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Car shopping offers all-around lesson in sales

I had the unpleasant experience recently of buying a new car.

It should be an exciting event, given all the great vehicles and attractive terms out there. I didn’t really know what I wanted. I just knew I wasn’t going to put a $2,500 used transmission into my 2002 car – a month after I put $2,000 into a clutch.

I couldn’t do it all online. I had to go to dealerships to test-drive cars. Thank you for your sympathy. When the salespeople asked me what I did for a living, I told them I taught people not to sell like car salespeople. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Be genuine

We don’t like car salespeople primarily because they come across as insincere showmen. They pretend to be on the buyer’s side with comments like: “My boss is not going to be very happy I’m losing so much money on this price, but I’d rather earn your business,” and “I can see you are a very honest person, so I’m going to level with you.”

Here’s the takeaway: People are not stupid; they know when others are exaggerating or misrepresenting themselves. We buy from people we like and trust. The best rainmakers don’t push. They are up-front and respectful. They are confident, but are not into playing games.

What you see is what you get – and that’s what we look for in any sales transaction. The more that you put yourself at the center of the interaction, the more you risk the connection.

Be helpful

I was a bit clueless as to what I wanted, and salespeople who picked up on that right away had more of my initial trust. Some of the salespeople immediately wanted to get me into a car they had in mind and talk nonstop about the engine mounts and navigation systems I didn’t care about.

Make the primary focus an investigation into understanding the mindset of the prospect: Where are you in the decision-making process? What’s important to you and why? How can I help you get clarity by providing more information?

Ask questions until you fully understand the person’s needs and challenges. And then provide the data the person needs to be a better decision-maker.

Buildings or cars both can be overwhelming endeavors, full of lots of critical and confusing choices. What’s involved in going from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold to platinum? Is the only option concrete tilt-up walls? Put yourself in the client’s shoes and be a guide in the process – even if it doesn’t benefit you. Think about the relationship rather than the deal.

Be insightful

My best interaction was with a sales manager who was able to read me: He picked up on the fact that I was early in the process, a big information gatherer, someone who needs to process pros and cons, and not ready to buy today. He provided information I needed, suggested I sleep on it, and schedule a time to take a car out for a two-hour test drive to really get an idea of how it felt.

If that company’s cars had met my needs, I would have bought from them. But based on my experience, I would refer friends to that dealership in the future.

When talking to prospective clients about projects, pick up on their clues for how ready they are to move and find out how they make decisions. Do they need a lot of information or just the most important items? Do they need time to process or are they ready to move? There’s no right way; simply probe and observe to understand their temperament and process.

Be firm

When I finally decided on a car and the terms, I was ready to put this all behind me. My last hurdle was the guy who handled the “papers,” which represented one last sales opportunity.

He offered me an extended warranty for $3,000 and broke it down to how little it was and why it made sense. When I turned him down, he reduced it to $2,000. When I turned him down again, he reduced it to $1,500. Half the price in 10 minutes! By this time, I had lost total faith that it was worth anything. He started the whole negotiation ready to sell it to me for twice the final price.

Owners are always looking for the best deal, which is fair. But stick to the price, if it’s competitive. If you don’t, the client will believe the first price wasn’t fair. By acquiescing, a company has painted itself vulnerable on price and not particularly trustworthy. Cost is a big deal these days, but find a way to reduce scope rather than the fee – if it comes down to it.

What’s it going to take to earn your business? I was asked those very words four times during my car-buying process. I ended up buying it from the least pushy, most respectful, most helpful, most insightful salesperson who defended his price. Yes, selling is part of all our jobs, but we don’t need to make it as unpleasant as buying a car.

Leo MacLeod is a new business coach and a strategic consultant. Contact him at leo@mainspringmarketing.com.

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One comment

  1. Love this article, perhaps due to me constantly referring to used car sales people as bad examples. You would think by now that they would have this figured out; but then you would think by now that our Federal folks would have the spending problem figured out as well…