Beyond the Walkaround
TRAINING, DEVELOPMENT AND SALES TECHNIQUES
FOR THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
Thinking back through the nearly twenty-five years of my career in the car business, there are a great number of memories that move in and out of my mind. A bit funny maybe, but I can’t help but remember my first attempt at a product presentation. It seems to be more clear than most. I really don’t know why, yet it makes some sense and it is the perfect theme from which to launch this fun and unique journey you and I are about to take. The subject of the presentation was a Caprice Classic. It was unfamiliar to me except for the specifications, features, advantages, and benefits that I had crammed into my brain over a short period of time. But, I had these things and a single note card to help. The prospect was daunting – my attempt, relatively feeble. The showroom was enormous. It could attractively display 18 vehicles on the ground and the thirty-foot ceiling that was nearly all glass, more like a gigantic atrium really, provided not only the room for banners and additional point-of-purchase material, but perhaps also for maybe the most awesome acoustics ever in an automotive retail facility. All of this meant to me was that everybody would be able to hear me. And what they were able to hear was a pretty run-of-the-mill regurgitation of the specifications, features, advantages, and benefits. Of course, it was to be expected of a first attempt. Over the early part of my career, I became pretty good at these walkarounds. I became less rigid, created more excitement, had more emotion in my voice, and was far more sensitive to tailoring the event for the customer.
There were a few bumps in the road, to be sure. Even a couple of years into my career, I was young and immature, with all of the neat things that go along with that – the impetuousness, the over-confidence, etc. There was a morning one summer in the middle of the week, I think it was 1993, when we had a sales meeting that scolded the staff pretty strongly for not performing consistent and meaningful product presentations. It was costing us car deals and gross, the message went. And, aside from the manner in which this point was made (“scolding” perhaps not really covering it), if we were not taking care of such basics all of the time, every time, we were indeed costing the store units and dollars. At any rate, I kept this fully in mind when I greeted a man and his five-year-old son a bit later in the morning. He mentioned that he had some interest in the new Lumina (in case you hadn’t gathered, I started in a Chevrolet facility). Rather than do things the proper way – attempt to bring the guest inside the store, build some rapport and comfort, and then conduct a quality interview/needs assessment – I instead flew into action. All of the vehicles then were equipped with lock boxes, so I was able to open a vehicle up right away. I hopped in the Lumina, light driftwood in color with a light interior, and pulled it forward. I was taught to separate the vehicles from the others, increasing customer focus and allowing the room necessary to show the entire vehicle without hindrance or distraction. And so, with the man and his young son standing a few feet behind me, I began the presentation. The Luminas were displayed running along the front, opposite of customer parking and within direct view of the sales desk and showroom. Well, I knew I had an audience, a couple of managers and sales consultants alike, maybe the greeter too. Within seconds I had the hood, trunk, and all of the doors open. Then, for five minutes, I proceeded to enthusiastically give the walkaround of my life, arms waving, voice inflecting, and, well – what a show! I knew that this was exactly what my managers were talking about, and I wanted to make sure that they knew I wasn’t one of those giving poor presentations. And so, I went on. I became lost in my own little world. When I came out of it for a moment to ask the customer a question, I turned to find no one there. I looked in a different direction and, to my horror, he was walking away and almost to his vehicle. He was far enough away that he might not have heard me had I yelled, which of course I didn’t. At least I knew that much. I completely lost the customer. The humiliation began to grow. I imagined the audience watching the customer become fed-up or disinterested or both and start to walk away, leaving me to my over-the-top, ridiculous attempt to prove something (not sure what really). I put the vehicle back into line and went inside to take whatever was coming to me. I’ll let the speculation begin, but at least I wasn’t fired. The point, in part, is that walkarounds are important, but they don’t represent everything. The other part of the point should be obvious: please do not choose the role of a buffoon as I did. This book is not about my experiences entirely, however, and we will keep them relatively few and far between; although, the self-deprecation is a bit purifying for me, and hopefully amusing to the reader.
The idea that the product presentation is not the “be all-end all” in our profession is certainly not difficult to comprehend, but it will become even clearer as we move forward. This being said, I do remember the multitude of Ride and Drives that I have attended over the years. Like some, I was not a huge fan of waking up earlier in the morning to meet and then drive a couple of hours, maybe more, to stand for four additional hours, then drive back, and work until 9 PM. Always a long day. Though, circumstances always changed for me once we arrived. These Ride and Drives are regularly set-up with actual driving, comparisons between the relative performances of your vehicle and the competition, and classroom time. These stations opened up a lot of eyes. Granted, the representatives that gave the presentations were professionals and knew the vehicles inside and out. They were enthusiastic, clearly excited about all of the wonderful new features and benefits (advantages, too) that had been added to the vehicles, providing us with a certain upper-hand when selling against our competition. These professionals, I recalled later, drew me in, made me feel excited. I thought about how much better my closing ratio would be if this type of vitality and expertise were delivered through my walkarounds. I thought about how the customer might be so enthralled that they would not have to shop and compare. The customer might buy my product right now. Then I thought: “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do every time I’m with a customer?” Why don’t we have the energy and excitement level that these people do? Well, part of it is that they get paid to simply provide the quality presentation. We must do that and so much more to sell and deliver a vehicle, which, of course, is how we get paid. We have to get past this, though, to be the best we can be. The good news is: most of us can. But, as the title indicates, this book is about so much more.
As important as product knowledge is, there are few nuances. It is what it is. It is readily accessible, easily memorized, and put into practice. How the knowledge is utilized is far more important. Learn from the aforementioned professionals and channel their energy. A magnificent walk-around can take a customer out of the market. More importantly, though, is that a single instance that creates discomfort for your customer can put them right square back into the market and not at your facility. If a consultant is not able to counter concerns quickly and effectively, customer comfort can decrease rapidly. So how do we keep customers on the road to the sale? How do we stoke the fire that we have created with our quality presentation? More importantly, for those customers who do not have time for or have an immediate desire for such a presentation, how do we even get to the walkaround? After this introduction, there will be little mention of product presentation, or a service-walk, or a proper delivery, or why these steps are so vital. The main objective will be getting you to all of these things.
Here are a couple of things you can count on with respect to the content of this book: You will not be given exact formulas for success which make no sense, cannot be measured, and are, therefore, useless. This being said, there will be ideas and concepts quoted and defined for that which they are supposed to stand or define. And then we will speak of them honestly. So, please forgive me for quoting the Pareto Principle (I find most “principles,” along with fairly colorful charts, graphs, and diagrams to be gobbledygook in most cases and pretty worthless), in which many dealerships find that 20% of the staff does 80% of the work. And so, if even somewhat true that the minority of the staff does the majority of the work, why are solid performers in this business so difficult to find? It brings up an interesting point that was made when someone asked why we don’t have more top-notch, highly educated individuals in this business. The reply was something along these lines: “Well, maybe most of your Harvard and Yale graduates aren’t telling their parents that before they consider law school, medical school, or rocket science, they really think that the car business should be given a try.” Makes sense in some manner, I suppose. Though, I have long ago decided that intellect is never a factor in defining value in a human being, and I would never dismiss the many bright and talented people we have in this business. We simply need to develop more of those individuals. Sometimes, it takes time to see the light. It has been said that there are many millionaires who are complete idiots and there are geniuses who reside in gutters. We will focus on some differences. Here is an initial step we can take…
We need to expect more of ourselves: study, learn, and practice on a daily basis. And, above all, smile and wave at every customer we see. Make their day! Make everyone’s day. We can do this. Even when it is difficult, be prepared to interact with these people. I recall some time ago when a newly hired, but experienced, sales consultant called a customer out using some old-school style tactic better left for dead. The customer stormed out of the building, clearly upset and not likely to return. I asked the sales consultant what happened and he said, “Hey, this is the car business…” Well, not anymore. That “car business” needs to be eliminated permanently. So how do we do it? Follow me…
Why Beyond the Walkaround?
Now, more than ever in the history of our profession, the sales consultant must be highly skilled and highly trained in order to compete for the fewer positions available. This is a highly positive state of affairs, and this is a wonderful time to either be in the business or to be breaking in to the business. But you’d better come ready. Because those who are, will be able to take advantage of a market that is far less watered-down and make more money than their predecessors. Welcome to Beyond the Walkaround: A New Vision for Modern Automotive Sales. In this book, we are going to focus on some of the basics as well as vital, though seldom-used, nuances of the business. But, we are not going to attack them in the same old, run-of-the-mill, road to the sale format. In fact, this book can be not only a great introduction into the overcoming objections and concerns area of your field, but also a final piece of the puzzle. You will be introduced to the innovative and ground-breaking Technique that utilizes a consistent and highly effective blueprint for closing directly off of objections and concerns. This book is unique and the emphasis is on those concepts and skills that matter most.
The concept for “Beyond the Walkaround” was born well over a decade and a half ago while I was working at a One-Price store – don’t worry though, this book is written to relate to all selling philosophies. Anyway, at that time, I observed my sales consultants consistently using the word “no” to answer a question pertaining to a discount, the price itself, or any type of negotiation. Very few of our employees were trained to handle concerns and objections properly. There had to be another way, another idea. The idea is pretty simple: have something else to say. Tell the customers what you can do for them, give options, or explain why something is the case without a negative slant. It’s not easy, but ultimately this practice will make everyone a lot more money.
Now, you will find that this book might just be the most valuable investment you have ever made for your career. Why? Because it’s designed especially for you – the automotive sales person. This is not for real estate agents, not for insurance agents, not for shoe salesmen. Not only will you find this information refreshingly different, but it comes with a full understanding of just how difficult your job in your field has become. There is more competition, there is more information out there, and technology has helped add to your lists of responsibilities and knowledge requirements. Before now, basic sales training told you what you should do, but not necessarily how. It has given you the destination, but not the map to get there. This material, along with your natural skills, will provide you with a little more help to get it done. And basically, it all comes down to your confidence and how the customer is treated. The more confident you are, the more comfortable your customer will be. In fact, that’s the simple secret of the car business, and, for that matter, sales in general: Keep your customers comfortable and your salespeople (employees) confident. So how do we get there? This business has always been long on planning and strategies and short on actions or tactics. Together, we will act and get things done. Most importantly, units delivered and increased customer satisfaction. Now, with this in mind and knowing how crucial confidence is, what exactly is it that would make all salespeople more confident on a daily basis? The answer is simple: knowing how to interact properly with your customers and, most importantly, knowing what to say and do in response to virtually any concern in any circumstance that could arise, all the while increasing comfort.
Introduction to The Technique
So, how do we handle concerns and objections? For most, we have been taught to follow a structured response. You’ve heard this before: Empathize, Repeat, Write Down (if you can), Re-phrase, Head Nod, Ask for Clarification. Then come up with something. Most sales training has taught something similar: 1) Listen and Empathize 2) Isolate 3) Provide Options/Info 4) Ask for decision 5) Continue the Sale. Many different methods are taught through many different sources. Surprisingly, they’re not all that different. All of them are solid and effective ways to make people believe that you are listening and care about them. You will note that empathy is mentioned in both, but true empathy is not as important as understanding. Understanding is different from empathy in that you don’t really feel the way they do, but you know why they think or feel the way they do. Also, isolation, long thought to be so vital a step in the process, will happen naturally as you respond to concerns or attempt to move on or close the sale. In fact, the whole goal of The Technique, again explained in full in this book, is to have your customer respond either with an “I understand” or “What do you mean?” These responses will allow you to close immediately from the “I understand” or close directly from a counter in the case of “What do you mean?” This will be repeated and expanded on several times. So, our refreshed process will be this:
Once you have listened attentively and understood the concern, you will pause, smile or nod (or both), maintain a pleasant expression and remember to not take the concern personally, you will do the following:
This is known simply as The Technique. We will revisit this later and thoroughly after we have some word tracks under our belt. Now to remind everyone exactly what this book is all about. It’s not an all-encompassing sales program laden with long-winded, trivial stories that don’t always make a point and that you could take or leave. This program is about setting people up for the close and making sure you effectively ask for the sale every time.
Word Tracks and Scripts
Now, a lot of books and programs offer what you might interpret as rigid, canned scripts that aren’t very effective or thought out and never seem to come off the way they should. But even if they could be effective, most of the time they are not.
One reason is that other materials do not mention the importance of rate, inflection, and tone, not to mention the expression on your face. You will not believe the effectiveness of your words with slight adjustments in these areas. Another reason certain scripts don’t work is simply that they’re not used, or not used correctly and with the proper follow-up. But, we read them; maybe study them for a while. Then we go back to wingin’ it. What’s more, these scripts are frequently too long and do not possess the pure impact necessary to create a change in thought or viewpoint. In this book, you will learn some word tracks that will. Now, please understand that I was once one of those people who couldn’t stand the idea of word tracks or scripts. I thought they were all canned. I thought they would take away my individuality. I thought my managers were trying to make us into a bunch of robots. I was so opposed to the idea because no one took the time to help me understand. They didn’t help me understand that the value is in the security and the new air of confidence that I would have in all situations. And, as far as the individuality goes, if a golfer alters his swing to mimic another more successful than he, if a ballplayer changes his swing to match someone who has no holes in his, if an actor emulates the technique of proven professional, no individuality is lost. The identity comes through in how these different people master and utilize the skills they are developing. You will always be you. Your delivery of the word tracks, the particular timing, is all yours. Don’t lose sight of this. Can you imagine the confidence you will develop as you learn to put together a plan for what to say and how to deliver the words? And, yes, you’re the one that has to do this. With the help of these things, you will develop consistent responses that will maximize your confidence and your customers comfort level. You will find yourself hoping a customer has a concern just so you can help them understand. And every time you do this, your customer will be closer and closer to buying the vehicle from you. It’s a mind-set change. Think about it, though. What do we do now? What do we say when a customer asks if we’ll take $500 or $1,000 off the price of our car? What if they ask if that’s the best we can do? Do we stutter or hesitate? Do we say, “Are you buying today?” like many of us have either been taught or just picked up on our own? Do you tell them you have to check with your manager? Or do you just say “no,” particularly if you believe you’re down to nothing. Even if you say, “I can’t” or “I don’t think so” or “There’s no way they’ll go for that,” you’re still saying “no.” If this is the case, even at times, you will learn that you don’t have to say that all-too-powerful and negative word “no.” And yes, it is fully understood that most salespeople would prefer not to say “no.” But even if you’re accustomed to saying, “Let me check with my manager!” before you have given any kind of presentation or built any value at all, you know that the “no” is coming. This book will provide a number of effective alternatives. We all know customers hate to hear the word “no.” We can feel it. We don’t like to hear it, either from the customer or from our manager or from anyone else for that matter. Noted speaker Steve Wylie (Google him, by the way. And see him if you can. He’s fantastic) equates saying “no” to slapping a customer in the face or providing a knee to the stomach. Every single time. We must learn not to say “no.” Of course there are extreme situations (it would be foolish to use the words “never” or “always” in this case), but we are going to focus on the 95% of the time. The main focus must be to let your customer know what you can do rather than what you can’t. Also understand that this material is not meant to replace product knowledge, which is vital, particularly now, or to short-cut the road to the sale. It is designed to be a necessary supplement. In fact, you will be able to use the Technique with product knowledge on the road to the sale. The material in this book will actually enable you to pull your customer back onto the road to the sale should they stray. This material will allow you to take or regain control of the situation. These ideas and word tracks will sell you cars where you wouldn’t have before. The key, though, is consistency. Most of us have been given various ideas about when to respond, but do we use the knowledge every time? Do we try to close or ask for the sale every time? Or do we use it or attempt to close only when the customer seems receptive? We’ll study more of this later when the concept of Feigned Indifference is introduced. But what we will do first is talk about the type of environment that we would like to set or create in our store for our customers. Why? Because your customers will respond better to your words if they are comfortable with you and the facility.
Now, with respect to our words, if you want more than “If I could, would you?” or “What do I have to do today to sell you a car?” you are in luck. Understand that there are times and places for these questions, but that time or place is nowhere near the beginning of the sales process or before we have countered not a single concern nor overcome an objection or two. At best, all these questions do if used improperly, is sell us a car with low gross or, at worst, turn a buyer into a shopper. How do we turn a buyer into a shopper? We do it by so devaluing our product that the buyer now believes there might be more in the way of a discount than we can give or that somehow he or she can buy it for less elsewhere. This will be re-visited and expanded upon a bit later.
What to expect…
There has never been so much vital and effective information wrapped into such an efficient package as is done in this book. As stated before, this is for the automotive sales consultant. But, everybody in the business, up to sales management and including ownership, will benefit from the material presented in Beyond the Walkaround. There are still many dealerships across the country that operate without the professionalism that is necessary for improving the business and moving forward as it evolves. What we will discover here, in this volume, will take us wherever we wish to go.
In Create the Environment/Set the Tone, we will learn how to create the Customer Comfort and maintain it. We will go over preliminary word tracks which will qualify (not pre-qualify) our customers and move them into the proper initial stage. We will be reminded not to talk about ourselves, but to learn to hang on every word your customers has to say and why this is important.
In Preparing For Purchase Consultation, we will learn about pre-emptive strikes and positive-value statements. We will go over Set-Up or Transitional phrases which lead to Closing Questions. Remember, we are always closing on the current step in the sales process, not just the complete sale itself.
In Feigned Indifference/The Technique we will learn to maximize the impact of our words. We will examine why the concept of Feigned Indifference is perhaps the most important there is, and why it is not utilized nearly enough. It is invaluable and we will talk about how one discovers the idea and how we use it. The Technique, defined earlier, can be used over and over again. We are able to close/ask for the sale repeatedly without high pressure or decreasing customer comfort. It is unique.
In Addressing Price Concerns, we will become acquainted with some of the most effective words we have yet seen or heard. We will counter many, many different objections and concerns with respect to both new and used vehicles. We will continue to practice countering, transitioning, and closing on each step of the road to the sale.
In Trade-Ins, we will attack what many sales consultants argue is the most difficult part of the deal. We will go over the proper preparation, how to slow the customer down a bit, and we will learn counters to 15 trade objections! The great news for everyone is that, no matter what your process (and there can be many, I know), this section will make you far more successful. You will make more deals, hold more gross, and take in more trades for the right dollars.
In Payments, we will counter 9 payment concerns! We will learn how to get past interest rate questions, as well as outside banks and credit unions.
In Putting It All Together, we really get into some fun! We’ll take a look at delivery – rate, inflection, tone and such. Then we’ll go into the write-up and presenting numbers. There will be a couple of mock scenarios provided to better our understanding of how this all works on a collective basis. We will look at a section called Famous Last Words, which gives us exit strategies if necessary. More than this though, it gives us the tools to regain control of a customer who is ready to leave. Once this is done, we will discuss how to, once again, make every attempt to close the deal.
In Follow-Up, we study newer ideas and tactics to maximize our efforts and increase our chance for be-backs, repeat business, and referrals. We utilize all available to us today, from e-mail to Facebook and twitter, blogs to texts!
Complete this and your confidence will soar!!
And now I leave you with this…
I have worked in a number of facilities in my career (less than most, I would imagine) and I have seen and heard a great many things. I have experienced those who do it right, and those who, most assuredly, do not. If you have not heard the old adage: “Buyers are liars,” you will. And yes they are. But, so the perception has been with us for a long time. It doesn’t need to be so. We are able to successfully conduct business on a professional, honest platform without the deceit that has long been associated with the car business. The ideas, strategies, and tactics presented here in Beyond the Walkaround will make anyone far more successful (with respect to dollars, reputation, community, what have you) than any other, more traditional, practices possibly could. So please enjoy a shot of adrenalin to your career! Should be a blast…
So what does it mean when a customer says “just looking”? Well, it’s just a conditioned response. What it means is “Please let me catch my breath and allow me to get comfortable.”
If the timing is right, quickly turn the attention away from the rate and toward the deal as a whole. If your customer presses you on the issue, go for a close…
If your customers mention that they have seen the same vehicle as their trade on another lot or in the paper for a certain dollar, you can respond quickly and strongly…
Rob Hamilton has championed experience at every level of the sales department. Although he has been the architect of re-built finance departments and sales departments as a General Sales Manager, Rob has always had a fondness for the sales manager position that allows for more direct contact with sales consultants.
In 2011, as the General Sales Manager of a GM re-instatement facility, the sales department was re-built from the ground up. All of the training concepts created and polished over the years came together into a rapid turnaround that not only solidified the franchise, but helped the store achieve the number one Combined Positive Impact rating for three months running.
In 2014, Rob made the decision to re-energize efforts to help sales consultants become the best they can be, but also to build a network for the consultants to help one another. Beyond the Walkaround is the result. Please enjoy the product and become part of a growing community!
I have been in sales for a few years now. Every month I buy a book to improve my skills. I have to say that this book is among the best I have ever read. The material is great and I apply it everyday that I go to work. I would highly recommend this book. This book has helped me take my career in sales to the next level.
The best automotive sales book I ever purchased, full of real life advice. I have read it several times and also purchased through iTunes the Audio component! Great insight and workable techniques.
The month I read it or listened I finished at the top most sold units. I will listen again and again. Thank you.
Excellent book enjoyed reading it.
“Your material is at the core of my sales and training philosophy. Some of the most effective methods in todays market. Keep up the good work Robert!”