At one time or another, every dealership salesperson has heard something along these lines: “The majority of the vehicle purchasing process now takes place before the customer ever sets foot inside the dealership. Sales has just become the place for picking a specific car or truck and haggling over price.”
This line of thought is both right and wrong. It’s right because customers do indeed have access to more information than ever before, and they take advantage of it to be better informed and closer to a decision when they first walk through your door than at any point in the industry’s history.
It’s also wrong because even this shift in how the process works hasn’t (or shouldn’t have) altered the core of what the salesperson’s job is: fulfilling customer needs.
Under this new way of doing business, it’s all too easy and tempting for salespeople to skip right to negotiating. But, consider the opportunities that are lost in not challenging, or even informing, the customer of all the things they may not be thinking about – things you assumed they researched and made up their minds about before walking in because, hey, the internet.
Also consider that arriving at a price and actually selling to a person are two very different things – one of which a machine can do just as well as you.
So, let’s get back to Sales 101 and see if you’re still getting the fundamentals of selling right on your showroom floor, or if your dealership is a haven of missed opportunity.
Find Out Their Needs
Selling is personal and is all about fulfilling a need, or set of needs, for the prospective buyer. It’s about solving problems and providing solutions. People don’t buy products for the sake of having products: products are a means to something, a way of addressing some void or lack on the customer’s part.
The same rule applies in the automotive industry. People don’t, as a rule, buy cars for the sake of having a couple of extra tons of metal in the driveway. Cars are a means to an end, a way of addressing a need: a need to get to work every day, get the kids back and forth to school, and so on.
Once you see yourself as fulfilling a need, you’ve taken the first step toward true salesmanship.
Find Out What Brought Them In
How does this fit in with customers who’ve already done copious amounts of research before entering your dealership and think they’ve arrived at a buying decision? Well, the truth is people are very often wrong, confused, or conflicted about what it is they truly need.
It’s your job to define why a certain vehicle is or isn’t the right one for a customer. So, be inquisitive. Ask questions, dig for details. Don’t be afraid of annoying customers by “being nosy” or “prying”; remember, you’re the expert in this field and they came to you to fulfill a need.
Find Out What They Really Know
It’s likely customers have already done the research, but it’s critical to know where, how, and to what end that research was done.
There is so much information freely accessible now that people with no expertise or knowledge of vehicles can draw erroneous conclusions, fixate on flaws you know to be trivial, or become enamored with some vehicle that doesn’t fit their stated needs nearly as well as something else on your lot.
This is where you, the conscientious salesperson, may have to gently but persistently redirect customers, or remind them of what they said brought them to the dealership in the first place. Don’t be afraid to ask potential buyers why they think a sport utility vehicle is a better fit than a sedan. It may turn out that they don’t actually have a solid reason.
Find Out What They’re Driving
An obvious, yet often overlooked, question that can be a strong indicator of what your next step should be: What is the customer driving right now? People’s feelings about a certain vehicle, positive and negative, are directly tied into how they see themselves using it. What will the number of regular passengers be? Do they have kids? What kind of recreational use will the vehicle get? And so on.
As a sales professional, it’s your job to provide a satisfactory answer to customers’ needs. Don’t do yourself, and your dealership, a disservice by skipping straight to the end of the sale and passing up opportunity.
Take these lessons from Sales 101 to heart, and you’ll find yourself on the path to a whole new level of success.
Note: This article references concepts that first appeared in “The Lost Art of the Needs Assessment” in the Reynolds Fuel e-newsletter.
Author: Mitch Falink
Mitch Falink is vice president of Variable Operations Sales at Reynolds and Reynolds. Falink received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He started his career at Reynolds in 1997 as a system account manager. Since then, he has steadily climbed the ranks within the company. He became Midwest CRM specialist in 2003 and was promoted to the national CRM specialist position in 2005. Falink then became regional sales director for the Southeast in 2007 and was named to his current role in 2016. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.