Tag Archive | "Tom Hopkins"

Selling in Tough Times


It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how competitive the market has become. And modern cars, once built, have an extremely long shelf life compared with the cars of the past. With decent care, they can last 15-plus years and more than 200,000 miles. Some people simply won’t purchase a new vehicle until their old one wears out, or it needs a monthly influx of repair money that’s larger than a new car payment. Others take extremely good care of their vehicles hoping for larger trade-in amounts than are realistic. Some are downsizing for economy’s sake yet may not really be happy with something smaller after they’ve been driving a large SUV for years. Yet others who used to trade in their vehicles every 2-3 years are hanging on to them longer thus negatively impacting repeat business with them.

Let’s face it. Being an automotive salesperson today can be a pretty challenging job. With so many changes going on in the industry — manufacturers trying to figure out how to come out on top of the recession, dealers getting creative with offers, and so on — the information needed to do the job well changes on an almost daily basis. Some days they are expected to walk a fine line to keep everyone happy.

But one thing does not change: no matter what the news reports say, no matter what the manager tells the sales team, every word they utter and every sale they make must truly be good for the client. That never changes. If they will stick to that as their foundational ethic in automotive sales, they will not only survive these tough times, but thrive as the economy turns around.

Train them to repeat the mantra “good for them, good for them, good for them” in their head as they meet with, talk with and demonstrate vehicles to clients new and old. If they do that, their name will be passed among their clients’ friends and relatives as someone who is “one of the good guys (or gals) in the automotive field.” They will not only earn repeat business, but the business of nearly everyone those clients know; that type of referral business is what will keep sales people afloat during tough times.

Face it, the title “automotive sales person” is likely to conjure up a negative gut reaction in many potential new clients. As much as everyone enjoys the benefits of owning a vehicle, not many seem to really enjoy the process of getting one. Yet the need—the desire—to own those benefits keeps them coming, doesn’t it? The sales person’s job is to make the buying experience pleasant enough that clients want to come back over and over again.

Even with the inroads in public transportation and today’s tighter restrictions on lending, people still have a need for and ability to own automobiles. It is their job to educate young or first-time buyers on the nuances of getting a vehicle loan and how to establish credit. To help those clients understand what amount they might qualify for or whether or not they’ll need a co-signer in advance of showing them any vehicles. Don’t let them get their hearts (or egos) set on something they have no way of owning. A good sales person helps them with finding a “starter” car, just as real estate agents help people get into “starter homes.” If they handle this correctly, once their credit is established and/or they earn higher incomes, that sales person will be the one they turn to for their next purchase, which might very well be the car of their dreams.

With any potential client, I recommend teaching a three-pronged approach.
1. Help them find a vehicle that is a bit less than they can afford.
2. Show them one that is most likely ideal for their situation.
3. Show them one that’s a little more than they want to invest.

In the majority of the cases, buyers go with the middle one, and that’s fine. However, there will be a certain group of people who will find a way to stretch their resources for that nicer vehicle. And, there will be those whose fears cause them to go for the lesser vehicle — for now. The sales person’s concern for and ability to provide them with the opportunity to “shop around” right there in the dealership will often short-circuit the desire to keep visiting other dealerships.

When times get tough, smart salespeople get creative. They know people are fearful of making financial commitments. They know some can’t qualify for what they want. They know some are hesitant to give up old vehicles even though they may not be as reliable as something newer. That sales person’s job is to make the process of making a decision that is “good for them” a pleasant one.

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Setting Realistic Sales Goals


Achieving sales volume goals is one of the biggest challenges any automotive salesperson or agent faces. This is a pretty straightforward industry. If you’re not making the cut, you can quickly find yourself cut from the team. There are so many factors that can affect that final number that you have to stay on top of every aspect of your sales activities and keep making client contacts.

If you aren’t truly excited about the product you are offering, it will show in your demeanor or in some little thing you say or do while with potential clients. They’ll sense it and little doubts and fears will arise in them about purchasing from you. So, first and foremost, in order to achieve anything in this business, you have to believe in your line of products, in the companies you represent and in your own ability to excite others about them.

Let’s assume for now, though, that you do have the knowledge, the belief and the right attitude in place. How do you set and achieve the sales goals? Start by setting a financial goal for yourself for the year. Break it down into quarters and months. Is the monthly goal realistic? If not, you either need to downsize your goal or super-size your skills. You decide.

Next, consider the average amount you earn on a typical sale. Divide that into your monthly earning goal to see how many products you need to sell and clients you need to sign up this month. Consider your gut reaction and first thoughts when you see that number. Is it one of “Hey, I can do that.” Or, is it, “Wow! How am I going to do that?”

If it seems easy, consider increasing your sales goal. If it seems like it will be a challenge, good. Your goal should be something that both excites you and makes you stretch a bit each month. When you’re in stretch-mode, you’ll be open to learning new ways of connecting with people. You’ll look forward to making follow up calls and contacting those who are referred to you. You’ll get out of bed in the morning with excitement to face the day and accomplish something positive.

This next step in achieving your goals is critical: Multiply your sales ratio by the number of products determined above to learn how many people you need to connect with this month. Do you typically sell every fourth dealership you meet with? If so, your ratio is 1:4. If you need to get people happily involved in 10 new products to achieve your earnings goal, you’ll need to meet 40 of them in order to do so. That’s when the law of averages is working with you.

Is it realistic for you to meet 40 people this month? If not, again, you either downsize your goals or learn new and better ways to meet people, put them at ease and get them to like you, trust you and want to listen to you.

That’s the bottom line of what selling is all about. People buy from people they like. If you’re not like-able, you’re out of luck. If you’re not knowledgeable, they won’t trust you. If you want people to listen to you and to take your advice, you have to learn to listen to them. If you ask questions and get them talking, they’ll tell you exactly what they need in terms of filling product holes and needs at their dealership.

So, in getting back to these 40 people you need to meet this month, where are you going to connect with them? Hopefully, you’re not one of those salespeople who waits in the lot, hoping the company advertising campaign will bring ‘em in droves. To achieve your automotive selling goals, you have to invest time in reaching out to people all on your own.

Call your past clients to see if they’re still happy with their products. These calls shouldn’t take more than two minutes each. It’s just a way of touching base, making them feel important and giving them an opportunity to tell you if they’re happy or if they still have issues to resolve. If they’re happy, you have the right to ask them for referral business. If they’re not, you need to know about it because their unhappiness can cost you a lot of future business.

Knowing your target for meeting people is the way to achieve the sales goals you’re reaching for.

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Be Aware of Unique Cultural Needs


If your dealer clients do business with people from cultural groups different from your own, you would be wise to invest some time to learn more about those cultures and their needs in terms of vehicles and services. You may not necessarily be doing business with people in another country, but with those from other countries who have relocated to your community. If you want their business, you have to understand their needs on many levels.

This isn’t difficult to do. There’s a vast array of information available online, for free, about nearly every culture on the planet. Set aside 15 minutes to look under the topics of “protocol,” “diversity,” or “cultural awareness.” If you pick up just one key point that makes the next customer from another culture feel comfortable with you, it is well worth your while.

One potential source is http://www.usaprotocol.com/. This where you’ll find the handbook for U.S. diplomats on proper etiquette and protocol for meetings with people from diverse cultures around the world. There are many other good books written on proper protocol for doing business with people of different cultures. With a quick call or visit to your local library, you can find a wealth of information to review while waiting for clients to come into your dealership.

Take a moment now to consider what cultural groups are represented within a 50-mile radius of your dealerships. If you’re not sure, call your local Chamber of Commerce. They’ll have demographics of the population in the area and be able to provide you with good information. Once you have that information and begin studying a culture, you’re creating specialized service for a niche market in your area. Don’t just learn how to sell vehicles to these different cultures, learn how they like to be served after the sale. Providing courteous contact and consistent follow up will cause them to send their friends and relatives to your clients’ dealerships as well.

The most important aspect of doing business with someone from a culture other than ours is to beware of the words you use. Some American words and phrases just don’t translate well. They just don’t have the meaning that you may wish to impart, thus, are likely to confuse potential clients. Or, worse, the translation may be something offensive. So, when speaking to folks from other cultures, watch your words. Speak at your highest level of language rather than using casual or slang terms.

You may also want to stop periodically and ask if the potential clients understand what you’ve just told them. If they don’t, assure them that’s okay and that you’re there to help them to understand so they can find a vehicle that best serves their particular needs.

Here are a few other things to be aware of:

  • Be patient when building trust and establishing relationships. People from countries other than the U.S. generally need more than a handshake to build trust. It is important to observe a greater degree of formality when becoming acquainted than you would use with a client who was born and raised locally.
  • Speak more slowly than you normally do, but don’t raise your voice. Volume doesn’t usually increase comprehension. Also, don’t speak down to them as if they are children. Simple speak clearly and include appropriate gestures to ensure they’re following what you’re pointing out to them.
  • Avoid slang, buzzwords, idioms, jargon and lingo. These can all be easily misunderstood by those who may not speak your language as their primary language. Just use simple wording until you can get an idea of what level of your language they understand.
  • If you’re using an interpreter, make sure the interpreter meets the customer before you actually begin to sell them. This will allow the interpreter to determine if there are any dialect challenges between what they speak and what the client is most familiar with.
  • Pay attention to nonverbal interaction cues. The word “Yes” or an affirmative nod often means, “Yes, I hear you,” in Asian cultures, not, “Yes, I agree.” If you see a nod and move on to closing the sale, you may frighten them off with what appears to them as overzealousness.

Culture is as much an influence on people as their personal experiences, so learning about their customs and traditions only makes sense. That way, neither you nor your client will be made to feel uncomfortable and selling can be done.

If you’re in doubt about how to properly work with people of another culture, don’t be afraid to ask them. Ask as you would with any client what their past experiences have been when purchasing a vehicle. Ask what they liked and disliked about the service, the folks they dealt with at the dealership and the vehicle itself. This is all a normal part of qualifying during any sales process.

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Conquer Customers’ Fears to Improve Your Business


Fear is the greatest enemy you’ll ever encounter in business and it’s especially prevalent in sales situations. Few business professionals recognize that fear appears on both sides of most business or selling situations. The level of success you will achieve in your career depends on your understanding of and mastery over fear.

Most salespeople have fears of not getting enough business, making mistakes or losing face. Some even fear required aspects of selling such as prospecting or closing. Fear can be readily conquered through increases in product knowledge, selling skills and experience.

Being educated and well-prepared to perform in this industry brings about a high level of self-confidence. Self-confidence is a great fear killer.

The toughest job you’ll encounter in business is when you have to help others admit to and overcome their fears so you can earn the right to serve their needs. Fear is what builds that wall of resistance you so often run into in selling situations. There are skills you must master to climb over or break through that wall. But, first, you must understand what the fears are.

What are the most common fears you’ll have to overcome with clients?

Fear of salespeople. I think you’ll agree with me that salespeople are not generally accepted with open arms initially—even by other salespeople.

Even if you are going to help someone you already know — a friend or acquaintance or even a relative — when you enter their lives in the role of a sales professional, certain fears will arise. It’s bound to happen in 99 percent of your presentations. (I’ll give you a one percent non-fear situation with your parents or grandparents, simply because in most cases, they’ll believe in you and trust you no matter what role you play with them.)

What you need to do to conquer the “salesperson fear” is to master the skill of putting people at ease. Learn to use a relaxed manner and reassuring tone of voice. Use rapport-building comments and questions that show them you are interested in them, not just in the transaction. You need to come across as warm, friendly and inviting. If you truly believe in your products and the quality of service you and your company can deliver, it should show.

Try these words: “John and Mary, let me begin by thanking you in advance for the time we’ll share. I hope we can consider this meeting somewhat exploratory, meaning my job is to analyze your needs and show you how we at (name of your business) can assist you with your (type of product) needs.”

You didn’t say, “We’re going to find the right product for you today.” That would be too pushy and might cause them to add a few bricks to their wall of resistance. This type of statement is just as effective with purchasing agents or dealers. After all, we’re in the people business and the same fears apply whether we’re making a buying decision for ourselves or for our companies.

One of the simplest things you can do to put others at ease is to smile. This may sound elementary, but glance at yourself in a mirror or window as you pass. Do you naturally have a smile on your face? Probably not. You wear whatever is on your mind on your face. When you’re with clients, it needs to be a warm, sincere smile of appreciation for their time.

Watch for something for which you can give your clients a sincere compliment. That is another way of putting them at ease. If they’re meeting you at your business, compliment them for being punctual. If you’re in their office or home, they will likely have something on display that represents something they’re proud of…family photos, awards, art. Take a moment to compliment them on whatever it is. It’s just another way of keeping their fears at bay.

Also, thank them for the opportunity to serve their needs. In other words, treat them as you would a guest you are honored to have in your home.

Fear of making a mistake. We all have that one, don’t we? We’ve all said things we wished we hadn’t. And, we’ve made decisions we’ve later regretted. You must take the time to talk them through every aspect of the transaction very carefully. Ask what hesitations they have about making a purchase of this kind. Ask about their past experiences. Most people will not stray far from their past buying histories. You will want to know theirs before presenting an offer that they might think is beyond their means.

You are the expert. You know this business. You may have knowledge about aspects of it that they may not have thought of, and if they had, their decisions may have been different. You must go into every presentation with a very curious interest in the who, what, when, where and why of the transaction. When you’ve satisfied yourself that it is in their best interest to proceed, then it’s your duty as an expert to persuade them that this decision is truly good for them.

Fear of spending money. Customers may make irrational statements or ask questions that seem out of place. They may even mistrust what you have to say. They may want to negotiate fees.

Realize that it’s simply a symptom of the fear they are feeling about the transaction. When you notice something along these lines, pause in your presentation. You might want to do a brief summary of what’s been discussed thus far to be certain they understand everything you’ve covered and see the benefits to them of owning your product versus hanging on to their money.

This challenge may appear in many variations, depending on the negotiating skills of your clients.

  • They may stall making any decision to go ahead and you’ll have to draw them out.
  • They may be point blank about it and you’ll have to sell them on the value of the service you provide.

A good way to handle most fears is to confront them head on, but gently. You might simply say, “John, I feel you have some hesitation about going ahead with this. Would you mind sharing with me what it is?” Then, be quiet and wait for their reply.

It could be that they’ve had a bad past experience and are sitting there fearful of having another. They’re waiting and watching you for signs that you’re not like that other salesperson. Get them talking about their fears so you can determine something concrete to work on. Help them to see how different you and your company are.

People won’t do business with you if they don’t like you, trust you and want to listen to you. Fear gets in the way of all three of those areas.

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