Posts tagged phone skills
It used to be as a Dealer Principal or manager; you would consider yourself lucky to have a salesperson willing to make an outbound sales call, and even luckier still, if the sales person actually asked for an appointment. I have filled out hundreds and hundreds of Internet forms over the past year, and have noticed a new breed of salesperson. This eager, yet untrained, salesperson gladly picks up the phone, confidently dials a number and charges though that call with little or no knowledge of what the customer wants or needs. None of this matters to “Johnny-on-the-phone”, for he is in a race against himself towards an appointment. I am hearing untrained sales people very proudly and abruptly demanding an appointment within 20 seconds of the call. Believe it or not, I see salespeople do the same thing online. Being so bold as to ask for an appointment in an auto-responder. I have even see salespeople ask for an appointment at the end of every email exchanged regardless of the message of the email. It’s fine to focus on an appointment, but don’t charge through your opportunities and ask for an appointment without even addressing the customer’s needs. We appreciate the effort, “Johnny-on-the-phone”. We know you mean well, just… stop.
You need to be prepared to have an actual conversation, via phone or internet. The (again) untrained, but well-meaning salesperson knows this, and will use the weakest technique in the book: “Do you have any questions?” Of course they have questions, why else would they even bother to contact your dealership? Assume what those questions will be and be prepared to answer proactively. Face it… customers are already asking questions; you just might not realize it. They are clicking on buttons with labels like: “Request more info” “Get a Quote” or “Get Financed”. They are leaving comments about their needs. By making them repeat themselves, the customer may think you are playing “hard-to-get” with the information they are looking for, or they will simply think: “Wow. This dealership really isn’t listening.” The 5 little words, “Do you have any questions?” while well intended, can do more harm than good.
Developing rapport over the phone or internet is not easy, so take every opportunity to show the customer you are listening and make a good impression. Be more specific and lead into your questions: “I like the color of this one, what drew you to it?” Be ready and able to engage in an actual conversation about the vehicle by doing some research on it before you pick up the phone to make the call. You must be prepared to build some momentum over the phone and bring the customer to a place where they want to come in.
Having filled out hundreds of those Internet forms, I have had those 5 words thrown at me 75% of the time. My first response is usually: Well I already asked for a question… what’s the price?”. The untrained salesperson usually responds with” “My Internet manager didn’t tell me that.” or “That information wasn’t on there.” Both excuses are Bullshit. Get the information. It exists somewhere and it is up to you to hunt it down. Your contact management tool or Internet lead provider is the best place to start if you are not sure how to find it yourself. If you rely on another person to share contact information with you, make sure you ask the questions: “What form did this customer fill out? Were there any comments with it?” Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. We are in the information age after all, and you are the only one to blame if you are uninformed.
We have already established that communication via telephone is not the most natural form of communication. That being the case, I have heard hundreds of salespeople ask questions that have nothing to do with the task at hand (setting an appointment). Before you ask a customer a question over the phone, first ask yourself this: “Does the answer to this question get me any closer to an appointment?” Here are the top 5 questions NOT to ask an inbound sales call.
Your top sales people have spent their careers fine-tuning their selling skills. Since communicating over the phone is so unnatural for some, they simply default to the sales skills in which they have experienced success with. I hear them say a lot of things that would be best said on the showroom floor. They tend to steer the conversation into a place that is comfortable for them. I have noticed the skill set employed by these sales people seems to be the presentation of the vehicle. With a customer on the floor, giving a detailed vehicle presentation and demonstration would only make sense, after all it is one of the components that pave the way to a sale; That said, it’s pretty pointless over the phone. Reading a mundane list of features, or even worse, a build sheet, to someone over the phone is boring. Obviously, those details are far more impressive to see than to hear. I realize the vehicle description is not a question, but it’s still not something that is going to get you any closer to an appointment.
Generally, after a salesperson has read off a list of details, I hear them ask the customer: “Does this sound like something you would be interested in?” This leads me to the second pointless question: “Does this sound like something you are interested in? Considering the fact that 86% of people end up buying a vehicle other than the one they initially inquired about, the answer to this question isn’t going to make a difference as far as an appointment is concerned. On the showroom floor, the answer would lead to paperwork, and ultimately a sale. On the phone, it only leads to awkward silence.
Number three on the list of worst questions to ask a customer: “Is this going to be for you?” These days, it’s pretty common for a someone to employ a friend or family member to call a dealership and inquire about a vehicle on their behalf for any number of reasons. Mostly, because the potential buyer is afraid of; or is intimidated by, “car sales people”. Either way, the buyer, who has asked their Dad to call your dealership, has decided you need to sell Dad before you can sell them. So, untrained salespeople ask the caller this pointless question hoping for what? How do you plan to proceed with the conversation with a yes or no answer? Asking the caller if the vehicle is for them is not going to get the buyer on the showroom floor any faster or easier. When I hear a sales person ask this question, all I can think of is that they are afraid they may have to do more work. Guess what, it’s your job, so get to work! Assume the person on the phone is the buyer and sell the appointment. Sure, you may have to sell an entire extended family on an appointment before you get a chance to sell the buyer, but the one willing to go the extra mile will get the sale.
Number four on the list of Worst Questions is also a sign you have a lazy salesperson: asking about credit scores, or financial situations. It’s too soon! Let me set a scene for you. During a call, something is said that gives the salesperson the impression that the caller has poor or no credit. Something like: “I need a payment under $150 a month” or “Do I need a cosigner for that $129 a month lease I saw on TV?” Once the salesperson has used their magical mind reading skills and decides within 20 seconds that there is no way this caller could EVER buy a car, they set themselves to the task of talking the customer out of visiting the Dealership. There is no way on earth you can determine whether or not a person can buy a vehicle without that person in front of you on the showroom floor. Nor can you convince them to do anything such as borrow money for a down payment, or ask a friend or family member to cosign for them if there is no value built in the vehicle. If you have this potential customer in front of you, you can develop deeper rapport with them and advise the customer to go to any of these measures. The customer will also have more emotion for a particular vehicle once they have been given a full vehicle demonstration along with a demo ride. You need to have the attitude that you are going to sell a vehicle to every single caller, regardless of the potential obstacles you may have to overcome along the way. Most importantly, you can’t sell them anything unless you’re able to sell an appointment first.
Finally, topping off the list of the 5 worst questions to ask a phone up is: “When are you looking to buy this thing?” Asking this question is a great way to get a customer to put their guard up. It puts pressure on them and causes them to distrust you. Assume and proceed as if the caller is planning on buying today. If they are asking for a price on a new vehicle, quote them with the price of the car today, even if it is the last day of the month and you know incentives or finance rates are due to change tomorrow.
You should always have a reason as to why today is the best day to buy. The reason doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to price either. Perhaps you are having a big sale today, or your manager is in a FANTASTIC mood today, or you are giving away free oil changes today. There is an average of 30 days in a month, so try to come up with 30 reasons as to why today is the best day. This way, you also have a reason to follow up with a customer until they make a purchase. Keep yourself focused on an appointment on the phone, and save those great sales skills for the showroom floor.
Dealer Principals spend thousands of dollars every month on advertising. No matter what media they choose, from newspaper to magazine ads, posting inventory online or blasting an email, from a direct mail campaign to a billboard, the goal is to get the phones ringing. The main focus of your salespeople and BDC agents should be to turn those phone calls into floor traffic where it is far more likely a sale will occur. Over the past year, I have listened to tens of thousands of inbound calls from all over the country, and noticed that most salespeople have a hard time separating sales skills from phone skills. It is important to recognize the difference and use each set of skills at the appropriate times.
When you break it down, talking to another person on the phone is not exactly a natural form of communication. This is why, despite billions of attempts over the years to interact with pets and newborns using the phone continue to fail. Unlike your dog, your newborn will eventually be able to communicate with you by phone as they develop the skills necessary to do so. At first, they will let you hold the phone to their ear while they glare at you confused. They wonder why you insist this talking toy you are holding to their head is their Daddy. After some months go by, that look of confusion turns to delight as they learn the talking toy has Daddy’s voice in it. Finally, they learn Daddy can hear their voice on the talking toy too which is extremely fun for them. Notice that the entire time a toddler is using the phone they are instinctively looking at your face. Facial expression and body language are the corner stones of communication. Your little one is looking at you for those familiar visual cues we rely on for effective communication.
It takes them a few years to get it, but they have a lot to put together at that age. Your salespeople and BDC team won’t understand the intricacies of phone handling any quicker which is why training them early helps them grasp those skills a little faster than your baby.
One with exceptional phone skills can compensate for the lack of facial expression and body language necessary for effective communication, with carefully selected words, voice inflection and speed. Stay tuned for tips and strategies on how to get your sales team to stop trying to sell cars over the phone, and start selling appointments. While your best salesperson is a master of face-to-face communication, they probably don’t realize how weak their phone skills really are. You know salespeople… they know everything already.
Like some of you, I am just getting caught up from nearly two weeks of conference action in Vegas. After attending and participating in three conferences (I only know a few who stayed for four!), my head was left full of charts, graphs, concepts, and ideas. Beyond the sensory overload from all of the content, one thing became abundantly clear to me: I was surrounded by people with passion. Pure, unbridled, go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, passion. Hearing people tell their story, wildly gesticulating with their excitement. The enthusiasm was contagious!
Many of us have passions in life. For some, it’s the outdoors. For others, it’s sports. Still for others, it’s working in the garage. You can debate for hours about the best way to rebuild a carburetor. You work tirelessly on your fantasy football team at all hours of the night. You spend weeks scouting out the best place to put a deer blind. You have rooms dedicated to mounted fish, classic Fords, and the New Jersey Devils.
I’m one of the guys who’s extremely passionate about his career. I love what I do! I rarely ever stop thinking about how I can improve processes, discover efficiencies, or make people more productive. I’m bouncing ideas off my friends in the industry all of the time (and they are always bouncing ideas off of me). I know my wife wishes I’d take a break in the evening, but she tolerates it because it’s what I do. I feel like the car business found me and I’m going to give a 100% back.
I know many of you, however, don’t feel that same passion. Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a dead-end job or someone around you constantly drags you down. Well I have bad news for you: your customers can hear it, see it, and feel it. How are they going to tell you “yes” when all they see is ‘no’ ? Unfortunately, the car business is not one of lateral moves. You’re either productive or you’re packing.
If you’re lacking that passion, you don’t need to get a prescription. I’ll leave the pills to Pfizer, Glaxo, and Bayer. I’m merely suggesting you change your outlook on what you do for a living. When asked, I’m guessing most of you would say that you sell cars for a living. I would argue that the sale is the end result of what you do. Before that vehicle puts rubber to the road, rolls over the curb, and starts killing bugs (did I miss any?), you need to sell yourself first. If the customer is not buying what you’re saying, then you have a tall hurdle ahead of you.
So how do you change your outlook? It’s actually pretty simple. Start thinking about what you really do every day. You’re not some robot that picks up the phone, pecks away at the computer, and shuffles papers around. You’re a cheerful voice after a hard day at work. You help people save their hard earned money. You are your own business. You assure people that they are making good decisions. You’re solving people’s problems. You make lasting friendships. In some cases, you’re even helping people achieve their life’s aspiration. You’re not selling cars: You are changing people’s lives!
Now I can hear the skeptics out there now saying that I’ve read too many books (and some other things that can’t be written here). To the naysayers, I say give it a shot. Talk to your customers with the same energy you would talk about college basketball during March Madness. Remind yourself that you are providing a valuable service to people. Sometimes it’s simpler than metrics and technology. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make all of the difference. What do you have to lose?
Originally posted 10/6/2010 on DrivingSales.com
For most of us, the fair season has come and gone. As I’m writing this, my son is at the county fair in the rural Michigan town where my wife and I grew up. Like most fairs in the Midwest, it’s all about 4H and Future Farmers of America; kids showing off their pigs, goats, and cows (consequently, my niece’s rabbit is Grand Champion). Like most other fairs in the Midwest, local businesses set up shop, politicians are there to shake hands, and all of the food is available on a stick. The car dealers all come armed with Mustangs, Duramaxes, Chargers, and the omnipresent balloons.
Then there are the carnival rides. Personally, I don’t ride anything that can be assembled overnight. The kids, however, go crazy over them. The one ride that always intrigues me most is bumper cars, or Dodgem, as it’s known in fair parlance. There are always three or four maniacal, fuzzy lipped, teens chasing down a dozen other people. One would think the whole point would be to live out one’s favorite traffic jam fantasy, and just plow through everything that gets in the way. That’s where the intrigue comes in: everyone drives away from each other.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I perform a lot of mystery shopping. One of the biggest fumbles I consistently see is that dealer personnel don’t ask questions in their email responses. Over these last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that most dealer personnel don’t seem to be good at answering questions either. A lot like Dodgem, a customer tries to bump their email into a dealership, only to have his or her efforts dodged.
First, let’s put ourselves in the customer’s comfy shoes. As John and Jane Customer, we work hard for our money and we don’t want to pay anything more than we should. We go to the Gap when things go on sale, and we go out of our way to Costco to get a 55 gallon drum of shampoo to save a few pennies per ounce. When it comes to cars, we are blissfully unaware of dealer allocations, regional option groups, and targeted residuals. Our grandpa was somehow able to order a L72 big block Malibu with dog-dish wheels and no air conditioning. When we drive by the dealership, we see an endless sea of vehicles with infinite possibilities.
Now let’s get back to reality. As dealer personnel, we know that manufactures build what they want, when they want. Our dealers still shotgun it and order what they think people want. In all actuality, most customers have no idea what they really want. This is how many good salespeople make great careers by becoming a valuable resource to their customers, then their customers’ families and friends. They know all of the subtle intricacies and help their loyal customers select the right car.
Is there any reason why the digital-age should change this? Absolutely not! If a customer was sitting in front of you and asked if a Grand Cherokee had full-time four wheel drive, you’d explain the difference between Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. But somehow in the email world, the response is “…we have plenty of Grand Cherokees to choose from. When can you come to the dealership to drive one?” Why not just answer the question: “The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is equipped with three highly sophisticated AWD systems. Are you looking for something to take you through the snow or do you plan on going off-roading? I can walk you through which system might be right for you” (that response took 57 seconds to write). Which email do you think is going to solicit a response quicker?
Before you sell a car, you need to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment. If Toyota is not building Spruce Mica Tundras, let the customer know it. If Honda only ships two-wheel drive Pilots to your region, say so. If Fiestas with manual transmissions are in short supply, then give the customer a heads up. Facing these questions head-on allows you to build rapport, add value, and start a dialogue. It makes you that valuable resource, thus making it much easier to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment.
The next time a customer emails you a question, think about bumper cars. Imagine your competition driving away madly from potential customers, while you square up for a head-on collision. Think about what you know and what the customer doesn’t. Make yourself indispensable in the shopping process. Now take your right foot, slam down the pedal, and go in for the hit!
Originally posted 9/7/2010 on DrivingSales.com
I bought a book a short time ago, and at the top it said: “Ignore this book at your own peril.” The quote is from the best selling author, entrepreneur, and Marvel Superhero Candidate, Seth Godin. Having read most of Godin’s books, I immediately bought the book he was endorsing.
While I won’t bore you with the details of the book (it’s an awesome read), it’s a prime example of buyer motivation. Although I had no intention of buying a book that day, I physically walked into a book store, browsed through the business books (yes I’m a nerd), saw the quote by Godin, grabbed the book, and promptly paid for it. The bookstore didn’t sell the book. The authors didn’t sell the book. The publisher didn’t sell the book. Seth Godin sold the book.
How often are you asking your customers how they heard about your store? How they decided what products to consider?
What prompted them to start shopping online? How they heard to ask for you? In fact, how often are you asking questions?
I’ve been actively mystery shopping dealers for the better part of the last five years, and it’s not very often that I’m asked personal questions. I’ve seen plenty of volunteered information about the dealership’s history, the General Manager’s name, and the MSRP of the vehicle requested. It’s not very often that I’m asked if it’s better to communicate via email or phone. I’m rarely asked if I’m considering comparable vehicles. There have been solar eclipses since I was asked how I chose their store.
Why is this question so critical? It’s simple: it gives you instant feedback about how well your customer acquisition/retention methods are functioning. The answers could range from “I was searching the Internet for good deals on Chevys” (that SEO is paying off), to “One of my friends mentioned your name on Twitter “(high-five to the social media gal; get the bird-dog check in the mail), to “I saw your ad in the newspaper” (people DO still read those), to “I’ve bought my last four cars from you! You don’t remember?” (it’s officially time for a new CRM). Asking this one simple question gives you the pulse on what methods of outreach are working in real-time. As an added bonus, it gives you insight into how your customers make a decision.
If a customer’s cruising Google for good deals, it’s more likely that they are value conscious and not too dealer-loyal. If a customer reacts to a Facebook post from a friend, it’s likely that they are influenced by third parties and that they are looking for objectivity/credibility. If a customer is responding to a newspaper advertisement, they’re more likely to be reactionary and more of a “traditional” shopper. Is it not easier to respond with valuable information when you know which hat to put on? Is it not easier to make investments if you know it’s already paying off?
Although I’m pretty sure I’d turn elsewhere for car purchasing advice, Seth made it easy for me to spend $22. Your customers are following various sources of advice everyday to get that same guidance. These sources of influence are selling your product, selling your process, and selling your dealership. The good news is that it’s much easier to find out who or what these sources of influence are than you think. All you have to do is ask!
Hey, by the way…what made you click on this post?
Originally posted 8/4/2010 on DrivingSales.com
Jimi Hendrix is regarded by many as the greatest rock guitarist ever. Innocently enough, he taught himself how to play guitar, practicing many of the same R&B songs his 60s contemporaries grew up playing. He gigged with several local bands around the country, traveled to different venues around Europe, and paid his dues like everyone else. Then one day he turned the volume up to 11. He turned distortion and feedback into harmonies. He experimented with different recording methods. He modified his tools to meet his needs. (If you just teleported in from another dimension, do a YouTube search for Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner.) He fundamentally altered rock guitar forever.
Technology didn’t make Hendrix great. He was still a prolific guitar player long before the advent of electronic effects and amplification enhancements. He took what was available to him, used his imagination, and made it better. The fact of the matter is that any of us could buy the exact same rig that Hendrix used, and his corpse could still outplay us. Technology doesn’t make you better. You make technology better.
Many of us (myself included), go after the latest and greatest technology as soon as it’s available. We fall into that feeling that if I had this new widget, then I could… In most cases we end up mildly disappointed, lying to ourselves, or locked up in a four-year contract. That new golf club may have increased your drive, but did it profoundly change your handicap? Did that new table saw make a better piece of furniture? Did that new photo editing software make you a better photographer? My guess is that you’ll soon be in the market for a new putter, a new jointer, or a new camera.
The very best tools can be rendered useless without the basic knowledge of how to efficiently maximize their output. How many times has a sports car left your dealership and returned shortly thereafter as a pile of metal, plastic, and rubber? How many times has a pickup come back to the store with broken leaf springs or a caved-in tailgate? How many economy cars are back in service with burnt clutches and bent shift forks? Despite the warnings (and common sense), the inexperienced drivers had to learn the hard way about what their new vehicle could, and could not do. The drivers didn’t take the time to explore their capabilities, learn about their vehicles, or practice what they’ve learned.
The same holds true for new dealer technologies. We fall into that same “spend our way out of our novice” approach. We fail to learn about the capability of the tools we already have. We fail to practice the new skills we learn. We fail to become self-sufficient, and rely on our teammates (or rely on a community of experts). We fail to experiment.
What good does it do to create a new website to drive more prospects to an already overwhelmed staff? How much impact can multiple phone numbers have if “when can you come in” is the extent of a staff’s phone skills? What’s the sense of acquiring third party leads just to keep a dealer’s staff busy (true story)? Did the technology sell two more cars upon implementation, or was it the $1000 in conquest cash that the OEM offered at the last second?
It’s important that we remain objective regarding new technology. Certainly new systems, methodologies, and enhancements will continue come out. But, just because the big dealers are doing something, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Take some time to think about how much effort you and your staff will have to put into using a new system. Then think about what you could do by taking the same effort, and dedicate it to training, role playing, learning about the existing system, or practicing phone scripts. You have good business sense. Listen to what your gut tells you about a new technology. For most technology to achieve its full capabilities in your dealership, recognize that its success will be predicated upon the amount of time your staff gives to it. If you’re not ready to crack a sweat, then maybe it’s not the right time.
Some things will always hold true. Roger Federer will still crush the average tennis pro using a garage-sale wooden racket. LeBron James will still beat most at HORSE while playing barefooted. Jimi Hendrix will forever be a rock legend. Consider new technology when you know your staff has outgrown the tools they already have. They need to be ready to play at volume 11.