Two Cases of What Not to Do

I received the e-mail below in response to one of my Ward's Dealer Business columns on proper selling of vehicle. This person, a salesman by trade, shared two remarkable experiences that offer hard lessons for every car dealer, manager and sales staffer. Dear Richard: I recently read your article while waiting in my dealership for my car to be serviced. As a salesperson myself (electronics) I couldn't

I received the e-mail below in response to one of my Ward's Dealer Business columns on proper selling of vehicle. This person, a salesman by trade, shared two remarkable experiences that offer hard lessons for every car dealer, manager and sales staffer.

Dear Richard:

I recently read your article while waiting in my dealership for my car to be serviced. As a salesperson myself (electronics) I couldn't agree with you more.

I have to say, however, that not much has changed here in the NY metro area. To wit:

I recently helped a friend buy a new Toyota. During the test drive, the salesperson alluded to the fact that the front seats reclined and that we could have a great time with the girls. I told him we were gay (we're not) but the blood draining from his face was a priceless reaction!

Back at the dealership, he asked, “What do I have to do to put you in this car today?” I swear, no kidding, he actually said that. After negotiating, he whined that “Any more customers like you and I'll be out of business!” and “I'm not making a dime on this!”

Meanwhile a friend, recently divorced and armed with a large cash settlement, walks into the local Volvo dealership. “I hear Volvos are safe cars, what do you recommend?” Salesman: “Well, what do you want, an S60 or S40?” Friend: “I know nothing about them.”

Salesman (big sigh): “Let me show you what's in stock.” He takes her to a car on the lot, which is locked. He shrugs, and then his cell phone rings. It's his girlfriend. They argue while making heated dinner plans. Meanwhile, the car remains locked. The salesman ignores her. She walks.

She goes down the road to the Chrysler dealership, (Conway Motors) gets treated fairly and with respect, and walks out with a new Sebring and a new Liberty, paid for in cash.

When will these guys learn?
Best Regards,
Keith Andoos
P.S. Feel free to use these stories in your seminars/articles. You must be busy!

This stuff is happening and it may be happening in your dealership right now.

Now, I have to wonder what a trade journal, designed to inform and educate dealership personnel, is doing in the waiting area of the dealership? Certainly the publication doesn't gain from a consumer readership.

However this individual learned how sales people should act vs. how they do act. Is that good or bad for our business? His e-mail clearly answers this question.

In the first experience, he is helping a friend buy a vehicle. They go for a test drive and out of the blue the salesperson makes an off-color joke about using the car for something other than transportation.

This might have been funny with some people but it wasn't with these two. The buyer's friend responded that they were gay, inadvertently creating something of a MasterCard moment:

“Buying a new car with your best friend, $20,000; seeing the blood drain from the salesperson's face — PRICELESS.”

With that one joke, the salesperson lost his credibility. The joke was on him and he was forced to try and recover.

Back at the dealership, the situation worsened. Instead of creating value around the price of the vehicle by selling the most important sticker items first (i.e. double panel roof, meets emission standards, fuel economy) he devalued the vehicle when he asked, “What do I have to do to put you in this car today?

This trite question put the salesperson in the unnecessary and undesirable position of having to tell the customer “no” and justify his price. For example:

Salesperson: “What do I have to do to put you in this car today?”

Customer: “Give us a $20,000 car for $10,000.”

Salesperson: “I can't do that.

As a result, the salesperson is forced to tell the customer all the reasons why not. Now what happens? How does the salesperson get into a position to win? All the customer has to do is remain steadfast while the salesperson continues to drop the price.

Typically the salesperson would then say, “Would you buy it now if I gave it to you for _____” The answer, “No,” and the customer remains in the driver's seat.

After negotiating and surprisingly, closing the deal the salesperson seals the dealership's fate by whining, “Any more customers like you and I'll be out of business!” Is that the customer's fault? Is it the salesperson's? Or is it management's for employing such a person? Comments like that cost customers and credibility.

Bottom Line

In this case, the salesperson only closed the sale because the customer wanted to buy more than the salesperson wanted to sell. Here's a chart to break down the situation:

In the second example, obvious questions come to mind. Did the salesperson know the customer was divorced, had money, was ready to buy, knew about Volvos? Answers: No, no, no, and no.

Volvo sells safety. When this customer walked in, echoing the brand message and asked for a recommendation, she was saying, “Help me make a decision on how to spend my money on the right car for me.”

Rather than respectfully asking qualifying questions (“How will you use the car?” “How big is your family?” “Is this for work?”), the salesperson flippantly replied, “Do you want an S60 or S40?” He essentially dismissed the customer's request, confusing her in the process.

Persisting, she tells the salesperson that she doesn't know exactly what she wants and essentially begs him to help her. His response was a “big sigh” to let her know that she is wasting his time since real Volvo customers already know the brand.

Rather than showing her a floor model, making a presentation and putting her in a demo drive, he takes her to the lot where he knows the cars are locked, takes a call from his girlfriend (after all, isn't she more important?) and leaves the customer standing at a locked vehicle. What happens?

She leaves, goes to Chrysler and pays cash for two new cars — not necessarily because of the product features, but because she is treated with respect.

It sounds much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake.” The Volvo salesperson took a buyer and turned her into a shopper who likely will never consider a Volvo again.

What made the difference at the dealership she bought from?

  • No pre-judging that as a female she couldn't/wouldn't buy. (The U.S. Census reports there are more females than males in the U.S., and with a lot of buying power.)
  • Understanding her needs. What did she want? How would she use it? Did she have family, pets, etc.?
  • Presenting her with the right vehicles, getting her to “hug the bumper.”
  • Treating her with respect throughout the sale.

The person who e-mailed me is citing the arrogance that exists in our business.

Sales people must treat every customer with respect and think long-term. If they have done everything right and don't get the sale, the customer still may come back or may refer others.

Conversely, if they sweep a customer out the door, they've eliminated any future business potential. What is the price to be paid when this happens and who pays it? Unfortunately, more than anybody, the dealer.

Richard F. Libin is president of Automotive Profit Builders, Inc., a firm that works with dealership sales and service departments to enhance customer satisfaction and gross profits. He is at [email protected] and 508-626-9200.

Problem Result A Better Way
The salesperson did not have the customer “hugging the bumper” or instill a sense of value for the price with the customer. Put in a position to continually justify the cost of the vehicle. Help the customer pick the vehicle that is right for them.
Sell the highest value items on the sticker first.
The salesperson tried to get an offer out of the customer before showing them the dealer's price — “What would it take to get you into the car today?” Checkmate. Allowed the customer to drive negotiations. Present the dealer's offer first and let the customer make the counter offer.
The salesperson allowed the transaction to become a marathon negotiation. Enabled the customer to remain steadfast, forcing the salesperson to continue dropping the price to close the sale. Focus on doing business with us and then the business will come — now.
The salesperson made inappropriate comments during the transaction. Alienated customers, lost potential referrals.
Low gross and CSI rating for the dealership.
Get to know your customer.
Never ask a question without first knowing the answer first.

Questions or comments about this column? Send us an e-mail at [email protected].

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