A Guest Post by Andrei Smith
Car sales is an incredible career path if you are successful. As such, there is an entire market of automotive sales training courses available online that you can pay for.
At carsalesstory I break down and share some of the best practices I've learned over my last 6 years in the car business. I've managed to use these skills to grab a top ten sales spot for Audi of America and build a successful BDC at my dealer. All the content is free.
Education for Sales Professionals
I've found that the benefits of the available automotive sales training courses are mostly in their repetition of the basics. Now, the basics do have value because of human nature. It's easy to be overwhelmed when you are starting out, and when you are a veteran it's easy to get lazy.
I'll start this article with the 3 basic tenets that most paid courses will drill in on, and then I will expand to 3 advanced tactics that will let you stand out from the competition.
Automotive Sales Training Courses
Below are the basics that all of the available automotive sales training courses will review in their paid content.
I personally have trained a number of sales representatives that do floor sales. These are fundamental things you need to learn (and remember) when selling automobiles.
Basics #1: Don't Skip Steps
These are the steps to a car sale.
- Introduction ("Meet and Greet")
- Assessing Needs (Finding paint points and must-have features)
- Walk around of Vehicle (Highlighting solutions your product offers)
- Demonstration (Test Drive)
Now, all automotive sales training courses will break these steps into more or fewer parts (usually more parts).
Every trainer and course can have its own take on these steps. I've seen numerous interpretations and best practices. Each step has been broken apart, analyzed, and branded.
I've attended automotive sales training courses wherein all the focus has been on the test drive, hammering down into the nitty-gritty of the ideal things to say, when to talk, when to be quiet. Even things like whether you should drive off the lot (accelerate off the lot and show off the power!) or the customer should (give them the owner's experience!).
The truth is simpler than any of these automotive sales training courses can explain because they are selling a product (their branded course).
Whether your dealership has a BDC to generate inbound leads or if everything is done by the salesperson start to finish, it is critical to follow the following key advice.
The key is that you need to avoid skipping steps and find a style that fits your personality.
Sasha the Russian
When I first started working at the dealer six years ago, I met Sasha, the Russian. Sasha was quiet and tall, always wearing sunglasses. Inside the bathroom and walking outside on the lot, his Oakleys never left his face.
Sasha was a bit mysterious. He had a subtle accent and he was built like a 6-foot-tall tank. If he didn't make a joke every other day you would think he was a grump.
The first time I saw Sasha work with a customer my jaw almost fell to the floor. He was direct and quiet and rarely smiled. He led the customers around and I could overhear him negotiate in a very direct way. How did this guy make a living with that attitude?
About two weeks after I started, I was taking a coffee break in the lounge and I met two customers holding red deal jackets. I asked them if they were excited about their new car and they nodded excitedly. They then, without a pause, started singing the praises of their Russian sales guy.
In their eyes, Sasha was no nonsense and straight to the point. He negotiated how they expected him to (plenty of back and forth!) but they came to a great deal after an hour.
Basics #1 Review: Your style, but following the steps
What made Sasha successful was that he knew how to sell cars in a way that suited him. If he emulated the loud, brash style taught in so many automotive sales training courses he would have surely failed.
The key is not to skip steps.
You will sell cars if you, in your own style, follow the process.
The pitfalls always involve skipping steps, not necessarily the specifics of how you carry them out.
The fact that not skipping steps is so crucial to being successful is a confounding factor in judging automotive sales training courses. Why? Because sales courses will get you excited and grab your attention. Regardless of their content, they will get you on track to follow the process that you already know. You will be reinvigorated and you will do the things you already knew deep down.
So no, it's not about who drives off the lot or the pacing of negotiations. It's not about which direction a customer’s eyes move when you make a final offer. Simplifying it down, it's just about paying attention and not skipping steps.
So figure out your style. Figure out what works for you! If it fits, be quiet and direct like Sasha. If you prefer a more gregarious style, be like Chuck the Closer from my previous article.
Whatever you decide, be genuine and authentic to customers.
Basics #2: Work Backwards to Success
One of the key tenets of so many automotive sales training courses is that if you follow their guide you will increase your paycheck by $X amount.
A dollar figure gets people excited. If I share with you that I have a secret that will help you sell more cars, you probably will relegate me to your mental bullshit filter. That being said, if I share with you a secret that will help you make $5k more per month, you might actually perk up.
What's this secret of distilling a goal into a process and then a path?
It's just working backward.
Mark Is Broke
Mark came to me about 4 years ago with a problem. I was sitting at my desk when he walked up, laying his paycheck down in front of me.
"Man, I don't think I can make this work," he said, looking me in the eyes.
"What's going on, Mark?" I asked, pulling my attention to him fully. I was worried about what I was about to hear, seeing as I was the guy who brought Mark into the sales department from service.
Turns out that Mark was struggling to make ends meet, making only $4500 per month before tax. He followed the steps to the sale with every customer he talked to and was even doing some daily follow-up calls. In this hot market, paired with a stellar product, this should have been a walk in the park for him.
I reviewed his CRM, trying to put it together. The notes were there; the CRM was clean. Follow-up wasn't perfect (he hadn't set up any automation) but it was plenty to have some success in this great environment.
So what was wrong?
Mark's Magical Math
It's as simple as this. Mark needed to make $5000 before tax to make ends meet, $6000 before tax to have a cushion.
He was selling 12 cars a month, so it worked out that he was making about $420 per car. His CRM was well kept, so it was easy to figure out that he closed about 20% of the customers he talked to. That closing percentage was in line with the store at the time for fresh up business. He worked 5 days a week.
The problem was that he wasn't talking to enough customers.
If Mark needed to make $6000 to be happy with himself, he needed to sell 14–15 cars per month. If 20% of his customers converted, he needed to work with 5 customers to sell 1 car.
He was 3 cars a month off, or only about 15 customers more he needed to talk to per month.
The math was pretty simple.
Basics #2 Review: Use math to create steps to success
So did it work? Yes, for a while. Mark was a good sales guy and he knew what he wanted. Finding the extra 15 customers per month to work with wasn't terrifically difficult, it just meant getting to work a little early and staying a little later.
When he showed up 15 minutes before we opened, he would often meet a wandering customer. When he stayed late on Sundays, he often met a last-minute buyer that others would rather pass on so they could get home.
Mark didn't stick around in sales and eventually left to start his own little boutique retail shop. Regardless, he is a great demonstration of one of the central tenets of many automotive sales training courses, the act of working backward to success.
So figure out how much you make per car. Divide the amount of money you want to make by how much you make per car. Then multiply the number of cars you need to sell by the number of customers you need to talk to in order to sell one car. Talk to that many customers. Find them and work them. You might have to start early; you might need to work late.
(How many $$$ you want to make) divided by ($$$ per car) = # of cars you need to sell
(# of fresh ups taken last quarter) divided by (# of cars sold last quarter) = how many fresh ups per deal
(# of cars you need to sell) times (how many fresh ups per deal) = Number of customers you need to talk to per month
They are your goals so work backward to figure out how to make them a reality.
Basics #3: Do What Others Don't
I've reviewed in a previous article the importance of knowing what your competition is offering.
It makes sense that in the automotive space you face stiff competition. You can be undercut in every way as your product—new vehicles—have become commodities in the eyes of many. In order to stand out, you need to do what others don't.
Many of the automotive sales training courses will have their own pet examples of this concept.
Some courses will harp on the importance of a social media presence to stand out. Other courses will sing the praises of postcards and handwritten follow-up. Still, others will dedicate entire sections to the "revolutionary" idea of working the service drive.
The key here is that there is no silver bullet of standing out. Every market has a slightly different clientele.
Taking the idea of differentiation to stand out to heart, four years ago I started an Instagram page of my customers. I figured it was a brilliant idea, mostly because I came up with it. Very few other salespeople had any social media presence and I had watched videos on the idea in some automotive sales training courses I had found online.
Over the next 6 months, I asked customers to pose for photos in front of their new cars (you can still find some of the photos up on my first website). Some customers loved posing; some gave me a resounding refusal. I built up a solid catalog of photos, tagged with the model name and with my contact information.
As you can maybe guess, the Instagram page garnered absolutely no traction.
I was dumbfounded!
In my confusion, I reached out to a great customer of mine who had started a super successful vape juice business with a killer Instagram presence.
"Why wasn't my Instagram converting viewers into interested buyers?" I texted her.
You might be able to guess the answer. My customer base, which I should have been concentrating on, was diverse but not on Instagram. Instagram is a great platform if you are selling to the people who use it every day. Mid-30-year-old software engineers with 2 kids weren't following my Instagram.
Basics #3 Review: Do what others don't (in an intelligent way)
So I went back to the drawing board. What would work where Instagram failed? What could I do to stand out?
I came back to my main customer base; mid-30s, busy working in tech, with children.
What did they need that people weren't offering?
My customers wanted to do paperwork online, but my corporate process forbade it, so no go there. They had children but we didn't have space for a daycare area.
I realized that my customers, especially those who commute, hated trekking to the dealer to pick up their cars. They figured that once the deal was agreed upon the real hassle began when they had to come down to the dealer to spend their precious free time.
So I started delivering cars. I would offer during the second stage of negotiation, once we had settled on an in-stock car and were narrowing down an agreeable price. I found that by offering to deliver the car to their home I could win a significant portion of the business that I would have lost otherwise.
So, I found a way to do what others didn't do. I set my store apart with a simple offer that was relatively inexpensive (a driver to deliver a car usually cost less than $100).
Do what others don't do. That means you need to know what others offer, figure out what is lacking, and then execute.
So you've mastered the basics taught in most automotive sales training courses. You are looking for some advanced skills that you can develop to set yourself apart.
Advanced Tip #1: Develop a Knowledge Base
As KB notes in his excellent article on being a likable salesperson, you need to mirror your customer when working with them.
Mirror their style of speaking, the volume and their mannerisms. Move through the car sales process at their pace, not yours. When you are like them, there is an unspoken connection that helps you sell them a car.
I advise you to take this one step further. Learn your customer base, and figure out what they are interested in.
Read It Cover to Cover
Five years ago, I noticed that many of my best deals every month were made with a very specific clientele. My mid-50s customers, especially those in accounting, tended to buy nice cars. They also tended to send significant numbers of referrals my way.
I'd noticed a niche of customers I wanted to excel within.
When I told my dad about what I had noticed, he came through with some great advice. Start reading The Economist cover to cover. He figured that was what this type of customer would be interested in, and becoming knowledgeable and well-spoken in their world would work wonders.
The first few issues I struggled through, but within 3 weeks I noticed that I had a pretty good handle on current affairs. I could talk shop with CEOs and big-time corporate controllers. The only people more surprised were my customers, who never expected to be talking about Indian monetary policy with their car sales guy.
Review: Advanced Tip #1
Figure out your customer's interests and learn them. Share what you are interested in what they are interested in.
Connections are made on shared ground.
Advanced Tip #2: Giving
Nobody likes a cheap customer. There is something to be learned there.
One of the keys to being successful in the car business is not being a grind yourself with your customers. It can take weeks to earn the trust of some difficult customers but only minutes to lose them.
If a customer comes in with a small complaint or asks, try your best to make it seamless. When a customer needs something, don't make them fight for it. Most of the things that customers ask for (free oil top-ups, water bottles, jackets) are symbolic rather than necessary. When they ask for a jacket from the parts department, they are sometimes testing how much you are willing to do for them.
The best gifts you can give customers are reliability and honesty. That being said, there is a time and a place for gifts.
Just a Lazy Gift Card
Three years ago, in the summer of 2015, a friendly executive assistant, Victoria, from a large local business reached out to me via email. Her boss needed a new mid-sized luxury sedan, in black, before the end of the week. She had found my name on Yelp and asked me to make things easy for her.
I jumped on it, tantalized by the prospect of being able to parlay the deal into future business. I made everything simple, always answered her calls first ring and had the car delivered to the business. The paperwork was signed at their business and everyone was happy.
At the end of the week, car happily in the executive's driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief. The deal had gone through without a hitch. In a fleeting moment of intelligence, I sent Victoria an Amazon gift card for $30 as a thank you.
Since then Victoria has sent me 4 deals for a total commission of over $2500. All the deals have been easy, and Victoria is always on my side, fighting for her executive friends to get cars from me as well.
Review: Advanced Tip #2
Did I need to give that gift card? No. Do I think it had something to do with the $2500 in commission I've made from that one source of referrals? Yes.
A nice simple thank you gift can mean the world to another person. Don't be stingy with your customers or your sources of referrals. Treat them right and you will plant seeds that will profit you for years.
Review: Automotive Sales Training Courses
What I hope to create at carsalesstory is a website that replaces the automotive sales training courses of yesteryear. My site is a place to remind each other of the basics that we need to work on every day and a place to share the advanced tips and tricks that help us excel.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!