The Buyer Interview in Automotive Sales

00014502The phrase “buyer interview” may not be one you’ve heard, but it’s one I strongly recommend you understand. Conducting an effective buyer interview is similar to what a good journalist does when interviewing someone for an article. You ask questions that get them talking about their situations, their needs, their desires, their concerns. In other words, you get them to tell you what they want to own. It will also help you realize those situations where what the buyer is telling you they want may not be what they truly need.

For example, I know of a situation where a man went to a dealership to get a new minivan. He told the salesperson he just wanted to replace his old one. After asking a few of the questions you’ll learn about here, the salesperson realized that this man’s needs had changed since purchasing the minivan. His children were older now. They had taken up some outdoor activities that would be better suited to owning an SUV. When the salesperson repeated back to the client what he was hearing him say about his needs the client realized that he was right. He didn’t really need another minivan. He needed something different. He purchased the SUV.

So, what are the typical interview questions? The same ones our teachers taught us to use in elementary school: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. It’s truly that simple. In fact, most strategies for effectively communicating with clients are. It’s just a matter of using them.

Using the standard interview style, here are some keys for developing effective questions. These questions will get the answers you need in order to help clients make vehicle ownership questions that are truly good for them.


  • Who will be the primary driver? That person is typically the true decision-maker when it comes to ownership. Also, their input as to style, color and options is critical.
  • Who else will be in the vehicle often? If there are young children involved, you’ll want to be certain to cover safety features, or suggest the optional DVD players.
  • Who will make the final buying decision? There’s nothing more disappointing than going through your whole      presentation and getting to the point where you ask for their final decision, and they say, “Everything is great. Let me go talk to my wife/husband/dad/mom, etc.”  Are you willing to have someone else present your vehicle to the decision-makers? Certainly not. They aren’t familiar with it like you are and couldn’t handle any objections and questions that would lead to the close. Always make sure you give your presentation to the actual decision-makers.


  • What are their motivations for getting a new vehicle?  Is the      current one broken down? Has their lifestyle situation changed?
  • What will it do for them? Are they seeking a status vehicle with all the bells and whistles? Or, something simple and durable for their work or recreation needs? These question are essential because you don’t want to emphasize a point that      they are uninterested in or have had a bad past experience with. The vehicle they’re interested in might be available in four-wheel drive. You may think that’s great because you spend your free time out in the wilderness. These folks may never leave the city.


  • When will they need it? Is there urgency for owning a new vehicle? If their existing vehicle is in disrepair, they are likely to be in a hurry. That’s good for you. If there’s no urgency, the sale may not happen today and you’ll have to serve their needs differently.
  • When is the timing right? Perhaps they’re waiting for their tax return. Maybe the vehicle is a gift for a child graduating this Spring or going off to college in the Fall.

Another important when question is: When do you go for the close? You don’t, of course, ask them this one, but it’s one you need to answer on your. I’ve always taught that you gain a closing instinct by closing too soon, too often.  Always work towards the close and always be willing to close any time, any place.  This could be in a conference room, in your office, on the lot or during the test drive. Don’t miss out on the opportunity by not being ready and willing to close when you see that they’re ready to make the decision.


  • Where will they use it? Help them see themselves driving to work, taking the kids to practice, or taking a road trip in the vehicle. Developing this sense of ownership in your prospect moves them closer to choosing the right vehicle for their needs.


  • Why should they own this vehicle now? It’s your job to create a sense of urgency if they don’t already have one. They deserve to be driving the right vehicle for their needs today, don’t they?
  • Why are they thinking about it?  If they want to think over the decision, ask them what aspects are holding them back from making a decision today.


  • How can they finance it?
  • How does it fit into their lifestyle? The value of getting them talking about their lives is incredible. They will often talk themselves into ownership with you simply acting as their guide.

By now, you should be getting the picture of how the interview will go. Be careful to come across as an adviser or automobile counselor. Don’t grill them with all of these questions. Simply weave them into your conversations.

Copyright Tom Hopkins International, Inc. For reprint permission of this or any Tom Hopkins’ blog posts, contact Judy Slack (



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