Automotive Sales Training - Contrarian Selling Approaches

Contrary: opposed, opposite in nature, altogether different.


Several Indian tribes had warrior societies called Contraries or Contrary Warriors. The contraries were different in nature as well as actions, and were thought to be wise men. While being in the automobile business my whole adult life, I have observed and been a student of some of the more successful dealers in the business and have found that a lot of those dealers take a contrarian approach to their business. Following the masses seldom leads to riches.


For many years automobile dealers have been selling vehicles with practically the same techniques. A particular sales approach may have been observed and then passed from one dealer to another. Managers taught the salespeople the techniques and when some of those salespeople became managers. They taught their salespeople what they had been taught. Thus, we have a never-ending cycle of teaching techniques and approaches that may now be outdated in today’s marketplace.


There are as many personal computers being sold in one day in the United States as there were total in existence fifteen years ago. When you combine the proliferation of computers with the availability of the Internet and the explosion of information available today, you get a more educated and sophisticated customer than before. Although the consumers may have changed in the last fifteen years, for the most part our selling techniques have not. As I train and work with dealerships across the country, I see a willingness to change and to be unique in the marketplace. Every aspect of the traditional selling approach must be scrutinized and possibly changed.


Let’s look at just one specific area – The Meet and Greet. Proxemics is the relationship of physical distance among people. In other words, we all have comfort zones. For many years, we have taught salespeople to walk up to a customer and extend our hand for the greeting and give our names and ask for the customer’s name. However, consumers are telling us in surveys that they don’t want to be jumped on upon entering the dealership. The question is, “How do we greet customers promptly without them feeling like they’re being attacked?” When approaching customers, salespeople should stay in the social zone which is about three to five feet away from the customer. Also, we know that upon being greeted, customers reply “I’m just looking” almost one hundred percent of the time. To make the customer feel more at ease, just use their usual response in your greeting. Example: “Hi folks. Are you just beginning to look and shop around today?” Ask questions to start taking control of the process and get the customer talking to gain rapport. I would suggest waiting a minute or two before shaking hands and exchanging names, if possible. I can guarantee that when a salesperson exchanges names while shaking hands in the beginning of the greeting, that as soon as they drop your hands from the handshake, the names drop to the floor and the salesperson will not remember the names of their customers ten seconds after they have gotten them. While I am in dealerships working, I observe traditional greetings and can say that the customer looks uncomfortable with the process almost every time.


Every step of our sales process must be reviewed in the manner similar to what we have just done. Lemmings are animals that follow the one in front of them, even if it is off a cliff and to their death. As smart business people, we have to be willing to be more contrarian and less like lemmings.

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Comment by Mark Tewart on January 31, 2013 at 9:15pm

Thanks James. So true!

Comment by James Carroll on January 31, 2013 at 3:04pm

Great post Mark. I have been in sales in one capacity or another for over 25 years. This is an unfortunate mindset of many in many different industries, not just automotive. This is what our managers were taught by thier managers, so it must be right. It's unfortunate that so many cling to old practices blindly, we called it dinosaur brain. Times change, but more importantly so do buyng habits. You have to change with them or go the way of the dinosaur.  

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