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The challenges of working as a car salesman.

Updated on November 16, 2014

To sell or not to sell, that is the question at hand.

First and foremost the reality of being a commissioned sales person needs to be addressed. Living solely off of earned commission is unlike anything that most of us has ever done. It holds the promise of making a ton of money in a short period of time. This is where the "promise" and reality collide. The reality is: you may make a ton of money in a short period of time, or you may waste countless hours of your life working and not making ANY money. Even worse, you may end up owing money if you are involved in a system such as the "draw."

The "draw" is minimum wage that is paid to you at an hourly rate, IF you do not sell anything. The rational is that you still have this small yet steady income. Here is the clincher though - you have to pay it back out of your next commission (when you sell a vehicle in the case of car salesman).

If you find yourself to "deep" into the draw, you run the risk of being terminated. This depends on the organization, usually ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Needless to say, this can become very stressful very quickly.

Opportunities abound to drive cool cars! Selling them is a different story..

The Hyundai Genesis was the preferred sports car of "Burn Notice" character Fiona Glenanne.
The Hyundai Genesis was the preferred sports car of "Burn Notice" character Fiona Glenanne. | Source

Daily Operations and Duties.

In my experience, there were two sales meetings per week on the busiest days of the week, Saturday and Monday, respectfully. Although these sales meetings were mostly positive, they were also mostly uninformative. Think a pep rally without the cheerleaders.

After the sales meeting, off to work you go! First thing in the morning, before it became busy, it was wise to log into the customer relation management system and begin to make that days follow up calls. Most of these calls were relatively unfruitful. Almost always you would get someone's voice mail and if you were unfortunate enough to actually get a hold of someone, it was almost always negative. Usually they griped about you calling them, or they would be upset that you could not get them financed for thirty-five thousand dollars with no money down for three hundred dollars a month for sixty months at zero percent APR. Occasionally you would get in touch with an elderly person that was lonely and wanted to talk forever about personal matters. Although this was refreshing, it was not lucrative nor beneficial to either party.

After making your phone calls and answering emails, then it was time to stake out the lot in hopes of finding an “up.” An “up” is a potential customer/sales lead. This is the really tedious part of the job. Most car dealerships operate off of an “open floor,” meaning that there is no organization or even rules to which sales person gets the next “up.” Think “every man for himself.” This can lead to competition and even potential violence! My first Saturday morning, I was actually physically shoved out of the way as another salesman went for an “up.” Grant it, the rest of the sales staff chewed him out, but it still REALLY upset me.

There is the weather to contend with. If it is cold, rainy or excessively windy, you can count on it being dead. This means that you will sit around all day, staring out the front window and looking at other sales people. If you wander off to use the restroom, grab a bite to eat, or get a drink; you may potentially miss out on one of the only “ups” of the day. Keep in mind, the whole time you are being paid minimum wage, that you have to PAY BACK when you finally sell a car.

At any given time, you may also be expected to perform miscellaneous duties at the dealership. Moving cars around, cleaning snow off of cars, running errands for management among many other odd ball jobs. Although most of the time this is neither difficult nor even un-enjoyable, you have to keep in mind that you are paying them to do this work. Anytime you are not actively selling a vehicle, you are being paid minimum wage that is owed to the dealer and comes out of future commissions.

Looks happy don't he?

Car Salesman have been around almost as long as Cars..
Car Salesman have been around almost as long as Cars.. | Source

The Biggest Challenge: The money versus the hours.

There are some people that spend years working in the automotive sales business and do quite well. Unfortunately these folks are the exception to the rule. Even the successful sales people spend fifty to seventy hours a week at work. Many of the successful salesman starve to death for the first few years in the business. Honestly, it seemed much like gambling to me.

In reality, most automotive sales people work long hours while dealing with difficult people: all while making little more then minimum wage. Thankfully they do not pay time and a half for hours over forty; since you have to pay that money back out of your future commissions. Let us not forget, to far into the draw and your terminated. Sound like a winning proposition?

The Second Biggest Challenge: Customers.

When it comes down to it, most people HATE car salesman. They automatically think your going to lie to them and that you kick puppy dogs. Of course customers are usually more likely to lie to the salesman then the salesman are to lie to them. Customers will dodge the salesman, I even witnessed a customer literally RUNNING back to their vehicle to avoid talking to a salesman.

How do you feel about Car Salesman?

When your approached by a Car Salesman, what is your first reaction?

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Here are a few of the experiences that I had, and quotes from potential customers:

  • The majority of people that I met under the age of thirty would not purchase a vehicle without having their parents present. Even if they did not need a co-signer. They thought that having their parents with them would ward off any evil spirits such as: car payments, down payments, salesman, warranties and credit applications. It would have been amusing if they had not been wasting my time and so sad that they had not grown up yet.

  • “A car is a car. I don't want to look inside of it, or drive it. I don't care about the rebates. I want to know how much you can take off the sticker price right here and now. I'm not going inside, I'm 73 years old and don't have time to be jerked around.” That was the first thing out of his mouth, I tried to talk to him and basically he kept repeating the above mantra. Five minutes into it I shook his hand, thanked him for coming in and told him I could not help him and simply walked away. The look on his face was priceless!

  • “I'm not buying a car for about two years, but I want to test drive some.”

  • “I can't believe you told me all of those lies!” I responded: “what lies?” Customer: “I don't know, that's why there lies, but I know you had to have lied?” - I never lied to anyone, dude was nuts.

  • When a customer returned after spending three hours at the dealership: “I can't believe that you let us leave without buying a car!” Manager responded: “So what, you expected me to beg?” Yes, they still bought a car.

There were many other incidents and comments, but this is an article/hub, not a book.

The Perks:

  • I met some interesting people.

  • The opportunity to drive vehicles that I ordinarily would never even have sat in (think high-end imports).

  • It is a good excuse to dress nice.

  • Clean working environment (usually).

  • In my experience, I liked my co-workers. Other peoples experiences may vary though.

The Universe Made Car Sales People.

My experience was better than most.

Many of the people I worked with had been at other dealerships. The particular auto group I worked for is considered one of the best in the state. I heard stories of spontaneous firings at Christmas parties and fist fights between salesman at other dealerships. Needless to say most people do not stay in auto sales very long. I was not the exception. Although it was short lived, I enjoyed the people I worked with, but the hours versus the pay (that had to be paid back) made it an unpractical course to pursue.

If you are considering a career in the auto industry, be sure to ask your prospective employer plenty of questions concerning: hourly pay (draw), commission, bonus, scheduled work hours, open floor or a sales rotation, internet leads and phone leads. Also, try to observe the culture of the dealership. Watch the body language of the staff, if they look like they'd rather be dead, RUN!

Make sure you are realistic in your expectations of yourself. Do you have the ability and the disposition to work a lot of hours without knowing how much your income is going to be? Are you able to stand the thought of paying someone else for the opportunity to make income? How is this going to effect your mood and your family life? Whether you choose to sell cars or to do something else; make sure that you are accurately informed and that you have your eyes and ears wide open.

If you have any questions, please leave comments below:


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Couldn't agree with this any more if i tried. I got to drive some incredible high end cars. Worked with some great people. The rest of it was a freaking drag.

    • biblicaliving profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thanks for your comment Mr. Jay! "Rough" isn't the word I would use.. More like "Brutal."

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      3 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan surprise that it was not a big change in your life. It s a rough world out on the lot! Well done.

    • biblicaliving profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from U.S.A.

      Ron, I understand your lack of sympathy. It's a "dog eat dog" world we live in. Thanks for your comment!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This was interesting to read. My opinion of car salespeople is probably pretty much like that of most who go through the dreaded process of purchasing a car - not very high. I never knew or thought of their travails. But that probably won't make me more sympathetic to them the next time I go out to buy a car.


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