Article

Just Ask! Then Listen To Better Understand Your Customers' Needs

December 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Tom Herald - Also by this author

How many more vehicles could you sell if you knew exactly what every customer really needed? How much profit could you make if you also knew your customer’s buying power before you ever discussed vehicles? These questions may be rhetorical but the answers to “how?” are simple … just ASK.

ASK is an acronym for “Always Seeking Knowledge” and is the fundamental concept of consultative selling. It is also the most forgotten concept in sales, and without it dealers lose money and customers.

All successful sales professionals utilize listening skills to their fullest. I have never heard of anyone missing a sale because of listening to the prospect’s needs, wants and desires. Conversely, too many salespeople have blown good deals by talking too much.

Interestingly enough, the more we know about our prospects needs, the better position we’re in to meet those needs. Not only that, but the trust factor goes up when customers notice we’re actually listening to their needs and desires.

Listening is easy. It costs nothing, but the returns are huge. When we are not talking, we can listen. As the saying goes, “Talking is sharing, listening is caring.”

So, when we ASK the right questions and listen to the customer’s answers, we will discover their needs, what they want and under what circumstances they will be buying. When we listen, we will learn about the customer and their decision process.

There are three factors that impact the decisions for everything that is purchased by a consumer: 

  • Economical – Can the customer afford it?
  • Functional – Does the customer have a need for it?
  • Psychological – Does the customer want it?

An effective salesperson in any industry must strictly adhere to the Cardinal Rule of Special Finance: Always conduct a thorough needs analysis. It is amazing how much information a customer will provide if we establish rapport, ask a few simple questions, and then shut up and listen. Instead, too many salespeople talk their way down the road to the sale and end up giving too much information, or even worse, talking the customer right out of the sale. 

Customer service is serving the customer’s needs. Therefore, logic dictates that we must first learn and understand exactly what those needs are. Today’s customer has more options and the market is savvier than ever before. The dinosaur is extinct, and so are the career hopes of any salesperson that comes across as the back-slapping, fast-talking, joke-telling, high-pressure, have-I-got-a-deal-for-you salesperson. Instead, salespeople must be experts who listen and who can and will provide solutions to problems.

If you employ a sales process that uncovers the customer’s needs and wants long before presenting product, price or in our case, down payment, you will be building value in the sale, and when you build value, you build profit. You should never discuss down payments or price before understanding the needs and wants of your customer.

Today’s successful salespeople must have a specific plan of attack that transcends product differences, bypasses price and applies to every sales scenario. They must execute this plan consistently and employ an investigative style that is focused on learning what the customer can afford and what the customer needs and wants. This is consultative selling and it is based on four steps: 

  1. Need Analysis
  2. Need Awareness
  3. Need Solution
  4. Need Satisfaction

Step One: Need Analysis
People buy because they either need or want something. All we have to do is give a person a reason for buying now. A person will buy whenever they need or desire something more than the money it costs to buy it.  Before we ever attempt to create a desire for the cars we sell, we must first learn what the customer needs and wants. 

 Step Two: Need Awareness
Once we discover what the customer really needs we must then articulate this need back to raise their awareness. The customer must know and understand exactly and specifically what they need. We raise their awareness through coaching. We coach them through questioning and paraphrasing their answers until “they get it,” not by telling.

Developing Need Awareness is vital to any sale. Some customers will actually tell you that they want to buy and that they will buy, then change their mind and board the “Be Back” bus to “Lost Sale” if you have not identified the proper need and made that need perfectly clear to them.

Step Three: Need Solution
This is where we stop asking questions and start presenting solutions. Once we uncover a need or a problem, it is time to render the solution. It is time to sell the “sizzle” instead of the steak. This is where we sell reliable transportation for the family, instead of selling a minivan loaded with options. In special finance, this is where we sell the opportunity for the customer to re-establish their credit through financing and the hope for a better lifestyle in the future. It’s where we make the connection as a problem solver for the buyer. It’s where they trust us as the experts.

Step Four: Need Satisfaction
This is the final and most important step of the process. We ask one more question; we ask for the sale! This is the close, without it there is no sale. Too many salespeople forget to do this, fear to do this or simply blow it by not being direct. So, if you want to make a sale, you can and will, but only if you ask for it and do so with confidence, empathy and persistence.

Consultative selling is a proven technique that works, especially in the credit challenged market of special finance. Without it, sales and profits will be low, your sales staff will be selling the wrong cars to the customers, and your F&I department will be blowing away customers and profitable deals because “nobody will buy them.” Without it your desking managers will not be able to control the sale with vehicle re-selection and both your team and customers will be frustrated.

By employing this four step process, you will sell more cars, your down payments will be higher, you will earn more money and you’ll have higher customer satisfaction. Just slow down the sales process, learn and understand your customer’s needs and then fulfill those needs better than the competition. And if you need more money from the customer, just ASK.

Vol 4, Issue 10

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