Ask the Right Questions

When customers enter a dealership, the usual greeting is: How are you doing today, can I help you? Is it a surprise then that the usual response is, No thanks, I'm just looking. This is how untrained salesmen and women stop potential sales before they get started. If the salesperson had said, Welcome, I'm Joe Smith and my job today is to help you select a vehicle and get you a price, the response

When customers enter a dealership, the usual greeting is: “How are you doing today, can I help you?” Is it a surprise then that the usual response is, “No thanks, I'm just looking.”

This is how untrained salesmen and women stop potential sales before they get started.

If the salesperson had said, “Welcome, I'm Joe Smith and my job today is to help you select a vehicle and get you a price,” the response most likely would be positive. This allows Joe to use his sales techniques to go from browsing to a demonstration drive and ultimately to a sale — today, tomorrow or even next week.

It starts with the salesperson's understanding that his or her primary responsibility is to select the right car for each individual buyer. How do you get there? By asking the right questions that are direct but non-confrontational, and get specific information to move the process forward.

Ineffective approach:

Salesperson: “Hi, can I help you?”

Customer: “No thanks, I'm just looking.”

Effective approach:

Salesperson: “Welcome, I'm Joe Smith and my job today is to help you select a car and get you a price. Is that okay with you?”

Customer: “Sure. I'm just looking.”

Salesperson: “No problem. What models are you looking at?”

Customer: “I've been thinking about a new pickup truck.”

Salesperson: “Great. How would you be using the truck, more for fun and adventure or more for hauling and work-related activities?”

The salesperson quickly learns about the type of vehicle, potential uses, the feeling the customer is seeking. It allows the salesperson to present the right solutions and to steer the customer into a demo drive, a key part of the presentation.

Ineffective approach:

Salesperson: “Do you want to take a demo drive?”

Customer: “No, not now.”

Effective approach:

Salesperson: “Let me show you some features of the vehicle to make sure it meets your needs.”

Customer: “Okay.”

Asking the right questions encourages customers to answer in a way that gives direction on how the salesperson can help resolve uncertainties and ultimately sell the car.

Ineffective approach:

Salesperson: “Is the price right?”

Customer: “No.”

Effective approach:

Salesperson: “Other than the price, is this the right vehicle for you?”

Customer: “Well, actually, I don't like this color.”

This exchange should immediately alert the salesperson that the customer has not truly selected a vehicle. Without this crucial first step, the price will never be right. The color will not be satisfactory, and the sale will not be closed. The salesperson must go back and help the customer select the right vehicle.

Upon reaching that point, most sales people leave their desks to negotiate pricing with their managers. This makes customers feel abandoned and out of the loop. Automotive Profit Builders recommends doing this stage of the deal over the phone with the manager, keeping the customer and salesperson together.

Ineffective telephone approach:

Manager: “Does the customer like the car?”

Salesperson: “Yes.”

Manager: “Did she take a demo drive?”

Salesperson: “Yes.”

The customer's perception: I'm not involved, I'm being talked around and left out of the pricing discussions. Plus the manager is only getting the salesperson's perception.

Effective telephone approach:

Manager: “Ask the customer, ‘Have we selected the right vehicle?’”

Salesperson: “My manager wants to know if we selected the right vehicle.”

Customer: “Yes.”

Customer perception: I am involved and have input.

By asking questions that get clear information needed to direct the sales process, dealerships can avoid lengthy negotiations and conflicts that typically end without a sale.

Richard F. Libin is president of Automotive Profit Builders Inc., a dealership consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected] and 508-626-9200.

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