Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Car Buying 101: Rule 4 Contacting a Dealership

Note: See my posts for Rules 1-3 on May 27 and April 20. Rule 1: Start shopping from home. Rule 2: Shop for your money first. Rule 3: Be realistic about your trade.

You now have the preliminaries out of the way. You’ve done your homework by researching vehicles and have selected the model or models you’re interested in. You’ve contacted your bank or credit union and know what to expect financially (and you may even be “pre-approved which would be the best scenario). And if you’re thinking of trading a vehicle, you have a good idea of what it’s worth and how much you owe on it if anything.

So you’re ready to go buy a new car, right? I would suggest another step in the process before traipsing off to a dealership ready to do battle and drive off in a new vehicle. Contact some dealerships first—either by phone or e-mail, whichever you’re most comfortable doing.

The whys of doing this are fairly straight forward. First, you’ll get a pretty good idea of whether or not you want to do business with the specific dealer or salesperson. Second, it allows you to screen information prior to arriving at the dealership—like incentives such as rebates or interest rates. Third, you can determine whether the vehicle you’re interested in is in stock (the model, trim level, options and color).

All of this can make your actual visit to the dealership one which is more fruitful, productive and enjoyable. You have a right to expect that this information is provided to you upfront and willingly. And if it is, then your entire buying experience will be smoother, more satisfying and more professional.

You want to go to a dealership that knows that it's not about them. It's not about manipulating you into doing something you're not fully prepared to do yet. You want to go somewhere that knows that it's all about you and your needs and that if they fulfill that they'll be better positioned to make a profit.

That brings us to Rule 4: Contacting a Dealership

Be organized about it. Buying a vehicle isn’t a trip to an amusement park. It’s a major piece of business where you’re going to contract to spend upwards of $20,000 or more on a new vehicle. The e-mail contact is arguably the easiest in that you’ll be writing your questions and sending them off with every reasonable expectation that you’ll have a specific response within a couple of hours.

E-Mail contact: Virtually all dealerships now have internet departments. Look up the dealership online and then contact them via their contact portal. Do not include your phone number. Make them respond to your questions via e-mail. If they don’t, then you can move on. What you may wish to do is contact a couple of different dealerships selling the vehicle you’re interested in via e-mail. At this point you’re not trying to get them to compete for your business based on price, you’re trying to get the best response and develop a sense of where you’ll feel most comfortable. And, if a dealership isn’t willing to provide you with information, then you probably don’t want to do business with them. After the information is provided and you’re sure that you want to go that dealership is the right time to provide a phone number for confirmation of an appointment.

In your e-mail you want to specify that you’re interested in a vehicle and then state the make and model and trim level. From there mention any options and color(s). Then ask whether the vehicle is in stock, its MSRP, their advertised selling price and any incentives. And, be upfront and tell them your timeframe for having the purchase completed. If it’s 6 months you shouldn’t even be in touch. But it’s timely if you’re looking at buying a vehicle anytime in the next 4-6 weeks.

The timeliness, information and tone of the response is going to tell you a lot about whether you want to do business there or not. If a dealer immediately wants to get on the phone and discuss it with you, either resist of just “write them off”. They just want to as is the saying in the retail side of car sales “take control”. Buying and selling vehicles isn’t or shouldn’t be about “control”. It’s about business and satisfaction.

Phone contact: There’s a dealer term for incoming phone calls from customers—“phone-pops”. Sales people love to get them and yet have a hard time in converting them to appointments. Why? Because sales people are “trained” by their managers to “take control” and not let the caller “stroke” them. They’re also trained to not “give out any numbers” otherwise the customer will just use that as an excuse to “shop”. What managers still don’t realize is that these techniques are guaranteed to drive the majority of phone callers away.

Their job is to get your name and number and an appointment. Your job is to get information and, if you like the information you get and how it was provided, to set an appointment.

If the person at the dealership is unwilling or reluctant to provide information over the phone, that’s OK because there are dealers out there who will. You can even tell the person right up front that you’re looking for some specific information and that if they are unable or unwilling to provide the information that you would appreciate being connected to someone who will provide it or you can just call another dealership. You’re the customer and you have information needs. Make sure they are fulfilled upfront.

With that in mind, at this point you don’t need to provide your name or phone number—but be polite and let the salesperson know that you’ll be happy to provide that once you have the information you require and decide that you’d like to go to the next step with them. Here’s the thing, YOU’RE the one in control because you’re the customer.

Get all the information that you need—availability of model, trim level, options and color(s). Then ask whether the vehicle is in stock, its MSRP, their advertised selling price and any incentives. Get the information. This will also give you information as to whether or not you want to do business there.

A smart salesperson will provide you with the information happily and willingly. If you are constantly interrupted with questions and efforts to “close the appointment” either resist, be direct in telling the person that you want to receive information first or hang up. And one of the other things you can do is reassure the sales person that you are serious about buying a vehicle and that you require this information before deciding what to buy and from whom.

So now, you’ve gone through the basic first contact on the phone or internet. You’ve decided to go to that dealership and you’ve set an appointment. (Make sure when setting the appointment that you’re specific on day and time, you have the salesperson’s first and last name and cell number as well as his/her sales manager’s first and last name).

Remember it's all about you. The process of buying a vehicle shouldn't be aggravating. It shouldn't be a hassle or be frustrating. These steps can help assure that it's as pleasant as possible and that you get the vehicle you want, at a price and payment you're satisfied with.

The next couple of posts will deal with actually being at the dealership. I’ll try to walk you through the process so that you have a better idea of the dealership’s goals and processes as well as how to achieve the outcome that you’d most like to have. Good luck.

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