Let’s play a little word association. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words “car salesman”?
We’re going to hazard a guess: Pushy. It isn’t news that most consumers dislike -- even detest -- the car-buying process. People consistently say it is the worst shopping experience. No, it’s not news, but neither is it a sustainable business model. And it sure won’t help you sell more cars. What can you do to avoid employing a pushy sales team, and, as importantly, how can you let customers know that your dealership is different?
The Persistent Stereotype
Jill Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard, went to look at cars with her husband. The salesperson insisted on turning to her spouse to “talk business.” Avery’s husband said, “It’s her car.” The salesperson didn’t care. When Avery said she wanted a manual, the salesperson scoffed, “No you don’t.”
Avery said she felt “disrespected,” and this is a common complaint. Here’s the deal: women drive 70 - 80 percent of all consumer spending. In the majority of households, it is the women who wield the power of the checkbook and budget. Talking down to them -- or not talking to them at all? It’s a big mistake. Unfortunately, many dealerships’ sales teams make this and other blunders every day, and it impacts sales.
A quick Google search reveals countless articles giving consumers tips on dealing with pushy car salespeople, from countering statements like “We’re losing a lot of money on this deal!” to learning how to avoid tactics like the mysterious trip to the back office, presumably to talk to a manager.
Consumers view all of these tactics as disingenuous, to say the least. They feel that as soon as they step foot onto a car lot or into a showroom, they will be pressured, bullied, and manipulated into spending too much on a car they don’t love just to get out of there! No wonder people hate this process. It’s a good thing your dealership doesn’t do business this way.
Busting the Myth
It’s not that car salespeople are inherently pushy; most often, they are hard-working people just trying to do their jobs. Unfortunately, bad habits learned from other bosses and salespeople, and honed over the years, can turn customers off.
The first step to a team that can engage customers without pushing them is to become aware of these habits. A few significant customer turn-offs and profit-sappers:
- Making statements rather than asking questions. This makes you seem pushy instead of interested in the customer's’ needs and wants.
- Focusing on payment, not price. More consumers are on to this trick. If your salespeople focus on the payment, they can stretch it out over a longer financing period. Rather than asking, “What were you thinking in terms of a payment?” have them inquire about overall budget.
- Saying “I have to go talk to my manager.” No one thinks salespeople are really going to talk to their manager about an offer or price. Give your sales team the autonomy they need to close deals within acceptable parameters. Let’s stop the good-cop, bad-cop schtick. It’s tired.
- Exclaiming “I’m already losing money on this deal!” Again, no one believes that you are giving cars away, nor do they expect it. What consumers do expect is a good deal. Hearing that you’re losing money is an old trick to garner sympathy. Let’s face it: when a customer is getting ready to drop a few grand on a down payment, they do not care about your profit margin. In today’s market, there’s always -- always -- a competitor to which they can turn.
- Treating women as anything less than serious customers. Jill Avery is an Ivy League lecturer. But any woman stepping onto your lot should be accorded respect, whether she’s a college student looking for her first car, a mother who needs a safe vehicle, or a blue collar employee who needs a reliable ride to work. Women research vehicles, compare and contrast models, carefully consider their options -- and many can even drive manuals! Remember who controls the vast majority of wealth in this country.
Breaking those habits is step 2. In fact, approaching customers and doing the exact opposite of what’s expected -- and feared -- is a big step in the right direction. Success is a matter of replacing outdated traditional techniques with those aimed at today’s smart consumers. Like what?
One word: Transparency
This is at the core of effective car dealership marketing efforts. When your customers believe that you’re going to deliver the best vehicle (for them) at the best price (for them), they will feel more confident visiting your dealership and spending their hard-earned money with you.
Transparency means eliminating hidden fees added at the 11th hour. This is another bad habit of which your team needs to be aware. A customer is prepared to sign only to find out that you’ve tacked on a few more line items. Today’s customers prefer to handle most details, including financials and loan paperwork, online. If their trip to the dealership does not match their experience on your website, they are out of there.
Transparency also means providing information to customers. In days past, the most critical part of a sale occured when customers walked onto the lot. They needed to meet a salesperson to show them various vehicles, features, pricing options, etc.
Here’s the reality: they don’t need you today. Not in the same way. Instead, most car buyers turn to their devices to research. They likely come in already aware of the nuts and bolts of the models in which they’re interested. They’re also more likely to do some research on the lot. This can be threatening to many dealers, but look at the bright side: customers are not going home to think about it. They’re doing what they need to do onsite.
Andy O’Dower, director of mobile product management at Cars.com says, “It’s becoming more acceptable to say, ‘I’m going to check this on my phone, if you don’t mind. For a dealer, an educated consumer is one that is much more apt to close. The best dealers realized very quickly that it’s the age of transparency.”
Cater to these savvy customers by offering a robust website that helps answer their questions; your content can illuminate everything from vehicle comparisons to tips for financing. You are delivering a value-add before customers walk onto your lot -- and while they are there. Brand apps and other digital tools can also help you make the sale without pressuring customers.
If you want to sell more cars today, it is important to take a look at your techniques. Do they emphasize the hard push -- or do they work to pull customers to you? Consumer shopping and purchasing habits have changed; it’s time your sales tactics did too.