The Art of Selling Lives On

Do you remember when listening to music meant being careful not to scratch the LP when putting down the record-player needle, or turning the radio dial to find a clear AM or FM station? How about dropping a dime for a pay-phone call or spending an evening answering letters? Did you ever spend hours researching in the library, looking at the family's encyclopedia or reading newspapers to find information?

Do you remember when listening to music meant being careful not to scratch the LP when putting down the record-player needle, or turning the radio dial to find a clear AM or FM station?

How about dropping a dime for a pay-phone call or spending an evening answering letters? Did you ever spend hours researching in the library, looking at the family's encyclopedia or reading newspapers to find information?

Now, music is delivered by computer. Cell phones, email and social networks have become ubiquitous means of communication. The Internet virtually has replaced all avenues for research and information delivery.

Yet the basics remain: we still listen to music, communicate with others and garner information.

The automotive business is no different. The way we reach, interact and communicate with customers has changed. The art of selling has not. In fact, virtually everything except the way people sell and buy has been replaced with something new. Ultimately, every customer still comes into the dealership to buy from a salesperson.

Everyone knows business today is down, but are your sales people down, too? Salespeople and sales managers can buy in to the negativity blasting Americans from every angle — or they can actively sell cars.

Unfortunately, many auto salespersons have stopped selling, managers have stopped managing and dealerships have stopped thriving.

At APB, we see one of two things happening. One, salespeople and managers push so hard that customers are intimidated into non-action and can't make a decision. Or two, customers aren't given the option of becoming a be-back; it's buy now or nothing.

In essence, it's an abandonment of the basics, and an adoption of negative attitudes that become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nurturing a positive attitude is essential for any dealership.

Most dealerships look solely at units sold to reward star performers. This is one of the fastest ways to de-motivate and create negative attitudes.

Worse, it confirms management's perception that sales people are to blame for poor results and fosters sales people's beliefs that people have no money to spend and don't really want to buy.

Negative words that kill deals have crept into the team's vocabulary, helping to put the brakes on your success.

The information super highway has change the way we do business. Today, the only two things customers can't do without coming to the dealership are drive it and buy it — regardless of how much research is done online.

While it's crucial for dealerships to make use of every opportunity and tool to reach prospects and get the information they need to spark interest, the goal of all these tools should help you to bring traffic to the dealership.

What's Your Job?

What happened to the days when a sales manager dropped everything to sell cars? A sales manager's job is no different today than it was 20 years ago: to help sales people sell and customers buy. It's not simply to sell. There is nothing in a dealership more important than taking care of customers and closing the business that is standing in front of you.

A salesperson's job is to be a selection specialist who helps customers choose the exact car that fits individual needs. When focusing this way, sales people take this approach.

  1. Ask specific questions that are direct, but non-confrontational or pushy and that draw out specific information that builds on the salesperson's ability to move the process forward. Find out how the customer intends to use the car — work, recreation, etc.
  2. Learn what the customer's true preferences are for style, comfort, color, etc., and what they like and dislike about their current car.
  3. Listen to the customer's responses. This is the most important, and often the most neglected, step in being a selection specialist.
  4. Find the right car, the one that meets the customer's preferences.
  5. Move to an introduction — hood, trunk, demo drive. This is all part of the selection process.

If you try to sell customers something they don't like or want, you end up with little or nothing. The key is proper selection. When sales people remember that their job is to help buyers find the right car, “now” becomes irrelevant.

If the customer doesn't yet have all the information needed to decide, how can the customer buy now? Whether a buyer completes a deal today or next week doesn't matter; what matters is that they buy, and buy from your dealership.

Given that, if buyers want to consider their purchase, the sales person must gain enough information before the buyer leaves to maintain contact, especially in the first 72 hours.

Minimally, the salesperson should:

  • Collect and record standard, detailed data.
  • Present the best possible deal on the car that the buyer wants before he or she leaves the store.
  • Develop and execute a follow-up plan designed to bring the buyer back to close the deal. This positions the salesperson to get the deal, additional revenue and referrals.

Every problem has a solution. Relying on the basic art of selling — the one constant in our business — lets you capture market share from competitors who only focus on closing the deal now.

Always remember: A salesperson's job is not to sell cars, but to help customers buy them.

Richard F. Libin is president of APB-Automotive Profit Builders, Inc., a firm with more than 40 years experience working with both sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology. He is at [email protected] or 508-626-9200.

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