a license.

Depending on which state you choose to work in, you might need to get a license before you can begin selling cars. In California, for example, you need to apply with the DMV to earn your car salesperson license.

With your prior education, experience, and license you're all set to begin selling. Remember, today's consumers have many options.

Delight Your Next Client

The old pushy tactics that worked 20 years ago likely won't earn you the sale today. Be patient, listen, and support your buyer through this big purchase. Be a partner instead of a pusher — the results will be worth your while.

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