Smart salespeople know your weaknesses, whether it's guilt, vanity, fear, or plain old laziness. And they're prepared to prey on any and all of them in their efforts to "always be closing." Moreover, it's not just at the time-share presentation or the used-car lot where you'll encounter such hard sells. You'll face the same tactics from life insurance salesmen, undertakers, and at the gym. Here are 8 of the toughest pitches you'll ever face, and what you can say to defend yourself.
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Next: Special discount if you buy now
The pitch: "This is a fantastic vehicle and I guarantee you it's going to sell fast. I want you to get it today, though, so I'm prepared to offer you a special discount to make this deal happen. But you'll have to buy it right now."
Why you should resist: It's almost impossible to evaluate on the spot all of the important variables in buying a car, such as purchase price, interest rate, and payment terms. Anthony Giorgianni, associate finance editor for Consumer Reports Money Adviser, suggests asking for a copy of the contract to review at home. And research vehicles online before making a decision. The bottom line? "It's probably not a great deal and [the salesman] doesn't want you to have time to think about it," Giorgianni says.
If you do agree to buy the car, by the way, the high-pressure sales will likely continue with pitches for extended warranties. Pass on the extras: One Consumer Reports study found that 37 percent of respondents who purchased extended warranties didn't end up needing them because their repairs were covered by factory warranties.
How to respond: With all the information available online, there's no reason to be sold a car - figure out what you want ahead of time and find a dealer who will meet your (reasonable) terms. If you do find yourself on the receiving end of an aggressive sales pitch at a car dealership, it's helpful to be clear and forceful up front. "I will NOT be buying a car today, period; if that's going to be a problem, I'll go to another dealership," is a line that should cause salespeople to back down.
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Next: A condo in paradise
The pitch: "Come to our beautiful resort and stay for a few days on us. All you have to do is attend a short sales presentation, after which we'll give you a ton of additional freebies. And then I'm sure you and your spouse will want to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime offer to own a piece of paradise for less than the cost of an annual vacation."
Why you should resist: Time-shares are sold by some of the best salespeople in the business. They earn a hefty commission when you sign on the dotted line so they're going to pull out all the stops to convince you to buy. But don't be fooled by the slick sales pitches, or guilted by all the freebies they throw in, advises Bob Sullivan, author of Stop Getting Ripped Off: Why Consumers Get Screwed, and How You Can Always Get a Fair Deal. "[Time-shares are] almost never a good deal," he says. In addition to upfront costs and annual fees for maintenance, utilities, and taxes, it can be difficult to use a timeshare: Properties are booked far in advance, and while the flexibility to trade for weeks at another resort sounds great in theory, by the time you cut through all the red tape you'll need a second week of vacation.
How to respond: For starters, avoid the high-pressure sales pitch by steering clear of these presentations altogether, no matter how good the incentives sound. This is the classic sales trap: You've already accepted the largesse, so you feel as if you owe these people something. The sales pros seize that advantage, and they have quick comebacks to any objections you raise. It's not easy to say no. But if you find yourself stuck, try this line: "I have a trusted financial advisor who helps me make these kinds of decisions; let me talk to him about this package." Chances are, the salesman will set his sights on prospects who don't try to involve their "people."
3. Life Insurance
The pitch: "You must protect your loved ones now. Join us for a free lunch and let our financial advisors show you how to get the life insurance coverage you need. After all, your family is your most precious investment."
Why you should resist: As economist Milton Friedman (pictured above) explained, there's no such thing as a free lunch. "These sales pitches are designed to play on your emotions so you make a snap decision instead of an informed decision," says Janet Riessman, director of marketing communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. A 2007 investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission looked at free lunch seminars, which included the sale of insurance products, and found that advisors made exaggerated or misleading claims half the time, recommended potentially unsuitable investments for attendees 23 percent of the time, and appeared to be outright fraudulent 13 percent of the time.
How to respond: Free lunches, like timeshare presentations, are best avoided altogether. The lunch is paid for by the big commissions that will come out of your pocket if you buy the product. If it were worth owning, it wouldn't be sold this way. Should you find yourself eating a turkey sandwich and listening to a spiel about whole life policies, however, you can avoid the hard sell with a polite but firm statement: "I already have life insurance policies and I'm not looking to increase my coverage." If that doesn't work, get up and leave.
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Next: Crime is rising. Are you prepared?
4. Home Security Systems
The pitch: "Crime is up in your neighborhood. A security system will protect your family and your home for the rest of your life. It's a small price to pay for peace of mind."
Why you should resist: Most plans charge upfront fees for equipment, installation, and activation plus costly monthly monitoring fees - not to mention long contracts that are hard to cancel. The systems are often sold door-to-door by commission-based salespeople. To encourage you to sign up, home security companies often offer introductory rates; when those rates increase, you could end up paying a lot more than you had planned. "You should always be wary of someone trying to sell you something door-to-door," cautions Riessman of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
How to respond: Door-to-door solicitors are often less persistent than other commissioned salespeople, so it may be easier to give them the brush off. Try saying, "Thanks for coming. Let me look over the information and get back to you," while closing the door. Ignore the doorbell if he or she rings again.
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Next: Preying on the vulnerable
The pitch: "Let us create a memorable tribute for your loved one; we'll make sure that it reflects the loving relationship you shared. Since she was so special, we're sure you'll want to spare no expense to give her the final sendoff she deserves."
Why you should resist: It's a sad fact, but some funeral homes will try to take advantage of your state of mind to persuade you to buy unnecessary or extravagant products and services. In fact, it's a common enough occurrence that the Federal Trade Commission established the Funeral Rule to prevent predatory sales practices in the funeral business. According to the rule, funeral providers must provide (among other things) detailed price lists that explain which services are required by law. "Less reputable funeral providers will try to talk you into believing that how much money you spend reflects how you feel about the deceased," Riessman says.
How to respond: Go online to decide what you want before going to the funeral home (most have websites that list their services and prices). And when you get there, be firm about your wishes. If you still encounter an undertaker that insists on extras you don't want or refuses to disclose their prices, walk out and report the violation to the FTC.
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Next: Termite horror stories
The pitch: "These ants/cockroaches/termites are extremely difficult to get rid of, so it's a good thing you've called in the experts. We need to get to work right away to prevent your whole house from getting infested."
Why you should resist: Exterminators know you're relying on their expertise and will exploit that fact, selling you on an initial service and repeat treatments or pushing an expensive annual contract you might not need to prevent further problems. "They'll keep telling you horror stories to get you to sign up for their service," says author Bob Sullivan. He advises against signing up for services on the spot no matter how desperate you are to get rid of the creepy crawlies.
How to respond: Resist the urge to sign the contract. Tell the salesman, "I'm going to get a few other bids and I'll get back to you." When he or she starts telling you horror stories about what might happen if you don't sign up now, insist: "Scare tactics won't work with me. We're getting more bids before making a decision."
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Next: Investing in your abs
7. Gym Memberships
The pitch: "Our state-of-the-art equipment and experienced personal trainers will help you meet all your fitness goals. Our regular price is $X a year, but we're offering a special: Join today and we'll waive the initiation fee and offer you low monthly payments. Isn't your body worth the investment?"
Why you should resist: You may feel like you need to cover your love handles when a toned and tanned sales rep tells you why you need to join the gym today, but don't let vanity rule your pocketbook - or your common sense. While joining a gym can make a lot of sense if you use it regularly, many people sign up and only go infrequently. And once you get locked into a contract, it can be hard to cancel.
To make it even more challenging, gyms often require memberships to be debited from your checking account, not charged to your credit card. "A lot of gyms will not accept credit cards because they offer too much consumer protection," says author Bob Sullivan. In 2010, the Better Business Bureau received 6,669 complaints about health clubs, a 26 percent increase from 2007, with many of those complaints related to membership issues.
How to respond: If you're seriously considering joining, ask for a trial membership to check out the facilities. When your trial expires, you'll be subject to another high-pressure sales pitch. If the gym didn't live up to your expectations, tell the sales exec that you decided to join another gym.
8. Brand New Puppy
The pitch: "I promise to walk the dog and clean up after him; I'll even save my allowance to help pay for his food and vet visits. Pleeeeeaaassse!"
Why you should resist: For all their training and practice, the salespeople cited above are junior varsity compared with your 8-year-old, who's tugging hard on your heartstrings for a four-legged friend. But Meagan Francis, author of The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood, says falling for those puppy-dog eyes is usually a bad idea. "No matter how fervently your child insists he or she will [take responsibility for the dog], the job almost always falls to mom and dad," she says. "When the newness wears off and they decide they'd rather go to sleepovers and ball games than walk the dog, you're still going to have a dog to take care of."
You'll also be the one who has to pay for Fido's care. The ASPCA estimates that, after adoption fees, it costs up to $875 per year to care for a dog.
How to respond: Would you actually consider owning a dog someday? If so, the right response might be, "It's not the right time for us to adopt a dog. I promise we can talk about it again when you're a little older." If you're an avowed non-dog family, however, be honest with your child and offer a compromise such as playtime with a neighborhood dog.
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