Car Salesmen Control Techniques

As in most sales professions, it is necessary to have a system in place that will increase the odds of a sale. However, some car dealers have taken this methodology to the extreme. This extreme behavior can be traced back to dealerships known as “system houses.”

These dealerships are called “system houses” because they put all of their customers though the same rigid process. Unfortunately, these systems were designed to the keep the customers at the dealership until they purchased a car. As one can imagine, the customer’s experience can quickly become a nightmare.

The core belief of these “system houses” is that the salesman must maintain control over his customers at all times. Sometimes, even extra commissions are paid to the salesman who demonstrates this “control” over the customers. For example, a salesman could earn a “Spiff” (cash bonus) if he was able to get the customer to kneel on the wet ground and look under a car. Other times, salespeople will direct the customer to climb into the trunk to demonstrate the massive storage space. These examples of “customer control” can earn the salesman not only extra “spiffs,” but the respect of his colleagues.

Of course, treating customers this way does not help the reputation of the dealership, but in the past their reputation wasn’t very important. However, customer satisfaction is now much more relevant to current dealers (you can read about the importance of customer satiscation in our CSI article ). Although not many of these “system-houses” are still in existence, their methods created a culture that has truly defined current sales processes.


A basic example of how salespeople try to control their customers can be found in what they say. Salesmen may end their comments with a question that will provoke a repeated “yes” response from the customer. For example, a salesman might repeatedly end his phrases with the question “…Do you see what I’m saying?” Typically, the customer will respond “Yes.” They hope that, over time, the customer will become accustomed to agreeing with them and in turn will be controlled more easily. This can be considered a form of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which means that it may be possible to program a customer’s responses or at least make them more agreeable during the negotiation.

Similarly, salesmen may “Acknowledge and Ask” during the conversation. They will say that they understand what the customer is saying (Acknowledge) and then redirect the conversation by asking a question (Ask).They do this to keep the dialogue within their sales framework. This also allows them to side-step the customer’s questions. Count how many times you hear a car salesman answer your questions with, “I understand, but let me ask you this…”

Follow Me

Verbal commands are another effective “control” technique. For many customers, it feels unnatural to question a simple request from the salesman, so they do what they are told. Essentially, the salesman tells the customer what to do—like the extreme example ealier of the salesman having the customer climb into the trunk of the car.

The best example of this technique is the “follow me” command. This is performed when the salesman says, “I want to show you something...follow me.” Then the salesman spins around and walks away from the customer. The customer will almost always follow the salesperson. This method is often used to lead the customer into the office to begin the negotiations after a test-drive. One may be surprised how well this works, no matter what the customer would like to do; when the salesman says “Follow me,” the customer will usually follow.

The Turn

Not all customers will fall in line with what the salesman would like them to do. When a salesperson feels like he is losing control of the customer, he must “turn” the customer to a new salesperson. A “turn” is simply when a new salesperson takes over from where the previous one left off.

For example, the original salesman may be having difficulty convincing the customer to take a test-drive. At this point, the first salesperson will introduce (or "turn") the customer to a brand new salesman. This change of salesmen is strangely effective. Frequently, customers will be more agreeable after they have heard the same information from more than one salesman.

Keep in mind that many car dealerships will require their salesmen to “turn” customers to another salesman before the customer leaves the dealership. They do this to prevent them from wasting potential sales or “burning through the Ups (Customers).” In many showrooms, customers are “turned” two to three times before they are allowed to leave. On your next visit to a showroom count how many time you were "turned".  In most cases you will meet at least two different salesmen.

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