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A Day in the Life of a Auto Salesperson

Car salespeople like the challenge of learning about autos and the unique features of each model and brand, and finding the appropriate match for a customer. "I don't know of another profession," mentioned one salesman, "where there's so much excitement and uncertainty. Everyone who walks into your business wants to buy a car. You've got to find a way to make them want to buy your car. You've got to understand what they need." This psychological aspect to the profession cannot be minimized. People buy cars for a variety of reasons, and the automobile salesman's job is to discover what those are. Successful salesmen are combinations of businessmen, advisors, and friends. The average automobile salesman sells between 200 and 1,000 cars per year. Most average over one per day. Although many salesmen work partially for salary, many include "commission on sales" as a significant part of their compensation, placing them under some pressure to sell cars. Professional turnover, based primarily on production, is high. Those who can't sell cars aren't given a long chance to prove themselves; dealers are under pressure to sell cars themselves. Automobile dealers follow their clients from the moment they walk into the dealership through their signing of the final paperwork. Successful salespeople exude honesty and interest. Integrity is respected. Car sales requires someone who thrives on the excitement of the deal and has a strong degree of self-confidence. Other important qualities are the ability to listen, a thorough knowledge of product line, and an understanding of financing options. The most significant schism in the industry is between those who work for initial dealerships, and those who work for used car dealerships. Not only must the used-car salesman be aware of the features associated with a variety of models, she must also be familiar with mileage, modifications, rebuilds, and the quirks of each car on the lot. As well, the used-car salesman works against a stereotype as a slick, oily con-artist looking to make a quick buck. Part of this may be due to the larger commissions used-car salesman make on each sale, thus encouraging them to complete as many sales as possible.

Paying Your Dues

A high-school education is required mainly by the large employers. College coursework in such fields as marketing, finance, sales, psychology and public speaking is becoming more common. Large employers have their own sales-training methods, and many new salesmen spend three or four weeks at a national training center, where they learn about the manufacturing process, each model's features, all available options, general negotiating strategies and the culture of the company they work for. Others are trained by other salesmen and have an initial probationary period where all deals must be overseen and approved by more experienced colleague. Voluntary certification through the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and the Society of Automotive Sales Professionals (SASP) is gaining popularity, but is not required.

Present and Future

Automobile salesman have been around since the time cars were first mass-produced in the 1870s. Though marked by years of stereotyping as oily, pressure-bearing, and vaguely misogynistic misinformants, car salesmen have become a different breed in the modern era. Competition between dealerships, well-advertised financing terms, and a populace with computer and published resources all have forced the car salesman to be a better listener, more honest, and more informative. The general responsibilities of car salesmen are not expected to change in the near future, but the resources available to car buyers are expected to further expand. Car buyers can now research their purchases via books, the Internet, software, and comparative consumer studies on various makes of cars, so salesmen have to find new and creative ways to make their products seem more attractive. No longer can they rely completely on impulse-shopping consumers who choose cars based on their color or a television commercial jingle. Well-informed salespeople with a sound product should find this profession inviting in the future.

Quality of Life


The training period lasts between two and six weeks. The first three months may be considered a "probationary" period. By the end of the second year, salespeople have reasonable salaries, regular hours, and a professional ease in conducting sales. The majority of those unsuited to the profession leave within the first six months (40 percent).


At the five-year mark, automobile salesmen have managed to produce and sell at regular levels. Many have achieved bonus-triggering sales levels and some have renegotiated the amount of commission they receive. Fluidity of employer marks these years, as successful producers look for the best commissions deals they can cut and the most appropriate shop for their talents. A number find themselves surprised by the difficulty of moving from one realm of car sales--for example, the $9,000--$14,000 range--to another, such as the $20,000--$40,000 luxury car range. Those trying to increase sales work more hours; a few top salesmen sell near 1,000 cars per year.


Ten-year veterans are senior sales associates at large dealerships, and have found the level of consumer they are good at selling cars to. Many supervise newer employees and administer dealership responsibilities. A few who truly enjoy the world of sales continue their dealership-floor or used-lot responsibilities, usually with good success. Around half of ten-year veterans stay in sales part-time and take on other dealership duties. Salaries settle down, but quality of life improves with this choice. Satisfaction is average, as are hours.