How to Sell More Cars at a Dealership: 5 Steps to Success
While it’s true that some successful salespeople are just naturally talented, hard work can pay off even for those who don’t have the gift of sales gab. More important than working hard like an old-school car salesman, though, is working smart. These steps will guide you through the process of warming up a lead who strolls into your dealership so you can achieve the end result of more closed sales in terms of selling vehicles.
1. Assume Everyone is “Just Looking”
It would be nice if the car buying and selling process was one marked by open honesty. The world in which “Hi, can I help you?” is met with “yes, I have $30,000 cash and am ready to buy the J model in cherry red” would be so much simpler. But that’s not the world we live in. Fair or not, car dealers don’t have the most honest reputation and that makes a lot of buyers quite skittish. Most think back to that old untrustworthy car salesman at the used-car lot from yesteryear and assume they need to be cagey and some are telling the truth when they say they’re just looking. Either way, whether you are looking to buy a new car or get a good deal on an older model, it’s essential that you prepare for the “just looking” attitude rather than treating these people like cold leads and you could wind up with expensive monthly payments for a car you don’t really want or need. They’re in your space and they’re looking for a reason. They want information, they want to know what the car looks like in person and they probably need some guidance as well. Making a big purchase can be stressful and that goes double if the shopper has never purchased a car on their own before.
If you prove yourself useful at this point in the process, you’ll do yourself the biggest favor you could possibly do as a car salesperson. Closing the deal is important, no doubt, and by no means should you desert a promising lead mid conversation if someone new strolls through the doors. But engaging the people who come into your showroom or tour your lot is essential, regardless of whether you (or they) think they’re going to make a purchase today. We get it—you need your commission.
But your job isn’t too close deals and collect commission. It’s to make sales.
2. Know How to Ask the Right Questions
Another side effect of the not-so-straightforward car buying and selling process is the need to avoid aggressively direct questions. You also don’t want to ask questions that can be answered with a quick one-word response. There a couple of reasons for this. First, you aren’t likely to get a fully honest answer to some direct questions, especially if they relate to the budget. “How much are you looking to spend” seems like a reasonable question from your point of view, but savvy shoppers know better than to pigeonhole themselves right out of the gate. If they can get what they want for 60% of their available budget, why miss out on that opportunity by letting you know how much they can really afford?
Plus, starting out with questions about finance can make your intentions seem less than pure. This question tells the shopper that when you look at him or her, you’re seeing dollar signs, not a human being with unique wants and needs. Plus, there are other ways to get an idea of what your customer wants to spend and that information can come hidden in other, less aggressive questions.
Another reason to avoid direct, terse questions with a specific answer… it robs you of the opportunity to build a rapport to demonstrate sensitivity and let the shopper drop informational breadcrumbs for you to follow. The difference can be subtle. For example, if you ask “Do you know what car you’re looking for,” a customer who doesn’t really want to talk can just say “Yes.” Those who are trying to avoid being rude might say, “Yes. The J model in cherry red.” without offering you any other information and you’ll then have to ask more questions to keep the conversation going. Instead, you could say, “Let me help you look around. What are your top 3 must-have features?” By acknowledging that the customer is just looking rather than pushing the conversation toward purchase-specific topics like price or timeline, you’ll show that you’re ready to help rather than eager for a sale. The follow-up question invites conversation about what the customer is looking for and gives you the opportunity to showcase your expertise.
3. Get to Know the Customer
People skills are important in sales. That’s something that can make or break a salesperson, and while some employees may seem to have a natural talent for “reading” their prospects, even those who aren’t so naturally socially talented can put the work in and make progress. The open-ended questions you ask should encourage the customer to talk, and when they talk, you need to listen. This doesn’t just mean intently hearing the words but making connections and reading between the lines.
For example, a customer may not come out and say “I take my dog swimming in the
lake every summer,” but if they ask about waterproofing in the back seat and is concerned about how easy it is to clean dog hair and mud off of the upholstery, you can infer a connection. It doesn’t hurt to ask about these points, either. Getting customers to open up and share details about their lives will help them feel listened to, which is valuable on its own but it also gives you the opportunity to do some quick mental calculus on which cars best line up with that individual’s specific needs. Friendly rapport is also essential for building trust, so if a customer mentions something you can relate to don’t hesitate to chat about it briefly. If you also have a dog that muddies up your car, you can describe your own experience cleaning up upholstery and note why a specific upholstery style might be best.
4. Balance Features and Benefits
Shoppers who are in the browsing phase might not know a lot of specifics about the cars you offer. This is where the balance between features and benefits comes in. Features are straightforward facts about the car—that it has all wheel drive, a roof rack that can accommodate five pairs of skis and a built-in navigation system, for example. Benefits are descriptions of what makes the car so great—that it’s a good choice for winter driving and can comfortably and safely bring a family of five up to Whistler for the weekend. Either on its own is reasonably informative, but combining the two together provides a more vivid picture.
Describe to the customer how that feature will make their lives easier or improve their driving experience. If you’ve done your due diligence earlier in the conversation, you’ll be able to point out specific facts the customer told you about their needs and connect it to each vehicle’s features and benefits. For example, if the J model has special connection points between the backseat and the cargo hatch to allow for the mounting of a pet gate, you can point this out to your swimming dog owner and describe the safety benefits it provides. This makes your pitch more relevant and shows that you’ve been listening.
5. Use Data to Demonstrate Value
There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that it doesn’t take much to get a shopper to commit to a more expensive car than they think they need. Some people are easily led because they either have plenty of money to throw around or like nice things. After some time in the business, you probably know how to spot these folks. But everyone else, the ones who psych themselves up before walking into the dealership with the intention to not go a cent above their budget ceilings... these customers might also be willing to spend more if you can provide an honest demonstration of how spending more is actually a better deal.
Here’s what’s important: Do not lie to demonstrate value that doesn’t exist. Most people will find out they’ve been swindled at some point and that person might decide to let their displeasure be known online, sinking positive reviews and actively driving new customers to your competitors. Yes, online reviews actually do matter. Plus, if the customer is more streetwise than they are letting on, your ruse won’t play out very well and your progress will all get wiped out. Instead, make an honest case for why the more expensive features or more expensive model might be a better fit in the long term. Maybe it’s a matter of savings on gas or a better entertainment system that will provide a higher trade-in or resale value if the customer decides to trade in after a few years. Use what you’ve gathered throughout your conversation to determine which upgrade features might be most appealing and couch it in terms of return on investment. This will require you to be knowledgeable about long-term financial prospects with each of the more expensive cars and upgrade options your dealership offers, but the extra effort will likely pay off in the end.
All of these steps allow you to stand apart and show the customer that you’re pleasant to work with. Most people don’t buy a car during their first trip to a dealership and while the steps above may help you change that, your goal should focus on the big picture. Demonstrating your value as a professional will provide the customer with the necessary incentive to make another visit and buy their car from you rather than someone else.