Logically, you might think it is almost crazy to ask, “Who should pick the car?” I am sure most salespeople or sales managers would quickly respond, “Why, the customer of course.” Yet, when we consider the process that has been promoted and taught in our business for decades, it doesn’t seem like we truly believe that to be the right answer. When we start our qualification process with questions about budget, credit, buying timeline or trade values, we have automatically set the customer in a defensive posture so the salesperson can control the process.
The truth is, in a dealership concerned with customer satisfaction, there are only three qualifying questions that are really required to start the sales process off in the right direction, and will help to eliminate the natural defensiveness the customer is feeling. But, before I get to those three specific questions, I want to back up and look at some of the rules that go along with the right types of questions to ask during the qualification process, as this is the foundation of picking the right car, but not the way most would think. How you view these rules of sale will make all the difference to you and to your customer as well.
Rule #1: Never ask a question that will cause the Customer to lie. This may seem like an unreasonable request if you think all buyers are liars. From my many years of experience in both sales and consulting, I have discovered that most customers usually only lie in response to the questions we ask them. For instance, if you were to ask a customer how much their budget was, do you think they would automatically tell you the truth? Of course not! If they have a payment budget of $350 a month they might tell you it is $250 hoping that might get you to lower your price.
Was their answer a lie? Yes, it was not what they really thought, so technically, it was a lie. What caused the lie? Your question! What does their answer do? It narrows the number and type of cars that you show them because you know they cannot get something bigger or nicer in that payment range. Will they be happy with what you show them? Probably not, and they will most likely go elsewhere to shop.
Rule #2: ‘Never ask a question or make a statement that will make your customer more defensive.’ This alone rules out almost everything that is normally asked as a trial close, such as “Are you planning to purchase the car today?” or “How much were you planning to put as a down payment?” Questions like these only make the customer more nervous and may even echo some warnings that were given to them by family or friends before they left that morning to shop for a car. Who do you think they are more inclined to trust? A car salesperson they never met before or their family and friends? I’m going with option #2.
Rule #3: ‘Never ask a question you don’t want to hear the answer to.’ This is a biggie no matter how you look at it. Why? It will deeply affect your attitude and how you make your sales presentation. It will also send you off in the wrong direction in the vehicles you show the customer. We call this psychological warfare and it is real and very damaging to your prospect of making a sale and satisfying your customer.
For instance, if you were to ask a customer if they have a trade-in and they answer yes, the next logical question would be, how much do they think their trade is worth? Do you think they would give you a lowball answer or shoot higher than what they really think? Higher of course! They certainly know you aren’t going to raise the number and offer them more than they expect. Why not take a shot and try for more? Let’s suppose you know that their trade is really worth several thousand less than what they want and in fact they are upside down and owe much more than its actual value. Now you have a real problem and if you don’t think that will affect your attitude, I have some beachfront property in Arizona I want to sell you.
How did you get in this mess in the first place? You asked them a question you didn’t really want them to answer the way they did. Pressure questions like these are designed to control the customer and construct a grid that will make it easier to appear that you are trying to help them when you are in fact only concerned about one thing: selling them a car today. The problem is that they already suspect that this is the case and they are not likely to participate in your attempts to sell them something that is not what they really want at a price or in the timeframe that you desire. This is the number one fear that customers have and why we have had such a poor reputation in the public view.
Let me get back to the three questions that can help you avoid this while at the same time relieving your customers fears and anxieties and making the sales process both enjoyable and fruitful for both the customer and you.
Once you have introduced yourself during the Meet and Greet, have established a basic rapport with the customer and found out that they are shopping for a vehicle, the first question you want to ask should be:
Question #1: ‘Are you looking for a new or used vehicle?’ If we examine this question there is absolutely nothing that could cause the customer to be offended or to feel threatened in any way. There is little chance that they would lie to you, feel more defensive or give you an answer you wouldn’t want to hear. It is simply a question that must be answered if we are going to have any success in helping them find what they are looking for. Of course they might answer that they weren’t sure, but this in no way hinders your process; in fact it gives you flexibility for helping them finding a vehicle that will meet their needs.
Question #2: ‘Are you looking for a Ford, Chevy, Honda, or a Toyota?’ Depending upon what brands you sell is how you would frame your questions. Someone would have to work hard to be offended in any way or become suspicious of your motives when asked that question. It is simple and to the point and aimed at narrowing things down so you can better help them.
Question #3: ‘Are you looking for a coupe, sedan, mini-van or a truck?’ There is nothing to be concerned about here either. It is just the natural response to their answer to the previous question. It transfers no stress or pressure to the customer, nor does it give them any reason to suspect you are trying to take advantage of them in any way.
By asking these three simple and non-threatening questions, you gain knowledge of what the customer is trying to achieve and you establish a no-pressure atmosphere where they can feel comfortable with you and maintain control of their own shopping process. You then start at the lowest price cars you have that fit their description of what they want and then work your way up through the models and amenities and price range until they find something they like and their impulses kick in and start raising their interest and excitement.
In essence, you are letting the customers pick the vehicle they want and doing your best to make their shopping experience informative and comfortable. Always remember, if the customer thinks they are the ones that are in control, their defensive posture will drop and drop fast. They will pick a car that they like and not one that you feel they should be looking at. Finally, don’t worry about price. Most will not let you spend time on a car that they cannot afford.