Talk Trash

Your Family May Tolerate it, But Customers Don’t

By Becky Chernek

Finance and insurance professionals know the benefit of a consistent menu presentation. It’s a surefire method of achieving higher performance by selling more products. But just because someone presents a customer with a menu doesn’t mean they lose their voice or personality or that sales process has become an automated one.

Don’t Cross the Line

To the contrary, the human factor is as essential today as it was 50 years ago. A good salesperson leverages his or her humanity to make a connection with the buyer. Simply stated: customers buy from people they like. If you’re credible, straightforward and likable, chances are the customer will buy from you. Better yet, they’ll come back next time they’re in the market—or refer a friend or family member.

However, some finance managers are guilty of crossing the line when trying to make that vital human connection. Worse yet, many of them don’t even realize they’ve gone over the line until they’ve lost the sale and they’re left to wonder, “What went wrong?”

This issue was brought to my attention recently, when an associate told me about her bad experience buying an SUV. It was such a lousy experience, in fact, that she canceled the sale before the papers could be signed. I know the question on your mind: What could have been so awful as to cause someone to call off purchasing a vehicle they wanted? The answer might surprise you. It’ll also give you insight into what not to do when trying to sell a car.

Too Much (Wrong) Information

In the beginning, all went well. The sales consultant met with her every expectation and it was smooth sailing—until she stepped into the F&I office to meet with the finance manager. It wasn’t facts or figures that killed the deal. It was a finance manager who felt it would be to her benefit to attempt to relate to her customer by sharing some rather inappropriate information. Information about what she planned to do with her significant other when she got home that night.

I’ll spare you the sordid details. I’m sure you get the picture. But did the finance manager stop there? Oh, no. She kept that ball rolling by going on to discuss her appreciation of a certain book that talks about the various shades of grey.

What on earth was going through that finance manager’s mind, I’ll never know, safe to say she probably thought her customer’s husband—who was in the finance office, too!—would appreciate the topic and encourage the couple to buy more products. It didn’t. Instead, it backfired completely and the sale was lost.

You might be surprised by this, but I must admit I’m not. Having worked in the auto sales industry for decades, and having facilitated numerous in-dealership consultations, I have witnessed some of these same antics firsthand from finance and sales professionals who think that taking things over the top will imbue them with a sense of “cool” or “funny” that will get the customer eating out of their hands.

Many insist that customers find this behavior irresistible—but one look at the customer’s raised eyebrows or half-hearted laugh will tell you right away that it doesn’t work.

Avoid at All Costs (If You Want to Close the Deal)

But trash talk isn’t limited to just locker room-style banter and other egregious language. Here are some other types of discussions to avoid instigating with your customers if you don’t want to lose the occasional sale.

  • Politics. Just because someone dresses a certain way or speaks in a certain manner doesn’t mean their political beliefs are cut and dried. If you want to try to connect with your customers, steer clear of talking politics—even if you’re absolutely certain something you say may resonate with them. Political discussions, even among people who agree, can become heated. The last thing you want is to lose a sale because you said the wrong thing about a customer’s favorite candidate.
  • Religion. Do I even need to say why this is a bad topic of discussion with your customers? As with politics, discussions about religion can quickly devolve into full-blown arguments and long-lasting feuds. This is a topic that’s not even safe to discuss with your friends and family, let alone strangers. Keep the religious talk out of the finance office.
  • Gossip. Whether the topic of gossip happens to be a movie star or the competitor car lot across the street, allowing chatter to sink to the level of gossip is a dangerous endeavor. People love to gossip, and it’s part of being a human being. But it’s also a wholly unprofessional practice that can cause you to look bad in the eyes of the most important person in the room: your customer.

Customers don’t respond positively to trash talk. Even if they happen to agree with what’s being said! Especially if it’s coming from someone they hardly know, whom they’re entrusting to guide them through the complicated steps of buying a car. Leave your jokes and your obnoxious behavior to family members, who may or may not tolerate them. At least if things go south with them, you’ll probably be forgiven.

Engaging with your customers and ensuring they see you as a human being is critical. It’s one of the most elemental aspects of being a success in your chosen field. But the fact is, there are a million ways that you can go wrong without adding trash to the equation. Making the decision to take things to gutter-level won’t win smiles or sales. It’ll only blow your bottom line and wreck a potentially lucrative professional relationship.

So, what’s a pro to do? Be conscientious. Pay attention to how the customer perceives you. Understand that your customer is always evaluating you, possibly even looking for reasons or excuses to exit the conversation. Never give them a reason to tell you no.

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President of Chernek Consulting Rebecca Chernek, founded Chernek Consulting in 2001,  has nearly three decades of experience in the automobile dealership industry. She started by working with her father at their family-owned auto dealerships in Have De Grace, Md. She was the first woman to sell cars for Al Packer Lincoln & Mercury in Baltimore, and in 1989, she was promoted to F&I Manager for Ron Bortnick Ford in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Chernek Consulting offers a diversity of opportunities for auto dealerships to up their game and transform performance, both with respect to a compliant trained staff to drastically increase sales and profits. Additional services are also available for in-dealership training, regional workshops and continuing education through the Chernek Consulting Virtual Pro platform. Chernek works with large and small franchise dealer groups alike as well as OEM, financial services and insurance providers throughout North America. Visit www.chernekconsulting.com for more details.

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