Helping Our Customer “Flip The Switch”

by Michael Hargrove

Have you ever had a salesperson tell you they’re having trouble asking for the sale between the demo and the write up? If you’re a salesperson, is this problem one you’re familiar with?

First let me reassure you that this is a common challenge for car salespeople today and a fairly simple one to remedy. This challenge is due in no small part to the fact that the way we approached the sale just a handful of years ago is now very often working against both us and our customers.

If we are still waiting until after the demo to “ask for the sale” then it’s way too late. Also, if our idea of “asking for the sale” is getting our customer to say “I want to buy your car today” then it’s most likely way too clumsy to be effective. And it’s not your fault. It’s how we were taught in the past by our colleagues, our managers, and guys like me.

Since most customers today have already done a ton of research online to narrow their choices, and since most customers have already made the buying decision (or at least are predisposed to own our product) before they ever leave their homes, the timing of the close and the very idea of what closing is needs to be adjusted accordingly. Closing today needs to be much more subtle and much more frequent than it was in the past.

One common misconception made by car salespeople today is that the negotiation process starts somewhere after the demo. This is simply not true anymore. The negotiation process starts much earlier now, sometimes right at the greeting, and is initiated by our customer. The negotiation process begins whenever the customer brings up their intention of owning our product, the timing of owning our product, or the terms of owning our product. Whenever this occurs, it’s an opportunity for us to help our customer move forward with the purchase.

Another common misconception made by today’s car salesperson is that closing is getting the customer to say “I want to buy your car today.”. As mentioned earlier, most of today’s customers are already predisposed to own our product, therefore closing today really comes down to making it easy for our customer to take action on a decision they’ve already made. It’s simply helping them say, “I think I’d like to move forward a little bit further with this.” and we need to help them say this several times throughout the entire transaction as well as at the end.

Now here comes the scary part. Since everyone agrees that the majority of our customers have time issues just like we do, if we don’t take advantage of each one of these opportunities to move the transaction forward, we’re actually moving it backwards! My most successfulFlip the switch clients use each of these subtle closing opportunities to help their customer make the mental buying decision much earlier in the transaction than most salespeople think is possible. I call this ‘flipping the switch’.

Here are some examples; We should make it a consistent part of our greeting to say something like: “I am committed to making sure my guests get all the information they need to make a smart car buying decision. Whether that means they keep us on their list or click us off, I want to make it easy for them to decide. Before we say goodbye to each other, may I do the same for you?”  Wait for their reply which almost always is a resounding “YES!” Then tell them, “It would be my pleasure to do that for you too.”   When our customer says yes to this, they’ve made their first small commitment to the write up and this is our first subtle close.

Another important thing to remember is there must be an exchange between two people in order for a “close” to occur. This exchange needs to be something of value for something of value. It can be in the form of money, goods, services, acknowledgments, agreements, etc. but there needs to be an exchange of some kind otherwise we’re not closing, we’re just selling.

Throughout the transaction, our customer will bring up their intention, timing, or terms of owning our product and each time they do, it’s an opportunity for us to subtlety close.

Early on, many customers will reflexively say something like, “We just got started shopping, so we won’t be buying today.” In the past we’ve been taught to say variations of either “No problem” or “What would keep you from buying today?” both of which are becoming increasingly ineffective in today’s market.

A much more effective response would be something like this, “That’s what most people do. What I’ve discovered is that most of the guests that I help simply want to find a car they like, get figures on it, and then think about it. Is that what you two had in mind?”  When they tell us YES! (Remember there needs to be an exchange for a close to occur), it gives us a chance to reply, “I’d be happy to help you with all of that.”  Now our customer just gave us another small commitment to find a car they’d like to own, and get to the negotiations. Please note that I did not suggest we say “and then go home and think about it.”, so don’t say that.

When we get small commitments to the write up from our customer, it helps them ‘flip the switch’ to make the mental buying decision much earlier in the transaction. It’s these small commitments that help our customer become more flexible and much more comfortable with taking action on the decision they’ve already made.

Here are other examples of this:

How much discount can I get? or Do you guys have any wiggle room?

“Adjusting numbers is the easiest part of my job, Ms. Customer. We adjust numbers all day long. There is one thing, however, I simply cannot adjust… and that’s your taste. So, first let’s find just the right car for you and then we’ll go inside and I’ll show you how easy it is to do business with us. Okay?”  When she tells us OKAY!, she just committed to finding the right car and to the write up. Please note I did not suggest we say, “how easy it is to do business today with us.”, so don’t say that.

What’s your best price?

“It sounds like you want to save money like most of my customers, right? There are two main ways I can help you save money, Mr. Customer, they’re the outside and the inside parts of my job. The outside part is where together we find just the right vehicle for you. Where we make sure you’re not paying for stuff you don’t need, or missing things you’ve got to have. The inside part is where I help you and my manager agree to terms and I’m really good at both parts of my job. Will you give me the chance to prove that to you?”  When he tells us OKAY!, he just committed to finding the right car and to the write up.

This may be too expensive for me. or I need to keep my payments around $XXX.

“Mr. Customer, there are several different ways we can keep whatever vehicle you choose within the budget you had in mind. What I’d like to do, if you’ll let me, is put all the ways we can accomplish this for you in writing (or on a screen), in black and white. That way we avoid any misunderstandings and you can see for yourself firsthand. After reviewing them all, you tell us which way works best for you. I think that’s a better way to do business. What do you think?”  When he tells us, Me too!, he just committed to finding the right car and getting to the write up.

What’s my trade worth? or What’s the best interest rate I can get?

“Before we’re done, we’ll go inside and discuss all the numbers; price, down payments, monthly payments, interest rates, and numbers on your present vehicle. Okay? And I’m going to invite you to make your final decision on the numbers and the numbers alone. Not because I’m a nice guy, although my mom thinks I am, not because of the store’s reputation, although it’s outstanding, but simply on the bottom line. Fair enough?”  When they say, Sounds fair!, they’ve just committed to the write up.

Remember, our customer is judging us by the following criteria:

1) Are we easy to do business with?
2) Do we have their best interests at heart or at least on par with our own?
3) Are we competent (in both product and process)?
4) Are we confident?

If you take a minute to measure each one of the prior examples by these criteria, I think you’ll find that they satisfy each one. By best serving our customer, we in turn best serve ourselves.

Since our customer is already agreeable to coming inside to get some figures, making the transition from the lot to our office will usually take no more than us saying, “Follow me.”  We will still need to get a firm “today commitment” before we negotiate, of course, but now we will be able to do that inside, in our office, after our customer has ‘flipped the switch’ and made the mental buying decision, and where we have more resources at our disposal to make it easy for our customer to take action on that decision they’ve already made.

There are other things we can use to help our customer make the early mental buying decision, of course, but this is a good place to start and this is an article not a book. Finally, remember that any new technique or strategy needs to be practiced and refined (molding it to our own vocabulary, temperament, selling style, etc.) until it becomes our very own. As always, the idea is not to go from technique to technique but rather to have directed conversations with our customer.

I think we’ll find by putting these suggestions into practice, it’ll be much easier to help our customer get through the entire buying process, and we’ll get more write ups as well as more firm today commitments.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael D. Hargrove and Bottom Line Underwriters, Inc. All rights reserved. Michael D. Hargrove is the founder and president of Bottom Line Underwriters Inc.

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