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Take Away A Customer’s Fear Of Buying With A More Positive Sales Approach

Dealerships only undercut themselves with high-pressure, high-fear tactics that are out of touch with informed buyers. BY DAVID LEWIS

Having spent nearly 30 years as a consultant and trainer in the retail automotive industry, one thing has become very clear to me about the public perception of car salespeople: Most customers believe their goal is to sell a car today, no matter what it takes.

That is the dominant perception of car salespeople and the driving force behind the fear and anxiety that afflict most customers, the primary reason they feel intimidated and defensive when they come to a dealership.

However, many salespeople refuse to admit it is their own tactics that make customers become defensive. Maybe these salespeople think it is too late to learn approach to selling, or perhaps their management’s attitude is “That’s the way we’ve always done it here.” Even though they realize that today’s buyers have access to vastly more information about cars, these dealerships and salespeople still cling to old methods that are based on controlling the customer as key to moving inventory.

If they continue in this practice and refuse to invest in training of sales staff on more effective, more positive methods of selling, they will gradually but definitively lose customers to dealerships that understand what buyers want today.

Trial Closes No Longer Work

My prediction is based on the understanding that unless our customers are happy, none of us will be in business very long. High-pressure tactics such as trial closes, and intimidation through “today-only pricing” and similar restrictions, only make the customer feel pressured and reinforce the public’s negative perception about our industry. We should be focusing on releasing our customers’ anxiety and pressure, and trying our best to help them accomplish their purchasing goals – in short, minimizing their fear of buying.

A salesperson who uses verbiage calculated to catch the customer off guard in a pleasant way can lower that customer’s defenses, gain trust and eventually earn his or her business. When we can put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and truthfully ask ourselves how we would like to be treated, we can see the flaws in pressure-selling and trying to control our customers.

In truth, fear of losing the customer drives these negative sales methods. At too many dealerships, the sales process focuses on trying to sell a car today, at all costs, and emphasizes price above all else. Salespeople should be trying to earn a customer’s business for life, but they’re trading that potential for vast lifetime business for a quick sale and another number on the board.

lewis2Approaches That Help Customer Relax

A salesperson’s use of positive statements can help ease customers into a comfort zone and release their defensiveness, so that they’re more receptive to and cooperative with the sales process. Meaning, rather than using a trial close like, “What would it take to get you to buy this car today?” try opening with this question: “So, you don’t have to buy a car today, do you?”

At this point, the stress has been taken out of the sales process for both the customer and the salesperson. Suppose this customer had come to your dealership and, during the meet-and-greet, quickly let you know he or she was just starting to shop. Traditionally, the salesperson would quickly apply some pressure tactic to get the customer motivated, and if that didn’t work, would hand over a business card and start looking around for someone else who might be ready to buy today.

Instead, look for opportunities to respond in a way that the customer would never expect, but that will make it clear you are not the traditional car salesperson. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Customer: “I’m just looking.”

Salesperson: “So, does that mean you don’t have to buy a car today?”

Customer: “No, not today.”

Salesperson: “Great, that takes all of the pressure off me. So, why don’t we consider this as a time of information-gathering? I will show you around the lot to look at some of the vehicles that might interest you, and if we find something you like, I can go get the keys so that you can sit in the vehicle. If you would like to, you can even take it for a drive.

 “After that, I can give you some brochures and prices for you to take home to consider and compare. Are you looking for a new or used car?”

The likelihood that this customer has ever heard an approach like this from a car salesperson is very remote. The salesperson will have both relaxed and inspired the customer with a no pressure, non-confrontational approach that puts him or her in control and takes away any need to feel defensive. In my 30-plus years of training salespeople in this method, if there is a better way to sell cars, I have not seen it. When we remove the fear of buying today, they will relax and cooperate with our sales process.

Goal Still To Sell Now, If Possible

Does that mean salespeople don’t try to sell the customer a car today? Absolutely not! However, when they focus on making it easy for the customer to want to do business with their dealership, there is a much higher likelihood that a car really will be bought that day.

Experience has shown us that when salespeople focus on helping the customer find the right car and develop an emotional attachment to it, the tendency to grind away at the salesperson in order to get the very lowest price rarely emerges. Industry research reinforces this concept, showing us that the factors driving the customer’s purchasing decision are in the following priority order:

  1. Vehicle
  2. Salesperson
  3. Dealership
  4. Price

Yes, price is important. However, in most cases, it is fourth on the priority list. When we focus on finding the right vehicle for the customer and providing a unique and inspiring sales process, customers rarely are in a mood to grapple for the lowest price. In fact, this approach commonly lets the window sticker be the starting price, and negotiation only takes place after the only take place after the customer has effectively been sold on the vehicle, salesperson and dealership.

Obviously, selling the customer a car today is what the salesperson really wants to do. But, in order to accomplish that goal, it is necessary to first lower the customer’s defensive posture, so that he or she feels comfortable dealing with you and begins to enjoy the car buying process. This is the way it should be, and it can be once the customer loses fear of being pressured and controlled by the salesperson.

Put Yourself In Customer’s Place

The more we focus on earning the customer’s business for life, the clearer it will become to that customer that the dealership genuinely puts his or her interests as first priority. Ask yourself: Would you rather buy a car from someone who treated you with respect and dignity, or from someone who intimidated you and made you feel like he was taking advantage?

When car salespeople can see themselves through their customers’ eyes and become honest with themselves about how their tactics make customers feel, they clearly increase the odds of earning business.

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David Lewis
David Lewis
David’s firm is a national training and consulting business that specializes in the retail automotive industry. He also is the author of four industry-related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The Leadership Factor,” “Understanding Your Customer” and “The Common Mistakes Automotive Salespeople Make.” Visit his website at www.DavidLewis.com.

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