During economic contractions, smart dealers get as lean as possible in every department, yet still protect their ability to generate revenue.
In sales, this means the folks who stay have earned the right by performance first, not by tenure. Who would we be better off keeping in a sales force of 10 people, a long-tenured employee who consistently produces only 6% of total sales or a relative newcomer producing at or above 10%?
We are likely to still have some work to do in making sure every salesperson is executing the steps of the sale to the highest standards. Re-identify these best practices so there is no confusion. This applies to managers as well as sales people.
Here are four steps that often are not performed as well as they should be:
Delivering a real world class demo to every customer. Many sales people today, even good ones, make the mistake of asking the customer if they'd like to demo the car. Then they compound that error by asking if they'd like to drive alone. Here's where some “old school” practices are still the best practices. Don't ask.
Having offered a warm greeting, performed a needs analysis, selected a vehicle that should work and presented a fun and value-rich walk-around, urge the customer into the passenger seat with a friendly, energetic, “C'mon, let me take you for a drive and show you a few features while you're relaxed in the passenger seat. Then you can drive it all you want!”
“C'mon” is a beautiful and effective phrase when offered with enthusiasm. It's astonishing how few sales people have been trained to execute this critical piece. It's time for managers to get busy teaching or re-teaching it.
A trainer told me that no matter how many times we have personally driven a vehicle, the demo is “opening night” for the customer. That is as true today as ever. It doesn't matter how much information customers have gleaned online. They are buying the vehicle to drive it and that is a hands-on experience. It doesn't matter if they've driven the exact same model at another dealership. Don't rely on a salesperson down the street to do our job for us.
When we take customers out, we do so with two very clear intentions: a) to show the vehicle performs the way they told us they want it to and b) to further build our relationship as we sit side by side.
When we say “show” how the vehicle delivers, that's exactly what we mean. If freeway-ramp acceleration matters, punch it up there. If quiet matters, close the windows, turn off the radio and draw the customer's attention to it. If braking matters, find a safe road to demonstrate that. If handling matters, find a couple of good “S” turns to safely demonstrate that. And so on with safety, comfort and convenience.
By the time we reach a good turn-around spot, one that shows off the lines and color of the car, there should be no doubt in the customer's mind that this car performs as desired. If it doesn't, head back to the store to find another! Assuming it is the right vehicle, we guide the customer back (safely, through as many right turns as possible) and confirm that they are feeling what we just showed them. By the time we arrive back at the dealership, the customer should be secretly itching to sign. Take it from this old car guy ? it's a lot easier to get people into a demo than we have come to believe, if done right. I have worked with a salesperson who had a demo average above 80%. Okay, he was great, but 50% is eminently possible with practice. I've done it and seen it done. It takes training, practice and belief.
F&I or sales managers should come out and meet the customer early. This is a time for all managers to be activists. No sitting around in offices when things are slow. We need them out on the floor, dropping by to introduce themselves, doing a little needs assessment, interjecting some warmth and humor and trying to move the selling process along.
Only managers, and preferably F&I managers, should discuss payments in detail with the customer. Yes, there is a lot of finance information online available today, but that doesn't make the customer or the sales person an expert in financing.
Many variables are involved in securing a car loan. Sales people should defer when questions of payments and interest rates come up other than those that are advertised. It's easy enough to say, “Jack, my bailiwick is these vehicles here. I have nothing more than “ballparking” in my head when it comes to the numbers. But Charlie and Jill are our finance experts and I'd be happy to have you sit down with them whenever you're ready. Let's make sure we're on a vehicle that really works for you.”
Every customer should be turned to a manager before leaving the store. Again, this is an old but best practice, when done graciously. If a manager has already made casual contact with the customer as mentioned in tip No.2, it's easy to say, “Jane, hang on just a second…I'll be right back.” Then the sales person hustles to get that particular manager.
If he or she is tied up, they get another desk or F&I person for a “courtesy turn.” They'll understand their job is to walk out a few steps in back of the sales person, who now tells the customer, “In case you call in or come back and I'm not available, I want you to have another friendly face to relate to. This is Bill.”
Bill, the manager, will thank the customer for coming in and attempt to gently re-assess their needs to see if something was missed and the selling process can be continued to a happy conclusion right now.
The turnover has gotten a bad rap over the years in the hands of some managers who “hammered” the customer. Don't do that. Use professionalism — assertive but gracious interaction. That's always superior to hard-core tactics.
Frankly, we should have been doing all four of these during good times. But let's face it; success can be its own worst enemy. Today, there is no room to be anything less than brilliant at the basics. And these really are basics.
Every sales trainer I know in the business has good material that fleshes them out. Of course, even with the best training, we don't expect 100% success; but we do expect maximum focus and effort. We track and manage exceptions and try to learn from them.
Today, sales people must stretch themselves to be sharper than ever. Managers must do the same, becoming activists, holding their people and themselves accountable to best practices.
Those who cannot or will not embrace such a call don't belong on the team. This is true in all departments, each of which has its own best practices, which brings us to the dealer.
If activism is the call for managers, it certainly is for dealers as well. Dealers should be fully engaged, sleeves rolled up, leading all departments with the kind of high-spirits, clarity and steadiness that is most likely to assure survival.
Auto industry veteran Bob Kamm is president of Kamm Consulting, a leadership development firm in San Luis Obispo, CA. He is author of many articles as well as three book: The Superman Syndrome, Real Fatherhood and Lyric Heart. Website: www.bobkamm.com. Email: [email protected]. Phone: 805-235-1718.