C H A P T E R 2
Selling in the Greatest
Time of All
Last month, I had my very first Uber ride. I was doing some training in Little Rock, Arkansas, and that evening, a friend booked me an Uber ride to take me back to my hotel after a social gathering.
In a matter of minutes, a gentleman in a Prius pulled up. We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me about his job. He described himself as a tech nerd, and his job was making apps for cellular devices, computers, laptops, and so on. Then he asked me what I did.
“I’m a professional automobile retailer,” I told him. “A car salesman,” he said almost sarcastically.
“Yes,” I replied, “it boils down to that. I teach, coach, and manage car salespeople, but I still get my share of interaction with customers.”
“Teach and coach salespeople?” He asked incredulously.
“I’m a speaker, teacher, author, and trainer of salespeople. I’ve taught thousands over the years. I get joy from teaching people how to be the best at what they do,” I replied.
He paused, pondering his next question, and then he finally asked: “How about today’s Internet and information age – the access that people have to so much information – how are you dealing with that?”
I could easily ascertain that he was strongly angling for the answer he wanted, something like: “Yes, the Internet and transparency have hurt the business, and I don’t know how we will survive.”
Instead, I told him the rather shocking truth, which seemed to be difficult for him to swallow. I said: “Yes, it has changed things, and I absolutely love it. I wish we had always had it. It’s the greatest tool for our industry in my lifetime.”
I could tell my answer surprised him, and I continued: “The real information is the best part. We car salespeople are thrilled that customers now have real information from someone besides us. We have a large group of dealerships, and this year, we have had our best first quarter ever, following up our record year in auto sales last year, when 18 million new units were delivered in the U.S.”
He paused again. Not getting the answer he expected, he pressed on hoping for an answer he wanted to hear. Initially stuttering, he went on:“W-what about all the pricing information, the transparency of viewing and comparing so many dealers’ prices, and arming yourself with knowledge from your home? It has to be a lot tougher for you guys to do what you do with such an informed and well- equipped customer? I mean c’mon, knowledge is power.”
At this point, I laughed out loud: “Buddy, you just named many of the reasons why I love the information age so much.” I continued: “Suppose you felt you had received a bad rap, and your industry had a lot of misinformation and bad information spewed and spread about it from sources that had a self-serving agenda. Then wouldn’t the information age be a breath of fresh air to you?
Now the lion’s share of media scare tactics and myths have been exposed thanks to the wonder of modern technology. If a salesperson says: ‘All dealers have virtually identical invoices, and this model has only $300 markup,’ years ago, the customers would have to shop four or five dealerships to find out if this was true.
I mean, who are customers more likely to believe: salespeople or their own research? It is wonderful that our customers are so much more educated than before.
Without all the misinformation out there, we don’t get as many ridiculously low offers or absurd trade value demands. Also, people no longer shop at five dealerships, threaten to shop in another town where they mistakenly believe cars are cheaper, or become angry or upset because they don’t understand something, and so on.
These last few years have been record years for some car makers as well as many dealerships, including ours. The information age has turned on the light, and the cockroaches have run into the darkness. Many car dealers now have proof that what we have been saying all along is true.”
Then he asked: “Aren’t your margins significantly smaller than they used to be?”
I answered:“The Internet has educated our customers to the extent that the people who sell ‘fear the dealer’ to customers are having a tougher go of it. Many realize they get ‘ripped off’ for more money on their insurance policies, cell phones, burial expenses, utility bills, and clothing than on the average 4% to 8% markup at a dealership.
You are correct that our margins are slightly smaller, but not significantly. They are almost parallel to our average markup decrease. And with more manufacturers paying out record volumes of bonus money, the margins per unit will naturally tighten up.”
This stunned him. He stuttered a bit, and then asked: “H-h-how about all the dealer add-ons from the finance guys – you know, the warranties, gap policies, and all of that nonsense and junk you don’t need?”
I replied: “I’m the corporate sales manager of 12 dealerships, and I’ve done this over 25 years. I’ve stood in the service lane with families crying because of their circumstances. Say they have an 80,000-mile Toyota Sienna mini-van, and the transmission is out, but it’s out of warranty. Then it’s going to be $4,500 to fix it, but they can’t afford it. They don’t have a credit card to put it on either, but they can’t leave with their vehicle because it won’t drive. Since they can’t afford to fix it, they are standing in my service lane crying. A $25- or $30-a-month service contract would have paid for that. I guess you are the type of person who would advise them that that’s junk they don’t need.
Insurance companies also sell warranties. “If you don’t think a warranty is something worth having, you are not obliged to buy one, but in situations where it makes sense to protect your investment, it’s a better to be safe than sorry. Protecting an investment is sound advice”.
I decided to have a little fun, so I posed a question: “If I gave you $2,000 today, would you agree to pay for all repairs of every breakdown of my current model SUV for the next seven years or 120,000 miles, including towing, rental car, and hotel allowances? Oh, and give me back a pro-rated portion if I trade, sell, or total it?”
There was quite a long pause as if he didn’t understand the question. Then he said: “Well when you say it like that…”
I said, “You mean reversing the roles?” I continued: “The Internet has educated our customers. They know that insuring their investments is sound financial advice. Many people, myself included, enjoy the peace of mind knowing we are insured for the rising cost of auto parts and repair. Informed customers weigh the value versus the cost of extended warranties and make decisions based on the individual facts of their purchase.”
The driver was not happy with the education he was receiving. He quickly snapped: “Yeah, but the customers don’t need any of that. They could buy good cars.”
I asked: “So hoping to buy only good vehicles that never need repair is a much better plan than purchasing protection? If hoping is more beneficial than insuring to you, then by all means, purchase as little insurance as possible. It is my experience that over insuring beats under insuring. It’s also my experience that everyone makes good cars these days. However, the cars are made of thousands of parts, mostly moving or attached to moving parts, and none are guaranteed beyond the factory warranty.”
Then he asked me if we also sell gap insurance. I told him that we do, and I continued: “Anybody who borrows more than their car is worth needs gap insurance because if their car gets stolen, totaled, or whatever, and it isn’t worth as much as they owe on it, they are stuck with that additional payoff money on it, and they have to roll over to another car to pay it.
I think technology has assisted customers in understanding the need for a service contract to cover them for the life of the loan or longer. And I believe that they understand gap insurance more. When we have to offer them the base payment without anything extra, most customers already know that they also want a warranty for however long they plan on keeping the car. So it has helped that guy in the finance office a lot as well.
People can also shop their own rates these days, so if we can meet or beat their rates, we typically earn their finance business. It has been very beneficial all the way around.”
As the driver sat there pondering, I continued enlightening him: “You see, some people perpetuate the belief that education is worthless or that teachers, cops, and priests are all bad. But the Internet has been extremely useful in dispelling old scare tactics, exposing the tall tales, and shining a light on the devaluation of individuals, businesses, and goods. The Internet has exposed the people who could once hide while villainizing others. I firmly believe the Internet is the greatest tool the auto industry has ever known. I can’t even begin to get into the advertising advantages or the customer retention management aspect.”
At about that time, we arrived at my hotel, and he said: “I can tell you’re a really good salesman, but I’m going to fact check our conversation. No offense meant,” he added.
I said: “By all means, research how many new and pre-owned cars dealers are selling, and notice that our profit margins are not significantly dropping. And check to see if Warren Buffett’s
Berkshire Hathaway just invested several billion dollars in auto dealerships and if Warren was quoted as saying he was going to buy more.
I apologize I couldn’t dispel your notion that the Internet had somehow harmed, exposed, or crippled us car dealers, or that getting information to customers has hindered us in any way. But please accept my most sincere gratitude for computer geeks like you who brought us the greatest tool ever for our business! We shook hands and parted as friends.
This is an excerpt from my recently released book "Synergistic Selling" to read more just go here