Poor Questions Can Kill

Sales people know they need to ask questions to gather valuable information from today's more educated customer. Thought-out questions ease tension, uncover buying motives and extract useful information. However, poorly worded questions asked at the wrong time can create customer discomfort and even destroy credibility. Customers may even perceive them to be trick questions and think their answers

Sales people know they need to ask questions to gather valuable information from today's more educated customer. Thought-out questions ease tension, uncover buying motives and extract useful information.

However, poorly worded questions asked at the wrong time can create customer discomfort and even destroy credibility.

Customers may even perceive them to be trick questions and think their answers may put them at a disadvantage. That creates tension, and salespeople generally end up extracting unrealistic numbers and inaccurate information that can be impossible to overcome. This, in turn, motivates customers to shop elsewhere, unconvinced of the value of buying at your dealership.

There are three commonly asked questions that should be avoided.

The first: “What color would you like?” Invariably, the customer will choose the one color vehicle you do not have. If your salesperson cannot switch them, you end up with a dealer trade at best. This delays the sale, perhaps allowing the customer's emotions to diminish.

So what should we do? One option would be to say, “If you had to choose your three favorite colors, what would they be?” This triples your odds of having one in stock and doesn't ask the customer to “settle” for some other color.

The second option is not to ask any questions concerning color. Once you have determined the appropriate type of vehicle, share all the colors you have in stock. Customers may find a new favorite they didn't even know existed.

Another question to avoid is, “What monthly payment would you like?” As well intended as this may be, the customer may think it's a trick question and respond with a single, unrealistic number such as $200 a month.

Once they have mentioned a number, their ego is involved, and anything else is a cause for a fight.

To avoid this, ask for a payment range because that indicates flexibility on the customer's part. For instance, “Just in terms of a broad range, where would you like your monthly investment to fall, from what to what?” By saying “from what to what” you almost force them to fill in the blanks, therefore giving a range and demonstrating flexibility.

A third question to avoid is, “How much do you want to put down?” This allows the customer to dictate the terms. The response too often is “nothing” or “as little as possible.” Even worse is, “Do you want to put any money down?” This is too easily answered “no.” Then you have an uphill battle.

Obviously there is significant value in getting a healthy down payment. So how should it be handled?

First, your sales people should be prepared to share all the reasons why putting money down is in the customer's best interest.

Second, don't ask for down payment before customers are emotionally involved in the purchase.

Here are a couple of examples of what to say: “Lenders like to see about 20% down. On this vehicle, that would be about $3,800, or would you like your monthly payments even lower?” Or you could say, “Most of my customers seem to put $3,000-$4,000 down on a vehicle like this. Is that about what you were thinking?”

Both these questions suggest that substantial money down is normal and expected. Psychologically the customer will then be more inclined to volunteer whatever amount they can actually afford.

Obviously, we have only touched on a few of the questions involved in the selling process. When sales people understand the proper way to gather information, you will see sales, profits and customer satisfaction soar.

David Martin is president of the Mar-Kee Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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