Summer is here and that means “all hands on deck.” But those hands need to be motivated, dedicated and, most importantly, competent. That conceit was reinforced for me after a recent car accident gave me the opportunity to experience the car-buying process as a customer.
It was my first real accident since I scratched my Toyota demo’s bumper back in the ’90s. Luckily, no one was injured, but I was sure I was facing a total loss with my wife’s SUV this time around.
Even at this stage in my career, I consider myself a student of the business. So I didn’t contact any of my dealer friends or “insiders” to get a good deal. Instead, my wife and I visited a couple of local dealership to get the full customer experience. Here are my three takeaways from my visits.
1. Adjust to the Customer’s Process: I had certain things I wanted to accomplish, which meant I didn’t have time for the traditional road to the sale. If you have ever met me, you know I am pretty easy to deal with. So my desire to complete my agenda shouldn’t make me “difficult” in the salesperson’s eyes.
Two things typically happen when a sales professional tries to shove a regimented process down the customer’s throat: First, they create an adversarial situation by dismissing a decisive buyer as a “grinder” and treating them accordingly. Second, even if you make the sale, you do so at the expense of CSI, repeat business and referrals.
Make no mistake, people buy from other people for many reasons. Many times, it’s not likeability. I’m certainly a process-driven individual; however, all processes require flexibility vs. a battle of wills.
2. Reduce the Time to First Pencil: At one store, it took so long to get a number that I used Twitter to inform the manufacturer about it while I was waiting. Follow the @corymosley feed and check my tweets from April 24. It’s there. But getting numbers quickly wasn’t just this dealership’s problem. In fact, it seemed to be an epidemic in the area.
A couple of the stores we visited used desking tools that print out multiple payment options. I can’t understand what could possibly take 10 to 20 minutes to calculate, especially when the showrooms I visited were empty.
Taking too long to present numbers creates a host of obvious problems. The buying excitement you established during the test drive begins to fade, and the customer’s anxiety begins to increase. Ultimately, any delay can cost you a deal, add tension to negotiations and lower your CSI.
I’m not sure who teaches salespeople to drag out the numbers presentation. In my opinion, it’s the wrong approach. I was so agitated by the wait at one dealership that I didn’t even want to consider the deal, no matter how good it was. I view a quick and easy presentation of numbers as a sign of professionalism and respect for my time. Expediency also boosts my confidence in doing business with that operation.
Organizations that focus on efficient and timely service generally have measures in place to track speed. Think of the time counters at drive-thru windows or the salons that track time with customers down to the billable hour. Do you actually know how long it takes to work a deal in your store? Don’t you agree that “time to pencil” is an important factor in selling more cars at higher gross to more satisfied customers?
3. Areas of Commendation: In most cases, several things were done right. I’m talking about things like an unrushed test drive, an introduction to a manager, offering dealership amenities and explaining service after the sale. But it only takes one cow to derail the whole train.
The reality is most customers are non-confrontational by nature. They will visit a restaurant, have a bad experience, leave a tip and never come back. They don’t do “alpha” things like ask to speak to a manager, demand a free meal, write letters, blog or tweet. They just move on. This happens in dealerships every day. We know these customers as the going-to-hold-off-on-making-a-decision type — at least that’s what they say when you conduct your follow-up call. The problem is they may be holding off for 36 months, during which they’ll be driving the new car they leased from your competitor.
Incidentally, as luck would have it, my wife’s car wasn’t totaled after all. We will be back in the market in a few years, and we’ll find out how much our local dealerships have improved their processes.
Cory Mosley is principal of Mosley Automotive Training, a company focused on new-school techniques. E-mail him at [email protected].