Famed sales trainer Clint McGhee once said the new-car smell is a chemical that causes customers to buy cars, and if they weren’t ready to close, they just hadn’t inhaled enough of it. I happen to agree, which is why I insist that a customer drives the car before I begin my process.

I know what you’re thinking: There goes old-fashioned Marv again, refusing to believe modern car buyers already know what they want and don’t need to drive it. Well, I may be old-fashioned, but I’ve seen too many deals fall apart because the test drive was skipped.
It happened to me recently. One of our most experienced salespeople brought me a completed deal on a used SUV. The customer lives in another town and our salesperson agreed to call her when the credit was approved.

When the deal was good to go, I asked the salesperson to set an appointment to close. That’s when the expected avalanche of questions about the finance terms began to pour in. I took a phone TO and answered all the customer’s questions. I noticed some hesitation in her voice and asked what was troubling her.

“I’m just not quite ready to commit to something I haven’t actually driven,” she said. “My husband drove it, and he thinks it’s a good car, but I haven’t.”

After encouraging her to set an appointment for a test drive, I hung up the phone. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what kind of conversation the salesperson and I had afterward.
The couple came in the next day and took the SUV for a long demo ride. By the time they returned, her appreciation for the vehicle had waned. We were back to square one — minus the time the salesperson had spent prepping documents and getting the car ready for delivery. As expected, the deal went cold, and I moved on.

Incidentally, much to my surprise, that same couple came back the following day and test-drove a new Fusion. I got the second deal approved and she came back the next morning. Success! She was thrilled with her new ride and gave the salesperson glowing remarks. All’s well that ends well.

That experience is why I question studies like the one issued by DMEautomotive in April 2014. It found that, of the 2,000 car shoppers polled, 16% skipped the test drive and 33% test-drove only one vehicle. Very few tried more than a few. But if you think that means test drives are quickly becoming a thing of the past, think again. We know customers are rebelling against and refusing to participate in the traditional sales process, but I think they might be throwing the demo baby out with the bathwater. And there’s plenty of evidence to support that.

In fact, Autotrader’s much-discussed “Car Buyer of the Future” study demonstrated a strong preference for test drives, with 88% of the 4,002 car buyers surveyed indicating they would not purchase a car without a test-drive. Shocking, right?

Folks, that new-car smell remains a key closing tool. That’s why F&I professionals need to reinforce the importance of the demo by refusing to take an F&I turn on deals where this critical step is skipped.

The reason is simple: Emotion plays as big a part in the sale. And let me tell you, that emotion spills over into the F&I office. Customers know they need our products but won’t give us a chance to present them until they’re ready to buy. That’s where the demo ride tips the scale in our favor.

Listen, we can’t cut corners in this business and remain successful. There is a reason the sales process has as many steps as it does. That’s what it takes to deliver a car. Decades of practice by generations of salespeople have proven that emotion is one of the biggest factors in the purchase of a new car. The demo ride excites those feelings of pride and creates mental ownership.

We’ve seen it time and time again. The more attached customers are to a car, the more they’re willing to pay the price to own and protect it.

And if you don’t believe me, check out what Maritz Research executive Chris Travell said in a TIME magazine article about the research firm’s 2012 survey of car buyers: “As cliché as perhaps it sounds, there’s that new-car smell that needs to be experienced firsthand and cannot be experienced over the Internet.” Sounds just like good ‘ol Clint.

Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected].

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Marv Eleazer

Marv Eleazer

Finance Director

Marv Eleazer is the finance director for Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga.

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