The Sales Question That Causes Car Crashes

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Art Sobczak
Art Sobczak



Do you know what question causes accidents when prospective buyers are taking cars for a test drive?

It's the salesperson asking, "Is this the type of vehicle you would like to own?"


Yes, it's true, according to car salesperson Jim Miller. A question like that, preceded by the proper set up, creates a state of suspended animation that causes the mind to do strange things.

In Douglas Rushkoff's book Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say, Miller explains that before posing this question, car salespeople usually subtly make the potential buyer feel bad about the bucket of rust he now drives:

"How does the ride compare to your car?"

"How do the seats feel? Comfortable? Just like an armchair?"

Then they follow up with the crash-causing question. Boom.

Why does this happen? Car salespeople joke that this question causes a split second of customer insanity. "The mind goes blank, the body paralyzes, the eyes get glassy, dilated. And you'd be surprised how many people have an accident at just that moment," Miller says.

The book's author, Rushkoff, says the power at work here is "disassociation."  The prospect is already in the vehicle but is then asked to imagine owning the same type of vehicle. The buyer's present situation is reframed in fantasy, creating a momentary disassociation from the activity they're involved in. (It's kind of like me asking you, could you imagine yourself reading this blog post right now?)

And this is why so many test drivers crash, according to Rushkoff. "It's a momentary loss of awareness during which the customer's defense mechanisms and rational processes are disabled," he writes. In fact, the technique is so powerful that it's in the CIA's interrogation training guide.

Am I personally buying into this?

I don't know. Who am I to argue with the CIA?

Here's my two cents. The example cited just one car salesman, although he did add that the technique was taken from a popular training program in auto sales.

What I do know is that the technique is similar to what I've been suggesting for a long time: Identify and embellish the prospect's need, pain, or problem. Next, present your recommended solution. Then ask for commitment.

Identify and Embellish Their Need, Pain, or Problem

Once you've uncovered a need area, resist the tendency many salespeople succumb to: talking about your product or service. Instead, ask more questions to get the buyer to further visualize, relive, and feel the pain:

  • "How often does that happen?"
  • "Then what do you have to do?"
  • "What other problems does that cause?"
  • "Then what?"
  • "What does that cost you?"

Present Your Recommendation

This is where you talk about your solution. Use the buyer's words as much as you can -- they won't argue with what came out of their own mouth. 

Ask For Commitment

Here's where you can ask the "magic question" cited by the author to put them in that state of stupor -- or at least get them to imagine owning and enjoying the results of your product or service. Think of it as sort of a trial close.

  • "How do you feel you would use that?"
  • "What do you feel that would do for you?"
  • "Do you see this as something that would help you avoid those problems in the future?"
  • "How much do you think this would help you make/save?"

The buyer's answers, of course, are designed to get them to mentally take ownership of what you sell. And that makes the real close a lot easier. After all, if they sell themselves, that's better than you having to do it, right?

Think about these ideas, adapt them, and use them in your own sales process. Just don't cause any car wrecks.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Smart Calling Online and is republished here with permission.

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