{ A Friend in the Market Is Better Than Money in the Purse: an Interview with Jeremy Adair, an Ex-Car Salesman }
Cara Gillotti
illustration by Beth Sullivan

Jeremy Adair - cara gillottiGillotti: What kind of training did you go through?
Adair: A two-week in-house, just following them around.

G: When you were selling, were you given any sort of advice in terms of what kind of items to have displayed on your desk in order to elicit certain moods or feelings or thoughts in the customer?
A: No we weren't, actually, we were just told to keep our desks relatively tidy. Mine had a very sort of minimalist feel to it, and I think that was indicative of the fact that this wasn't my career, and I didn't want it to be, and I was just kind of doing this as an end in of itself. My desk was clear, except for a phone and a binder of contacts. Everything else was in drawers.

G: Do car salespeople play any games to sort of pass the time while no one is in the showroom?
A: Not really, we would surf the Internet a lot.

G: Together, or each person at his or her own desk?
A: There was only one computer. Other times we would go out back and smoke cigars, or sneak out and go to the mall. Go to lunch.

G: When a potential customer came to the showroom, how was it decided who got to be his or her salesperson?
A: Whoever got to her first.

G: So did this result in people sort of watching the door like hawks and sprinting up to them?
A: For some people it did. There comes a point where you get kind of lazy. Some people will even avoid taking customers, [they'd] figure, you know, "Saturday is on the way and I'll get plenty of customers, so I'll just kind of hang back." And then the new people, or people pressed financially will be the go-getter who's out on the lot trying to greet people before they're out of the car.

G: Is there a difference with new and used cars, in the fervor with which the salesmen will approach potential customers?
A: Used cars is always more aggressive.

G: Why?
A: People who come in to buy new cars generally know what kind of car they want. Used cars, you have to go out there and sell the car. And you have to tell people about the car. Because when someone comes in to look at a Honda Accord, they know about the Honda Accord.

G: Did you ever try to predict what kind of car the potential buyer would buy when the potential buyer would walk onto the lot?
A: Not really. You mean as like a game?

G: Yeah.
A: No.

G: [disappointed] Hmm. So when car salespeople disappear to talk to their manager after, you know, an offer is made, what are they actually doing?
A: Telling the manager what they think they have, whether they think it's someone who's really there to buy a car, or someone who's there just trying to get a price. Or just someone who just didn't have anything to do this afternoon and decided they'd just go drive cars. We get a surprising number of people who do that.

G: Did you come to have any sort of feelings for the cars? Like resentment or protectiveness?
A: [shakes head no].

G: Are there slang words that car salespeople use?
A: Dreck. It's Yiddish for garbage. We call people with bad credit drecks.

G: Were you taught any linguistic tricks designed to calm the buyer's fears or compel them to immediate action or anything like that?
A: No, I wouldn't say it's as sophisticated as all that. But after you've been there a long time they start to go over things like closes. Ways to structure questions that you ask people. Instead of asking people "Do you have a trade?" when you're walking by their car, "Were you going to be trading this car?"

G: To encourage trade? Why would you ask that?
A: Just to get people more in the mindset that they're going to do something today.

G: How many cars did you sell? In general. I don't know how many cars it's normal to sell.
A: Average across the country I think is about ten and twelve.

G: Per month? What was your average?
A: I was at about fifteen. New cars. I was pretty below average for used cars. Selling anything requires a whole lot of motivation. You're going out and working with people who don't really want to be working with you, you're going into what is an antagonistic....

G: Relationship.
A: Yeah. A very antagonistic relationship. It's really hard to motivate yourself especially after you've had four or five people who you've spent a lot of time with who are just like "Oh! Well, that was nice! See ya!" to go out there and do it again. And you really have to invest yourself in the process for it to come out well. I mean you really do. People feel like you're not really there, that you don't really care, they get that feeling really quickly. Some people will just get offended and pissed off and walk away. So you have to be on top of it, be very fake, which really takes a lot out of you. And if you're not really motivated to do it, it's really difficult to manufacture that level of motivation.

G: I remember when my dad was helping me look at cars, and the salesman butchered my father's last name, and my father corrected him, and the salesman said, "Well, I guess you've been called worse things," and my dad said no. I guess that's an example of the mutual antagonism between the two people, the mutual distrust.
A: And the car salesman's perspective is "nine out of ten people I talk to just waste my time. And lie to me." I mean, people lie through their teeth all the time. People say they're there to buy, and they're not really there to buy, and people say they don't have a trade, and they do have a trade, and they can't buy the car unless they make the trade. People lie all over the place.

G: So do you just not believe what people say?
A: Yeah. Which is one of the things that makes it difficult, constantly having to disregard what people say. Because almost everyone who goes into a dealership says, "I'm not going to buy a car today. I'm not here to buy a car, I'm just here to look." I would say eighty percent of people that buy cars say that.

G: Why do they say that?
A: Because they think if they can appear disinterested they'll get a better deal somehow. They'll get the dealership to say "Well, I know you're not going to buy today, but what if I could make you a really good deal" which is somewhat founded, because that's basically what happens, but they don't really end up getting a really good deal. They end up hearing those words but it doesn't mean they're getting a better deal than they would otherwise. And then the converse is also true, the people who come in and say there's a sales meeting up at the sales tower and all the salespeople are standing around there, and someone walks in and they're like, "Who wants to sell me a car!" That person is never going to buy a car. They're just there to waste your time. So you know, there's very little trust. It can be very frustrating for the salesman. Which builds up. Which is a large reason why you hear these horror stories about salespeople lying and screwing people is because they've been, you know. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You're told you lie and screw people all the time, and you're treated poorly, and eventually you start lying and screwing people. [reads the fortune in his cookie and chuckles]. How germane.

G: What? Oh! [reads:] "A friend in the market is better than money in the purse."
A: You should put this in your interview.

back home.