#1 Shopping for the Right Salesperson

A Personal Car Shopping Experience (Part 1 of 8)

In 1898, William Metzger opened the first new car dealership in the U.S. in Detroit, Michigan. 120 years later, the vehicles we purchase are laden with technologies and comforts undreamed of in his era. While the cars are obviously different from a century ago, the retail sales process hasn’t changed much, especially since financing was first offered in the early 1920’s. Yes, computers now calculate “the deal,” and most dealerships have Customer Relationship Management systems that are leveraged to different degrees of success, but the person-to-person interaction typically required to complete a retail vehicle sale has hardly changed a bit.
Unfortunately, so many of today’s dealership salespeople and managers alike fail to understand this simple, timeless formula for selling person-to-person: 3 parts listening + 1 part product knowledge strategically deployed + 1 part talking to facilitate and close a deal = a retail sale. While many sales personnel are pre-disposed to talking quite a bit, few are willing to do the listening required. And many have only a surface knowledge about the vehicles they sell.

Excuses for Not Listening

Well, I’ve had retail salespeople literally give me these answers when I ask, “Why not listen to customers?”: “I have no time for anything other than qualifying questions.” “Customers here know exactly which vehicle they want and only want to know if we’ll meet their price.” “My manager says just move the metal and get customers into anything they can afford or qualify for.” “I don’t really care what they want to buy, I’m going to sell them the ‘spiff’ car.” At their essence, these comments are simply a variance on the following concept: Too often, salespeople only see customers who walk in, call, or reach out via the internet, as nothing more than their next paycheck contribution. Certainly, there are professional salespeople and managers out there who don’t view customers this way, but in my experience, they are the minority.

I agree that most customers contact a dealership already knowing which model they want, and some seek an exact trim level and specific options too. However, all customers have some questions, even if they just want to confirm their choices already made. Most vehicle questions arise out of some anticipated driving situation in the customer’s daily life. If salespeople don’t ask the right questions up front, they won’t be able to paint a proper picture of ownership; meaning they won’t provide information in the context the customer has in mind.

The Inability to Paint a Vivid, Personalized Usage Picture for Customers

While virtually no retail customers need an engineer’s explanation of an all-wheel-drive system, a new infotainment advance, or how a new sensor and chip-based safety feature works, they nearly all want to understand how these things will benefit them on their trips and commutes. Yet, how many salespeople can accurately advise customers whether they should buy an AWD vehicle or a 4WD? How many can paint a vivid, personalized usage picture depicting the speed difference between a 4G LTE in-vehicle WiFi system and a 3G? Excuses? They abound: “I make sales based on my charisma.” “My customers already know the facts needed from their internet research.” I’ve even heard, “I have no interest in learning how these infotainment systems work… I barely can use my phone.” That last comment came from a salesperson who was 28 at the time; yes, I asked his age!

The “Right” Salespeople

In this blog series I will be visiting dealership showrooms searching for the “right” salespeople; consultants who ask customers appropriate questions that yield valuable information and context. I’ll seek salespeople who accurately and confidently know their product and deploy their knowledge based upon what they’ve learned about the customer. Salespeople who listen actively, provide information discerningly… not excessively… and can facilitate the purchase or lease process.

As I shop dealerships around the country, I’ll report to you what I find; bad, good, or in-between. I’ll salute those sales personnel who measure up. For those who don’t, I’ll invite you (the reader) to indicate if what I found is similar to what a customer may experience at your dealership or brand’s stores. I’ll ask you to post about what should have been done to improve the encounter described. Next up: An “almost there” experience at an SUV dealership.

About the Author

Mark Krach is vice president at automätik, an organization dedicated to “Eradicating boring training from the face of the Earth.” He has nearly 30 years’ experience in the automotive industry—having worked for a manufacturer, a dealership, and as an automotive training writer and facilitator all over the U.S. and Europe.