February 2015, Auto Dealer Today - Feature
GM says pressure from consumers and regulators will force sales pros to abandon their lifelong reliance on ‘closing’ tactics. Photo:IStockPhoto.com
Countless successful salespeople, trainers and assorted “experts” have written about the art of closing sales. Typing “closing the sale” into the search field at Amazon.com yields more than 18,000 volumes dedicated to the subject, including many written just for automotive sales professionals.
To the beginner sales pro, reviewing these titles must make it appear as though there is some big secret to closing sales. Digging deeper, they’ll find that Amazon’s overviews of the books portray closing in a negative light. They will soon determine that being “closed” is something they would never want to happen to them, their friends or their family. Nobody wants to feel manipulated by a secret technique designed to entice them to spend money on a product they don’t really want or need.
And who came up with that term, anyway? To the best of my research, “closing the deal” had its origins in the real estate industry, where it referred to the signing of paperwork at the title company. Realtors and home buyers still use the term, and in my experience, closing on a new house is a cause for celebration. So how did the same term earn a negative connotation in our industry?
I believe it’s the result of the aggressive, outdated sales tactics that have come to characterize the auto retail industry. If we are to change that perception, we must change the way we negotiate the sale of our products.
Greater Trust, More Sales
If we exhibit a positive and enthusiastic attitude, we can gain the trust of our customers. This will allow the process of finding the right vehicle for them to begin. After finding, demonstrating and test-driving the vehicle that meets their needs, we can then receive the buying, “now,” and price commitments to open the deal. It’s as simple as that.
You don’t have to read a book to uncover some special secret to reach this point. All you need to do during negotiation is be transparent and genuine, then justify your position in the four negotiable categories. When we do our job properly, follow our path to the sale, and negotiate openly, the customer will purchase our product and appreciate us for the way we treated them. They will continue to have an open business relationship with us for years to come and they will most certainly tell their friends and family about the tremendous customer service they received.
I understand this is a major paradigm shift for many people in our industry, including many successful dealers, managers and salespeople. But we must change, and we must change now. It is my mission to teach the world that being a sales professional in the automotive industry is not only an easy profession, but an honorable one as well.
“Closing” customers has a negative connotation and I refuse to use that word in my showrooms, on the lot or even at the desk. Instead, I strive to be open with customers. We talk about the things that are important to them and the factors driving their purchase. I want to open the doors of opportunity for both sides.
Think about it for just a minute: Why do we need a hard sell followed by a hard close? If the roles were reversed, would you respond to those tactics? Of course not. You know the business, and the fact is, today’s Internet-savvy customers know quite a bit about it as well. It’s time we embrace that change industrywide. Open every door for your customers. Be friendly and thankful for their patronage. Treat them like an informed colleague and have faith in your integrity and your fantastic product.
The need to establish trust and transparency has taken precedence in an era defined by well-informed Internet customers and pressure from state and federal regulators. Photo: IStockPhoto.com
I don’t mind telling you that it took me 25 years to come to this realization. When I realized I was complicit in the behavior that creates a poor impression in our customers’ minds and drives them to say so many derogatory things about us, our dealerships and our processes, I decided it was time for some big changes.
Each of us must take personal responsibility for phasing out the negative words and bully tactics that force our customers to think our only goal is to close them. We have to give them the transparency they demand and the exceptional service they so rightly deserve. Whatever your position, I call on you to begin the process today.
Dealer principals and general managers: The senior leadership team sets the tone for the entire operation. So what can you do to change your customers’ perception of your store? First, make the decision to stop using the word “close” or any other negative word or tactic that implies we are doing something to hurt our customers.
Second, stop utilizing the old-school training tools that focus on the close. Many of these techniques are downright harmful to our business. Cast a wary eye on any list of “foolproof” closes — especially those designed to cause confrontation, pressure and obscure the facts of the deal.
Third, replace the word “close” with “open” at every opportunity. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general are breathing down our collective necks. Above all else, they demand transparency. Train your managers, sales and F&I pros in a culture of transparency. No more secrets or hidden agendas. Stop the negative talk about how to get strong and overcome a customer. Train your teams to talk straight and follow the path toward open and fun negotiations and excellent customer service with an abundance of positivity throughout every department in your dealership.
Sales managers, sales and F&I pros: You don’t have to be a department head to effect positive change in your dealership. You have power as an individual, and the salespeople and F&I managers of today are the general managers and F&I directors of tomorrow. You will still be making your living in this business when your current bosses have retired.
Make the decision that, beginning today, you will stop speaking negatively about customers. Using derogatory words at the desk affects your interactions with the customer, and over time, those words will affect you as well.
Have you ever heard the saying, “You become what you hum”? It has been shown that people can create negative or positive experiences just by their thoughts and words. But don’t take it from me. Buddha himself said, “As a mirror reflects an object, as a still lake reflects the sky: take care that what you speak or act is for good. For goodness will always cast back goodness, and harm will always cast back harm.”
Speak positively, work positively and live positively, and that same positivity will come back to you. In our business, that means more sales to increasingly loyal customers.
Making a decision to go against the concepts, strategies and beliefs long held dear by our industry and taking a stand against the status quo is never easy. But we all know our business is changing rapidly. We all will be forced to make tough decisions in the near future. Let’s take the bull by the horns, break the old negative paradigm and create a positive new one. Store by store, we can — and must — change the perception that the majority of the public has of us. Those who stubbornly stick to their guns will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
From this day forward we will “close” no one. It will be our mission to have open communication and eliminate the closed doors between us and our customers by using transparency in all of our negotiations. It will be our mission to never “close” a deal again, but to open a lifelong business relationship with our customers, our friends.
Paul Hatcher is a multistore general manager for Lithia Motors, CEO of Obsessuccess Inc. and author of “The Easiest Job in the World.” PHatcher@AutoDealerMonthly.com