Defensiveness With Customers

Dropping these five questions and statements from your sales approach is a great start. BY DAVID LEWIS

To some in the retail automotive industry, customers with full access to information once considered trade secrets and who want more control over the vehicle purchase process may represent the end of a golden age. For others who understand the need for change, those customers represent an opportunity to rebuild our business from the ground up and leave behind negative sales methods that created an unflattering public perception.

One of the drivers of these changes is awareness that negative pressure-selling tactics have led to defensive customers who would rather face a root canal than step into a dealership. I want to present five questions and statements that have been part of the car sales playbook for far too long.

“Are You Buying A Car Today?”

This question not only is presumptive on the salesperson’s part, it also validates the stereotype held by most car shoppers that the salesperson is only interested in selling a car today, no matter what it takes. The question puts pressure on the customer and usually has him or her respond with an obstacle or by becoming uncooperative, as a protection mechanism. It reinforces the customer’s fears about coming to a dealership.

Of course the salesperson wants to sell a car today. However, asking that question before you have earned the right to do so is almost a guarantee of offending the customer. That customer is thinking, “If I am not buying today, this salesperson does not want to waste his time with me.” The stage is now set for a combative experience, and if a sale is eventually made, it most likely will be based on the lowest price alone.

“Who Else Is Involved In The Buying Decision?”

Before you have any idea what this customer is looking for or trying to accomplish, you have probably insulted him or her. This is a question salespeople often ask when a female or young person come to the dealership alone, and they don’t want to waste time on someone presumed not to control the purse strings.

This can be a big mistake on your part. Women now make the decisions in nearly 80 percent of the car purchases in America, whether the vehicle is for her individually or her family. You can risk insulting someone just to avoid wasting your time, but you may end up losing a promising buyer in the process. Regardless of your motivation, this question comes off as disrespectful, presumptuous and potentially humiliating to the customer.

“What Is Your Budget?”

A salesperson may view this question as perfectly reasonable, but you are setting yourself up for an answer you don’t really want to hear. You are breaking one of my cardinal rules for selling: Never ask customers a question that may cause them to tell a lie.

What makes you think the customer will answer this question truthfully? You are setting yourself up to receive a lowball figure and to spend a lot of time showing that customer vehicles priced below what they are willing to consider. If you continue down this path and try to fit vehicles into the stated price range, you most likely will keep dropping price meet the customer’s “budget” and sell for a rock-bottom deal.

Generally, people buy what makes them feel good. If they need to stretch financially to get what they want, you can be sure they will find a way to do it. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and then ask yourself: “If somebody asked me that question, would I tell him what I am capable of spending or what I would like to spend?”

If you are honest with yourself about the answer, you will realize the perils of ask about a customer’s budget.

“Park The Car In The ‘Sold’ Line”

Salespeople often utter these words upon returning from a demonstration drive. It is a time-honored trial close. It has been taught for decades as a way to get the customer to make a decision that is based upon fear of loss.

The salesperson usually explains that he or she just wants to make sure another salesperson doesn’t sell the car before the customer gets a chance to close the purchase. This is a highly audacious maneuver and is calculated to put pressure on the customer and take away his or her control of the buying decision. The salesperson doesn’t even know if that customer has taken mental ownership of the vehicle, yet he or she is rushing to a close with a fear tactic.

Obviously, this approach works on occasion or it would have been abandoned long ago. However, it raises the customer’s defensiveness and negates any trust the salesperson might have built up until now. A customer who responds to this tactic probably would have bought the car anyway, but why take the risk?

“If We Can Agree On Terms, Are You Ready To Buy Today?”

Of all the trial closes used over the years, this one is probably the most popular with high-pressure salespeople. As with the previous question, it can reverse any positive connection and persuade customers from backing away from a commitment, even if they already have decided they like the vehicle.

Asking this question reveals the salesperson’s own fear of loss and shows no real confidence in his or her abilities and presentation or in the value of what the dealership has to offer the customer. If salespeople have done their part in helping customers find a vehicle that is a good match, they do not need to pressure those customers to make a decision before they are ready. In fact, In fact, if those salespeople have done their job correctly, customers will let them know unsolicited whether they are ready to buy the car.

By using the phrase “come together on terms and numbers,” the salesperson sets himself up for negotiations that can only reduce price in the customer’s favor. The idea of “coming together on numbers” is a precursor to a back-and-forth negotiation, which always lowers price and reduces sales commission. Even worse, the customer might get down to the lowest price possible and then decide to compare with other dealerships before making a final decision.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, you can see the potential conflicts that these questions and statements create and avoid them altogether. If your only goal is to sell a car today at all costs, you had better be prepared to find new customers every day. You certainly won’t build a solid base of loyal buyers who return to you and refer others.

If you build your business on, and conduct yourself with, integrity, honesty and trust, then you will spend most of your time taking care of regular customers. Let others scour the lot looking for the next shopper to pressure.

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