In a society where transparency and full disclosure are often celebrated, the salesperson is a throwback to a time when companies profited from your ignorance.
Last week we reviewed some of the things your call-center representative won’t tell you when you phone a company, but let’s be honest: Most of those problems could have been avoided at the point of sale.
What if you’d said “no” to the lemon at the car dealership? What if you hadn’t booked that awful cruise? And what if you’d refused to buy the termite-infested house?
Salespeople are not evil, but sometimes they do evil things. Often, the evil they do is simply omitting important facts. For example:
1. I work on commission
Perhaps the biggest “did-I-forget-to-mention-that?” is how a salesperson is paid. That’s important, because salaried employees are far less likely to drive you into buying an unnecessarily expensive item, or even the wrong item (if a manufacturer is paying them a financial “override”). You’re not entitled to know the salesperson’s salary, but questions about how they’re compensated are fair game. Don’t be shy about asking.
2. I must meet my quota
Even if a salesperson says he or she isn’t on a commission, you shouldn’t assume they’ll offer the best advice. That’s because retailers frequently impose quotas on salaried employers that act in a way that’s similar to a commission. Sell your quota, and you receive a good evaluation. Sell more, and you’ll get a bonus. Sell less, and you’re in trouble. They won’t volunteer that information, but you should be aware that it’s happening behind the scenes, even in businesses where commissions are unheard of.
3. I’m reciting a script
Effective salespeople are well trained, and that usually means someone has told them what to say when you raise an objection to a purchase or ask a difficult question. Sometimes, the scripting is obvious: You’re at the check-out counter, and a sales associate tries to upsell you on something (“How about an extended warranty?”). But the best scripts are more subtle, anticipating your objection to the sale and offering you a smooth, seemingly spontaneous answer that changes your purchasing decision. An effective script doesn’t sound like a script – but that doesn’t make it any less of a script.
4. My products suck
If you want to get an idea of what employees really think of the products they peddle, don’t ask them on the sales floor. You’ll always get the same, predictable answer. Pause for a moment on your way to the restroom and listen to the break-room chatter, or look at the employee parking lot. (For example, if you’re at a car dealership, check out the vehicles the sales staff is driving. Do they prefer Toyotas at a Honda dealership?) If you’re buying a TV, asking a salesman what he watches at home is a completely fair question. If he hems and haws on the answer, or is vague, then odds are the products he’s selling are sub-par.
5. This product is about to go on sale
Why would they say anything when a customer is about to pay full price for something? Yet a quick search on your smartphone, or a direct question – “Is this about to go on sale?” – might reveal the best time to buy is next week. You could save a lot of money.
6. A lot of people have returned this item
Open-ended questions like, “Do your customers like this product?” are just set-ups, and they’re begging for a scripted answer. Your inquiries have to be precise: How many people have returned this product? Unless you ask the question directly, your salesperson probably won’t tell you. In fact, he or she may not tell you even if you ask directly. You may have to do some independent research before making the purchase.
When you buy a product, remember that salespeople are there to persuade you to buy a product – not necessarily to make an informed buying decision. It’s the nature of the beast. And what they don’t tell you is as important – if not more important – than what they do.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.