Put the Customer in the Driver’s Seat and Listen

Performance strategist Tony Robbins says, “For changes to be of any true value, they’ve got to be lasting and consistent.” This certainly rings true for our industry today.  Having been in this business for over 35 years it never ceases to amaze me how hard it can be to affect real change where change is needed.  

The use of pressure and aggressive sales tactics is still being taught and practiced by many salespeople, despite the fact that customers clearly don’t want to be treated that way.  Some of the very tactics that have had such a negative impact on our reputation with the public are often the hardest to drive out of our sales process.  

Learning to put the customer first is something that is very hard for some; especially those who have been in the business for a while.  At the same time logic and experience tells us that this is certainly the best way to sell and the best way to earn customers for life.  By eliminating those things that make car shoppers defensive to our process, we stand a much better chance of earning their business and helping them accomplish their purchasing goals.

One of the areas where change is needed is in the way we view and handle the Demonstration Drive.  This usually takes place right in the middle of the presentation and most of the time it is where the salesperson start to pressure the customer with trial closes.  At the precise time when the customer is most likely to take mental ownership of the vehicle, the salesperson is usually talking so much trying to close them that they don’t allow the customer to have a truly enjoyable driving experience at all.  This method has been taught for many years and in my mind it is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

driveSince most dealerships use an established demo route this already starts things off in the wrong direction.  We should let the customer go wherever they want so they can experience the vehicle in a way that relates to their normal driving habits.  Some will want to see how it drives on the highway while others may be more concerned about city driving and maneuverability.  Letting them go wherever they want, and for however long they want, gives them the best opportunity to imagine themselves driving and owning the car in their normal daily life.  This is the most opportune time for mental ownership to start taking root.

You certainly don’t want to ignore the customer if they ask questions about vehicle operation or specific functions of an accessory.  But, if you remain silent and leave them alone to drive the car, they will generally show you what their hot buttons are during the course of the drive.  Observing how they react to the vehicle can give you plenty of information on how to focus your external walk-around after you return from the drive.  If it is a couple that you are trying to sell this is even better.  While you sit quietly in the back without interrupting you will probably hear them talking to each other about their likes and dislikes for the vehicle.

Let’s face it, today’s customers come armed with loads of information about our vehicles and our process. They are usually prepared for all of the tactics that salespeople normally use to pressure them into buying.  The more you fulfill their expectations by doing just that the less you will gain their confidence and stand out as someone to be trusted.  They already expect you to lavish them with comments about how great the car is and how wonderful it would look sitting in their driveway, so they are on their guard waiting for you to try and pressure them into a sale.  Why not do just the opposite of that and catch them pleasantly off guard?

In order to inspire today’s shoppers you have to be unique and different from the competition.  I guarantee you that they will not be expecting you to sit quietly in your seat while they drive wherever they want for as long as they want.  In fact, they will probably soon forget you are even there and start talking to each other about the car, asking all the things that you would have asked them. Except in this case, they are the ones asking the questions and not you.  No defensive postures will be taken and they will generally tell each other exactly how they feel about the vehicle.  

Doing this not only gives customers time and opportunity to take mental ownership of the car, it also gives them a reason to consider you as asSalesperson who genuinely cares about their wants and needs.   The fact that you are not trying to pressure them in any way will certainly not go unnoticed.  The most important thing is that you are avoiding any planned demonstration routes.  Let them decide where they want to go and encourage them to enjoy themselves as if this were their car and they were just taking a leisurely drive.  

Remember, the goal is to let the customer have whatever time they want if it helps them take mental ownership of the car.  Once they have done this, the chances of their buying will be greatly increased.  If they don’t do that, you are still at square one and you have not yet shown them enough of what they need to make their decision. The more time they take, the more likely it is that they like the vehicle.  If they are laughing and having fun it is usually a very good sign.

The fact that God gave us two ears and only one mouth should tell us something:  it may be an indication that we should listen more and talk less.  Any great salesperson can tell you that the more you listen the more you learn about what the customer wants.  On the other hand, the more you talk the more you convince them that you are only concerned about what you want.  When this happens you are already showing yourself to be just like every other salesperson they will likely talk to.

Think about how you feel when someone tries to sell you something before you have made a decision that this is what you want.  Do you appreciate that or does it make you feel uneasy and reluctant to do business with them.  It helps to put yourself in the customers shoes when you are looking at things that challenge your normal process.

Buying a new car should be a fun and exciting experience.  The salesperson and dealership that does their best to make it so is the one who will succeed more often than not.  And there is no better time in the sales process than during the Demonstration Drive for this to occur.  When you give your customers the freedom to have a great experience they will be more likely to view everything you offer from a more positive perspective.

Learning to adapt new techniques for selling is only natural in the fast changing environment of today’s digital world. The same ones who said people would never buy cars on the Internet are still trying to do things ‘the way they always have done them.’  If there is a worse reason for doing something I can’t imagine what it might be.

The truth is that even though the Internet has changed a lot of things about how we do business, customers still want to drive the car and smell that new car smell.  So why not let them do that in a way that gives them the full benefit of the experience.  Put them behind the wheel and turn them loose and just sit in the back seat and relax.  They will show you what they are looking for and what it will take to earn their business.  By doing that, you give yourself the best understanding of their hot buttons, while at the same time, letting them know you are definitely concerned about satisfying them and earning their business the right way.

Finally, never forget one of your main goals is to lower their defensive posture.  The lower it gets the easier it is to close them.  The best way to do that on the Demonstration Drive is to be silent and let them control both the conversation and the direction they would like to drive.

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