The author urges dealers to think back to a time before the industry relied on stair-step programs and deep discounts to sell cars.  - Photo by hundreddays via Getty Images

The author urges dealers to think back to a time before the industry relied on stair-step programs and deep discounts to sell cars.

Photo by hundreddays via Getty Images

Before 2008, dealerships were in charge of the sales process and the associate with the best Rolodex was king. That’s because a career salesperson inside the store was the customer’s “guy” and he advised them on what to buy.

Then, in 2008, the bottom dropped out of the automotive retail industry. In an attempt to stimulate car sales during the downturn, OEMs introduced stair-step incentives, a practice that resulted in dealerships being forced to offer deep discounts in order to “move the metal” and qualify for a bonus. Money was based on units moved and not gross billed.

Eventually, the economy moved forward with one huge exception: salespeople continued with the same mentality they held during the recession. They never went back to being the customer’s “guy.”

Let’s rewind to 2008 to disarm those customers and regain control of the sale.

Read: 3 Ways to Improve Your F&I Language Skills

1. Control the Conversation from the Get-Go.

Just as first impressions count, so do first conversations. The best chance to reclaim control of the sales process comes when you first greet the customer and introduce yourself.

Instead of asking them to tell you what product they’re looking for, try a different approach. Ask them if they’re there to talk about your store’s commitment to their ownership experience. This question may take them by surprise and start them on the path of understanding the benefits of long-term value over short-term price.

When did pushing for the appointment go out of style? Getting the customer to show up at the dealership is critical to maintaining a high closing ratio.  - Photo by skynesher via Getty Images

When did pushing for the appointment go out of style? Getting the customer to show up at the dealership is critical to maintaining a high closing ratio.

Photo by skynesher via Getty Images

2. Bring Them Inside Your Dealership.

The sooner you can get a customer inside the dealership, the better. The store is where you can reinforce your brand and help build more confidence with the consumer, giving you the home field advantage.

The real beauty is when you get them into the dealership, your closing ratio increases appreciably.

3. Make Value More Obvious.

Another way to regain control of the sales conversation is to adapt your sales tools and process to keep the focus on your unique selling proposition.

For example, if your sales team uses the grid approach to negotiating a sale, at least try modifying how they use the four-square to emphasize value over price.

You could provide your sales staff with a green-inked rubber stamp saying “includes lifetime warranty” or “free oil changes for life” or whatever you choose to promote. Green is a color with positive connotations, such as getting the green light.

Value is not just a bullet point in your sales conversation. It’s a vital part of the deal.

4. Make Value More Convenient.

The goal is to have the customer see that value is not just a bullet point in your sales conversation. It’s a vital part of the deal. Service plays a critical role. Show them how to use a maintenance log and remind them to keep good records and bring those records back to your store. Make it easy for them to schedule and receive service.

5. Match Their Excitement.

Be excited for your customer. Your attitude will go a long way toward creating the perception of value. It might seem old hat and boring to you to talk about your unique selling proposition with enthusiasm, but the buyer is in the middle of purchasing a vehicle.

For most consumers, this is the second largest purchase they have made, and they may be a bit nervous. It’s your job to be excited, so they become excited about the opportunity.

The Great Recession changed our industry. Today, dealers are fighting for more customers while seeing less traffic. The key to succeeding in a slowing economy is to figure out what sets your dealership apart from the competition and then work it like it’s 2008!

James E. Binkley is the founder and CEO of Binary Automotive Solutions.

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