Aug 15, 2022 | Growth & Scale

What lessons can you take away from selling cars?

Q. Dear Zenagos, I can see that one of your co-founders worked as a car salesperson. What lessons can she share with us from that experience?

Zenagos Expert Mavis Chin sold new and pre-owned cars at the highest-volume Lexus dealership in the United States. She has written the article below from her perspective.

I decided to sell cars at a time in my life when I really wanted to learn about sales. I had never sold anything before (at least, not in an “eat what you kill” manner, where almost all of your income is from commissions). Since I enjoy the car negotiation process, I thought I could learn something by selling cars. My friends used to take me to the dealership with them when they were going to buy a car. Believe it or not, I think the negotiation process is fun!

Times are definitely changing with respect to car sales, especially with vehicles in short supply during the pandemic. Many of the dealerships that once used questionable tactics (like taking your keys and not returning them until you started talking price) are being replaced with “no negotiation” dealerships or with “take-it-or-leave-it” pricing. Some manufacturers have stated their clear intention to follow the Tesla model and have customers choose their car and its options online and skip the dealership experience altogether.

These changes may eventually grant the car-selling business a less sales-intensive reputation, but at the time that I worked in the field, salespeople were front and center, and you couldn’t buy a car without working with a salesperson. I learned a few lessons worth sharing, since they apply to selling almost anything.

The dealership I worked at put me through a 3-week training program, and (much to my surprise at the time), only one week of the three weeks was about the product or the facts and features of the cars. The rest of the training was about human behavior and the sales process that the dealership wanted us to follow. I found the experience invaluable, and I developed a tremendous amount of respect for good salespeople.

Here are some of the broadly applicable lessons that I learned:

1. Use a consultative approach

I was a business consultant for many years, and it never once occurred to me to use a consultative process to sell cars. Now, I realize that all sales is about asking questions, or “consulting” the customer. You need to ask, “How are you planning to use the vehicle? Do you have a lot of cargo or a lot of passengers? What is the most important thing to you about your new vehicle? What do you dislike about your current vehicle?” I learned that a great salesperson asks questions instead of pushing the sale. Depending on what you learn, you may end up recommending something different than what the prospective customer initially requested.

2. Surface objections early

There are “objections” (barriers that the potential customer needs to overcome) in every sale. As a salesperson, you need to uncover your prospect’s objections, so you can address them one by one. Some salespeople skip the consultation and start firing responses to many possible objections, hoping to hit the target. This tactic can feel overwhelming. It’s a lot easier to just ask your prospects what makes them nervous about making the purchase. You’ll get to an answer sooner, and the conversation will be less intense.

3. Understand that emotions can drive purchase decisions

Have you ever sat in the driver’s seat of a new car in a showroom, and someone says to you, “Wow, you look great in there!” It may sound like a cheap tactic, but it works. It’s not just false flattery – it’s appealing to the emotions of your prospect. Whether it’s a house or a car or a haircut, most people do not make decisions purely based on logic. You may have a superior product or service, but if you don’t appeal to your prospect’s emotions, you won’t see as many sales as you’d like. You need to think about how you’re making people feel and help them see how the purchase will make them happier, solve a problem, or raise their status.

4. “No” is much better than “maybe”

When you ask a prospect for a sale and they don’t say “yes” but they don’t say “no,” they are saying “maybe.” At first blush, “maybe” sounds more promising than “no,” but it may not be. The good thing about “no” is that you can quickly move on from that prospect and find some new potential customers. You may convert a couple of the “maybes,” if you invest a lot of time in them, but probably not the majority. So, great salespeople create a process for following up with “maybes” that does not take up a lot of time. They re-focus their time on a “maybe” when they see evidence of a change in the person’s interest level.

5. Get all the decision-makers in the same place

It is a sad moment in sales when you spend a lot of time with a prospect, develop a great rapport, and get that feeling of excitement that they will buy. . .only to have your bubble burst when they say, “I should check with my ______.” This could be the prospect’s wife, husband, daughter, son, mom, boss, or anyone else. You’re completely blindsided. You thought you were talking to the decision-maker the entire time, but you weren’t. Now you have to go through most of the sales process – again. At the car dealership, we were trained to ask, “Will there be anyone else participating in the decision about color and trim?” just before we started the test drive. Then, if there were any additional decision-makers, we could go get that person and sell the car to all of the relevant parties at the same time. It was a terrific sales technique.

If you are enjoying my car-selling stories, let me know by submitting a question at the Ask a Question linke below. I’ll be happy to share!


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