My Dad and I had the most bizarre new car buying experience the other day.
The salesman repeatedly told us “I want you to leave here happy” — even though Dad politely communicated that he was not buying a car today.
Let me explain.
My father is in the market for a new SUV so I went with him to a local Nissan dealer. He wanted to learn about the Pathfinder.
The process began normally. First, we asked some questions and looked at cars and options. Second, we did a test drive. Third, we came back and sat at the desk.
Then the show began.
Joe (name changed to protect the innocent) asked if he could run some numbers. Dad said fine, but pointed out that he was still evaluating which car to buy and so was not buying a car today.
Joe asked for and received a down-payment figure to use for the calculations, and off he went behind closed doors to the manager’s office to get the magic price. It’s amazing how this ritual has remained the same for decades.
He came back with a hand-scribbled piece of paper with the price of the car circled in large font along with the monthly payment.
Dad said thanks, reminded Joe that he was still in vehicle exploration mode and thus had no interest in negotiating the price. He wanted to be straight with the guy and said so. If this was the car he wanted, he’d come back and ask for the best price.
All pretty standard communication so far, and now it was time to leave.
Not yet. Joe thanked Dad and initiated one of the strangest sales techniques I’ve ever seen. Joe to Dad: “I want you to leave here happy.”
It was hard for me to keep a straight face. I began to wonder if we were on hidden camera.
I’m thinking, unless you’re giving the car away, what part of “I’m not buying a car today” didn’t you understand; and so how are we supposed to leave happy?
Joe asked if he could go back to his manager and see about a better price. Fine.
Joe went back and forth a couple of times – the boss was busy – and asked if we could wait a bit longer because: “I want you to leave happy.”
Finally, Joe reappeared, this time with his boss Bill (again, we’re protecting the innocent). Bill showed Dad a new, much lower sales price.
(Note: we weren’t happy with how the Joe/Bill team handled the communication about financing rates, which after all, makes a big difference on the monthly payment. The first price was based on a 3.9% loan, but we were told the rate could be lower depending on which bank Nissan used. The rate with the manager’s price was 2.9%, but well, depending on your qualifications, it could still be even lower. Look, just explain all that on the front end. No need for games.)
Dad repeated his story. Bill engaged in some point-making discussion about one of the other cars Dad was considering – a Honda Pilot.
Enough already. Dad closed. He’d come back if this was the car he decided to buy. Finally, mercifully, we were done.
What did the Nissan sales team accomplish? Did we leave happy?
We did leave smiling, but that’s because we were laughing. It was a funny experience. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I wondered if Nissan trains its sales team to act this way or if it’s just one guy’s personal sales shtick. Or, could there be some sophisticated selling going on here?
Most likely, it’s just a funny story about a local car salesman’s unique technique. Regardless, we will remember Joe, whether Dad buys a Pathfinder or not. And, give Joe credit for prompt follow-up with a phone call the next business day.
So, are there any implications here? Yes.
For the Dealer.
A. Listen. Not everything is a negotiation. “I’m not buying a car today” usually means just that! I know the sales team is not supposed to let someone walk out the door, but sometimes you just have to say come back and see me when you’re ready to buy.
B. Minimize The Dance. Everyone knows the first price is merely the starting point. Serious negotiation begins from there. Still, give a good first price.
For the Buyer.
A. Be Direct about Your Intentions. But beware, you may be asked to get happy anyway!
Has Nissan adopted a bizarre, new sales technique or is it just the shtick of a local salesman? What does it mean to say “I want you to leave here happy” even though the customer just told you he’s not buying a car today?
Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.