Article

Sales, Not So Scary After All!

September 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Katrina Marie Souder - Also by this author

I am a car salesperson. That is something I never thought I would be proud to say. In my three years in the car business I have flourished and found my true niche. I should have known it. Career counselors have been telling me to go into sales my whole life, but the thought of sales, especially CAR sales, made me cringe. Car sales brought to mind the typical shark-like, slick-back haired, mirrored sunglass, leather wearing-in-the-summer-time, foul-mouthed, insincere jerks I had met in the past. YUCK! I did not want to be associated with people like that. I am neither shy nor short on confidence, but the control freak in me got anxious at the thought of the uncertain earnings associated with sales.

My background is administrative. Prior to being in car sales, I spent 14 years as an executive secretary, marketing manager, office manager and a stock broker/tax preparer. It was the sales aspect of being a stock broker that made me think maybe sales was right for me after all.

My car sales career started out rocky. This job is not as easy as I thought it would be. Soon, I found my groove, my sales increased each month and so did my earnings. A big contributing factor to my success is my diligent follow-up and staying put at one dealership. You lose a lot of credibility with your customer base if you change dealerships every other month. It took a few years, but now I get about five referrals each month and a lot of repeat biz (my customers are loyal to me). This is too cool: I even get referrals from people who did not buy a car from me!

Having a background in marketing really pays off. I send unique thank you cards to everyone who buys a car from me. Even when someone comes in for a test drive and doesn’t buy, I send them a thank you card. Doing things differently and staying in contact with my customers after the sale is vital to my success. This keeps my name fresh in their mind when they think of buying another car or hear of anyone else looking for a car. I mail out a bi-annual newsletter to all my customers and prospects. Every day I call five previous customers to say hello and ask for referrals. Everyone I meet is a prospect. I keep a hand full of business cards in my purse or in my gym bag at all times. I’m not obnoxious about it, but I make sure everyone I know knows what I do.

After a year on the floor, I was promoted to Internet sales manager. I do get a lot of 3 percent over invoice deals, but I also get plenty of good grosses, too. This is because I don’t just sell price. I sell service and a long-term relationship. A lot of times my price is a few hundred more than their local dealer quoted them, but they drive the extra mile to buy from me. I am just south of Seattle, but customers have come from as far away as the southeast corner of Oregon to buy from me. This is because I make it easy to do business with me.

It is easy to do business with me because I’m not pushy; I provide all the information they want (including an exact price), I am big on product knowledge, but mostly, I am friendly, flexible and show a genuine concern for their needs. This doesn’t mean I am a pushover. I am confident to ask for the sale. I can be tough when I need to be. It’s a mix that works for me.

Even if a customer paid just a few percent over invoice, you need to treat them exactly like the four-pounder. My deliveries usually take over 30 minutes (my CSI scores are typically 98 percent to 100 percent). This is the best time to get a little extra rapport with the customer, and they are thrilled with their new car! Referrals come from happy customers, and even if you didn’t make a big commission on the first sale, you can make a lot on the repeat/referral business this loyal customer will give you.

At times, being a woman is a distinct advantage for me. Many women are more comfortable buying from a woman. My calm demeanor helps disarm those shoppers on the defense because they have been to several dealers prior to visiting me and have had a less than pleasant experience. Being a woman can work to my disadvantage as well. There are some men who simply do not want to work with a woman, and they make it very obvious. I have thick skin, so when this happens, I turn the customer and move on.

I hear a lot of other Internet managers talk about their lack of success because the customers never respond to them. I don’t have that problem. My approach is very simple. I call EVERY Internet lead. Even the ones that say E-MAIL ONLY. “E-mail only” is not in my vocabulary. I let my prospects all know that I must speak to them, and will not do the transaction solely by e-mail. I am a stickler to this because it’s tough to build a relationship through e-mail only. I e-mail every lead immediately followed by a phone call. My phone script is always handy. Even though I am an ace on the phone, I use my phone script religiously with every call. It helps me stay on track, be professional and get all the info I need.

With that said, there are still those who never respond. I give them six chances: three e-mails and three phone calls. If I still get no response, I delete the request and move on. There are too many other leads to waste time on the ones that aren’t serious.

For our leads, we use Autobytel and our own Web site. Currently, the majority of my leads come from our dealership Web site. Autobytel used to provide the majority of our leads. About six months ago, due to a territory re-alignment, 75 percent of our territory (including ALL of my best zip codes) was given to a local, competing dealer. This cut our leads from 80 percent to 90 percent per month to less than 25, which left me scrambling to find another lead provider and hurting for leads. It was a hectic, rough period. The only other major player, Carpoint.com, didn’t have an opening for a Nissan dealer in our area, so we were basically stuck with Autobytel or faced with using a provider we knew nothing about.

Other leads come from lease retention. As well as Internet manager, I am lease manager and handle all the lease returns. This means I get the first crack at selling these people another car. I answer lease questions when a customer calls in and assist sales consultants in explaining how leases work to their potential customers.

Many Internet managers do their own F&I, basically making them the only person the customer deals with from start to finish. We have thought about this, but feel that having at least one other person involved increases our chance of selling F&I products. Besides, our F&I person is incredible, has a huge closing percentage and great relationships with the banks. I have enough on my hands with my job, without trying to do hers, too!

In an average month, I sell from 10 to 19 cars from -- Internet leads, lease retention prospects, previous customer repeat business, referrals and showroom traffic. My pay plan is good, and my dealership takes great care of me. I get a base salary, a car to drive, free gas, a bonus plan and my hours are flexible. I love what I do, make great money and I am proud to tell people—I am in car sales!

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