Attention, Buying a Car, and Control

One thing that really sticks in my craw is how many salesmen take advantage of ignorance. When I bought my first car, for example, the salesman considered me as someone who he should try and get as much money from as he could, not someone who he should offer a fair deal in the hopes […]

One thing that really sticks in my craw is how many salesmen take advantage of ignorance. When I bought my first car, for example, the salesman considered me as someone who he should try and get as much money from as he could, not someone who he should offer a fair deal in the hopes of getting future business. He took advantage of my ignorance of how the car business works and I learned a lesson. I promised myself that when I bought a car the next time, I would be in control.

So the next time I bought a car I did what I had to do to be in the position of power. My wife had been reading the Motley Fool books (which are great, BTW) and they had a brilliant idea. Figure out what kind of car you want, and tell as many dealerships as you can. Then, let them bid for your business.

This is how it works:

  1. Decide exactly what kind of car you want (2003 Honda Accord LX in grey)
  2. Create a letter stating that you’re going to buy this exact car
  3. Fax this letter to all the area dealerships (I sent it to 16 Honda dealerships)
  4. Make sure to let them know that you’re sending this to other dealerships, and that you’ll make your decision in one week based on who has the best deal for you
  5. Wait for the return faxes, and make a decision

I can’t tell you how great it felt when the faxes rolled in. This strategy worked like a charm. We got 14 out of 16 dealerships to reply. Their prices were all over the place: some were at MSRP and some were at invoice, with most in between. So our choice had been narrowed to the 3 that had offered us the car at invoice. And this was a brand new car design, the 2003 Accords are significantly different than the 2002s, so we were really lucky to get it at that price. And we got a car that we’re still very happy with.

But we actually weren’t lucky. Instead, we were in control. And it felt odd, because we had been so out of control in our first experience buying. So this experience and others like it are exactly why I’m so interested in Attention with a capital A.

I’m not interested in Attention in order to get, well, attention. You see, Attention and the AttentionTrust is about putting people (that’s us) in control. It’s about giving people the leverage we deserve.

Here is how I see Attention working in a very similar way to how I bought a car.

  1. Decide what you want out of life (not just a car)
  2. Somehow record your attention-data objectively. This is approximately the same as creating a letter with your intention to buy
  3. Sign up for services (perhaps /ROOT) that allow you to talk with interesting parties (there will be some smart companies who realize that this data is much richer than what they’re getting). This is akin to sending your fax around.
  4. Make sure to let them know you’re serious, and don’t throw your attention data everywhere. Let them know that you’ll make your decision based on how well they treat you, not just how much money or prizes they’ll initially give you. Demand respect.
  5. Wait for the replies. Choose the best one, and make it be or lead to something you want out of life.

Is this crazy? Could this ever work? Would we ever have the leverage to do this?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I can tell you, when I sent out those 16 faxes to area dealerships, I never would have predicted to hear back from 88% of them, and I never would have guessed how much control I had.

Published: November 21st, 2005

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