Monday, July 25, 2011

Tell them why not, then walk away

Over the last week, I had two encounters with high-pressure salesmen on big transactions. I managed to get out of both of them with my finances intact, but I felt icky afterwards.

I wasn’t expecting a sleazy dealer at the proper Toyota dealership. I’d just come from the Honda place where the salesman let me test drive 3 cars, told me about the features, and accepted it when I told him I’d be back in September. The Toyota salesman, on the other hand, put on the pressure from moment one. He told me that the cars I wanted weren’t being made any more, due to the tragedy in Japan earlier this year. This was true. But then he immediately steered me towards used cars before giving me a chance to catch my breath. I tried a Yaris and a Matrix, and I really did not like the Matrix. So he whisked me back to the showroom, and rounded up my “I preferred the Yaris” to “I would like to purchase the Yaris.” And at this point it was on my list of possibilities – but before buying, I wanted to try at least 5 more cars, talk to Midori, and to my credit union.

He assured me that his dealership had the highest customer satisfaction for certified used cars of any Toyota dealership in the US, glossed over the minor accident the car had had, and brought in his financing guy to show me the numbers. It was super cheap – assuming that the accident really only had done cosmetic damage, which had since been repaired. And even then, I was thinking about the car as a maybe. But there was no way I was going to buy it that day. When the finance guy asked me whether an even lower price would get me into the car that day, I told him no – the issue wasn’t the price, it was that I hadn’t made up my mind on the car yet. They told me it would be gone soon, and I said that if it was gone, I’d find another car. I gave them fake contact details and walked away.

The second one was a mortgage broker from Quicken Loans. My first inkling of sleaziness was when I realized that they weren’t affiliated with the Quicken accounting software. (Wikipedia tells me that they used to be, once upon a time.) I spoke to a broker online about a month ago, and she offered me a deal which would lower our payments slightly, but not significantly. I wasn’t going to do anything more, but various representatives from Quicken kept leaving me voicemails saying that they had new information. So, I thought I’d call up to see if I could get a better deal. And after a full day of giving the new salesman my information, him calling back, working numbers, blah blah blah, he finally made me an offer. And it was a good deal. It would have saved us a good chunk of money every month, with low up-front costs. I just needed to check with Midori, and get some competitive quotes. And I told him this, and that he could call me tomorrow after I’d had a chance to do that.

And this wasn’t good enough for Captain Quicken, who proceeded to tell me that this was the best deal I was ever going to get anywhere, so I didn’t need to shop around. And if I agreed it was a good deal, and Midori had the same priorities as I did, why would I need to ask her? Why not just assume yes and send him a $500 good faith deposit cheque today? When I explained that that’s not how my marriage works (she wouldn’t like the news that I’d borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars without mentioning it to her beforehand) he moved into bad-cop mode – if I didn’t agree today, the interest rates could go up, and he’d need to pull my credit again. So I told him directly that I had been considering the loan, but thanks to the pressure he put on me I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. So I was going to hang up and I didn’t want to hear from Quicken again.

And I haven’t.

I’m not the only person who finds this sales approach really unpleasant, but salesfolk will keep using it as long as they don’t see any negative effects – as they see it, if they make a sale it’s evidence that it worked, and if they don’t then there was nothing that would have worked. Since their pay is so heavily commission-based, they’re going to try whatever they think will have the best chance of success. So if we want to make it stop, we have to give them negative consequences, and let them know exactly what those are.

Sales patter works under a pretense that they don’t get anything from the sale – you want to buy the item, and they’re just helpful people trying to get you the best deal. You know it’s not true, and they know you know, but the pretense serves a purpose for them – it makes it more awkward for you to call them out. They just want to HELP you; what could they possibly gain from you buying something you don’t want? So if we don’t want something, most of us either make an excuse and run, or sometimes give in and buy it, if it’s something you kind of wanted anyway and it’s not TOO expensive.

But this just encourages them to keep pushing and make life less pleasant for the rest of us. To change their behavior, we have to change how we react to it. Here’s what I’m going to do from now on, and I would encourage other people to do the same:

  1. When I am given the hard sell, I will not buy the item from that business even if it’s something I wanted. (Unless it’s something that I NEED, and can’t obtain or afford elsewhere.) I will inform the salesdrone that I was interested in the product but his/her sales tactics have put me off and I will now be leaving the premises.
  2. When a salesperson is genuinely respectful, informative and helpful, I will thank them, and commend them to their manager.

It’s only going to work if lots of people do it, though. I call it the Campaign Against High Pressure Sales, which I would like to abbreviate to CHAPS, but Midori informs me actually spells CAHPS, which isn’t even a word. So, please share. We could make the world slightly more pleasant.


  1. How about

    Consumers Radically Opposed to Commission-based Sales?