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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Help Your Salespeople Achieve Success

Here is a portion of a course I teach to new salespeople. Your sales managers may find it to be a good reference for a sales meeting, so please pass it along to them or to your salespeople as appropriate. You can find a thorough discussion of each of the bullet points by clicking here to go to my blog.
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The Daily Routine
Everyone has heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” In the auto business, “You are what you do” applies. An habitual daily routine that includes activities that will make you money is critical to success.

The Daily Routine
a.    Start with the End in Mind
b.   The Today Sheet
c.    Mental Preparation
d.   The Inventory Walk
e.    Prepare for Appointments
f.     Sales Followup.
g.    Lead Followup
h.   “Bird Dogs” and Industry Referrals
i.     Prospecting
j.     Product Knowledge
k.   Contests and Incentives
l.     Collect People
m.  Being Sociable Without Being Social
n.   A Teammate on an Opposite Crew is a Good Idea
o.    Make a Sale

Start With the End in Mind

Very few people stumble into success. Often what appears to be serendipity or instantaneous success is the culmination of years of hard work and preparation so that salespeople can recognize opportunities to succeed. History is rife with talented people who achieved very little because they did not apply their talents. To be a success at almost anything in life you must become goal oriented. You must establish short term and long term goals, write these goals down and establish metrics you will use to quantify your progress towards those goals. To achieve much better than average success as a salesperson requires this goal orientation. The best way to start each day is with a particular part of your ultimate goal firmly in mind. Remember, hope is NOT a plan. Start your day planning to sell a vehicle as opposed to hoping to sell a vehicle. This results in a huge difference in attitude and a huge difference in success.

The Today Sheet

Many dealerships require that salespeople prepare and submit what I call a “Today Sheet” to a sales manager at the start of each day. Typically, this sheet contains the salesperson’s scheduled appointments, follow-up telephone calls and other planned tasks for the day. It also summarizes the salesperson’s month-to-date progress towards monthly sales and earnings objectives in terms of numbers of units sold, gross margin made, commissions and bonuses earned and compares those to a pro rata portion of their monthly goal. Finally, it contains a specific sales goal for that day. Going over a Today Sheet with your manager for a few minutes at the start of each day allows him to give you advice and be ready to give you help when you need it later in the day. If your dealership does not require a procedure like this and the completion of a Today Sheet, do yourself a huge favor and adopt this procedure for yourself. Without external discipline, the only way to get yourself to do this is simply to make it a habit. Just force yourself to fill out a Today Sheet for thirty working days in a row. You will see the difference it makes in your work habits, your personal satisfaction, your sense of control and your income. You will be hooked on a good thing.

Mental Preparation

You begin mentally preparing yourself to sell from the moment you wake up (well at least sometime after that first sip of coffee). When you dress professionally, or shine your shoes, you are preparing for success. When you look yourself in the mirror each morning and say, “I’m going to sell a car today,” you are preparing mentally. And when you fill out you Today Sheet to plan your work you are preparing mentally. Do not discount the importance of all these small affirmations. In sum they will make you realize that you deserve the successes you achieve, and they will make you ready to see and seize success when less prepared salespeople do not. Some of the best salespeople I have known make a habit of repeating a personal affirmation (“I am selling this guy/gal/couple a car!”) on the way to greeting any prospective customer.

A positive attitude is key to being an exceptional salesperson. A mechanic can perform the purely physical function of replacing parts on a vehicle whether or not he is in a good mood. Being a salesperson means working with others, and being ultra-sensitive to their spoken and unspoken communication. The rapport you achieve with prospective customers is critical. Prospective customers don’t want to be around a salesperson having a “bad day,” and usually will not buy from one. 

Every salesperson and manager I have ever met will tell you that another key to success is the ability to bring a high level of energy and enthusiasm to work and inject it into every opportunity to work with a prospect. Many say that a salesperson’s energy and enthusiasm, more than anything else, is the propellant that gets prospects to move from step to step of a sale, and eventually results in successful sales. Sales managers in particular link success or failure in salespeople to their relative levels of energy and enthusiasm. It can be difficult to be “UP” all the time. At the very least, however, you must always be “coming from” a place that shows excitement for the prospect’s opportunity to change their lives for the better by purchasing a vehicle. So learn to coach yourself, and be prepared to put yourself into a positive frame of mind, full of energy and excitement, every day.

The Inventory Walk

Early each day you should get in the habit of taking an Inventory Walk. This is simply a walk through the new and used vehicle lots and the “bull pen” (where fresh trades are kept), and detail shop, looking for and learning about vehicles. The purpose of this is to make sure you know where all the new and used vehicle inventory is located, to refresh your memory about specific used vehicles on the lot, and to learn about any fresh inventory which has been purchased or traded in and is about to be placed on the lot. The value in this seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many salespeople have let prospective customers go without realizing that the perfect vehicle for them had just been taken in trade or just been delivered from the factory, but was still back in the Detail Department being prepared for the lot. That this can and does happen is just one more reason sales managers insist that salesmen come review their prospect’s needs with them before letting prospects go.

Selfishly, however, there is an even more important reason for you to do an inventory walk religiously. You will be in competition with all the other salespeople in the dealership for the opportunity to sell the superior pieces of inventory that come through your dealership. There are exceptional vehicles that possess attributes (so clean, so low mileage, so rare) that make them truly unique. These sorts of vehicles inevitably sell very quickly for top dollar and produce the biggest commissions. Time is critical in this process. The salespeople who can get ahead of the rest of the sales force, finding homes for these choice vehicles before anyone else does, simply make a lot more money.

Prepare for Appointments

When you have an appointment, don’t wait for the prospect to appear then “wing it.” Be prepared. If time permits discuss your prospect’s needs with your sales manager and get his advice on how to prepare. Settle on two or three vehicles you think might be perfect for your prospect. Get to know those vehicles particularly well, rehearsing the kinds of features and benefits they possess that might be of particular significance to your prospect. You might even prepare by pulling a vehicle offline into a special location where it will be easier to get the prospect to focus on that one vehicle rather than the sea of vehicles on the lot. The closing ratio of prospects who come in on appointments is enormously higher than the average prospect who simply shows up on the lot shopping. In fact, the closing ratio should be at least 40% or more. Make sure you take full advantage of this opportunity.

Sales Followup

A portion of every day should be devoted to sales followup. These are telephone calls you make to people who recently purchased from you, and there should be several to each customer. The first call should occur within 24 hours of the sale.  The tone should be energetic and the message thankful for the business. You should insert a comment into your conversation that if at any time the customer knows of anyone else who might be in the market for a vehicle would he please tell you, setting the stage for asking for referrals on subsequent calls. It is important that you make your initial call within 24 hours because the customer’s glow of fresh ownership is still strong then and your call will help dispel the natural feeling of ‘buyer’s remorse’ that arises later. You should also remind the new vehicle customer that he will receive a survey from the manufacturer (to the best of my knowledge all manufacturers send these) about you and how his transaction was conducted. Ask him if there is any reason he cannot reply that he was “completely satisfied” to any portion of this survey that he tell you so. Manufacturers grade both the dealership and you by these survey results. Anything less than “completely satisfied” is an unacceptable result. Unacceptable results can have the effect of making both you and your dealership ineligible for significant factory incentives.

Your initial thank you call should only be the beginning of your contact with your customer. You should make at least 3 telephone contacts (not voicemail contacts – actual contacts) with your customer in the first month after a sale: one within 24 hours; one within one week; and one within one month. After that you should contact every one of your customers by phone no less than once a quarter. As your customer base increases, this will amount to a significant number of telephone calls each day. Regardless of whether or not your dealership places a lot of emphasis on “relationship marketing” systematic maintenance of a relationship with each of your customers will be the difference between being an average or below average salesperson and becoming a superstar, six-figure earner. More on on how you can accomplish this later.

Lead Followup

The highest priority portion of any salesperson’s day, when not actively assisting a prospect, involves calling back prospects who have not yet bought. Of course, this is impossible if you were not assertive enough during you first contact to obtain the customer’s name, address and phone number. Some customers do not want salespeople to bother them with sales calls and are reluctant to give personal information. Nevertheless, a skilled salesperson develops techniques that build rapport, break down these barriers and makes obtaining this critical initial data fairly easy. Most customers will admit to visiting three or more sales organizations before deciding to buy. The average closing ration across all dealerships is about 20%, including customers who purchase on a second or subsequent visit. This means that more than 80% of the time the average salesperson will not make a sale on a customer’s first visit to the dealership.  This statistic emphasizes how critical it is to be good at Lead Followup. Later we will cover the telephone techniques, followup and prospecting skills you need to acquire to be expert at this.

“Bird Dogs” and Industry Referrals

Each day might include a few calls to “Bird Dogs.” A “Bird Dog” is a person who, often for a small fee upon a successful sale, will refer customers to you. “Bird Dogs” are the sort of contacts you should call regularly. A good example of an “Industry Bird Dog” might be an insurance adjuster or body shop foreman who regularly sees people whose vehicles are totaled and will refer them to you, or give you their telephone number and ask you to call them. Some salesmen make a good living doing nothing but cultivating a string of “Bird Dogs.” Do not ignore the non-industry “Bird Dog” as well. One salesman I know got an extra sale practically every month from a grocery clerk who really liked him. Whenever she encountered a person in her checkout line that was in the market for a vehicle, she would hand out one of his business cards. He made sure that every time he shopped she had plenty of his cards. He bought her flowers on her birthday and a present at Christmas time. She wasn’t even asking for referral fees. She just did what she did because she liked him.


When you complete higher priority items on your Today Sheet, you should turn your attention to prospecting, contacting people whom you have yet to meet. You don’t want to be so unfocussed in this effort you do the equivalent of opening up the phone book and calling at random. The best prospects are “orphan owners,” dealership’s customers whose salesperson is no longer working for the dealership. These prospects already have a relationship with your product, your dealership, and probably your service department. They are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of the amount of effort it takes to develop a sales relationship focused through you. Adopt them whenever you can.  Lists the manufacturers distribute from time to time contain other good prospects. These have usually just received marketing targeted directly at them from your manufacturer. You want to reap the benefits of that marketing by becoming their point of contact with the dealership.

Your objective when making a prospecting call should not be to sell a car. It should be to make a positive impression, and if possible make an appointment to see the prospect in person. When prospecting it is important to realize that first time calls result in an appointment less than 5% of the time, even for skilled prospectors. If you define success solely as making an appointment, nineteen out of twenty calls will disappoint you. A success rate measured in this fashion is so low for unskilled prospectors than many salespeople give up on this process altogether. It is very important to develop good prospecting skills (more later on this). It is also important to view this process holistically, as more of a commercial for you and the dealership, a one-on-one very impactful commercial that you will build upon in subsequent contacts.

 Also remember, even if you are only able to make an appointment in one out of twenty calls, for every twenty calls you will have one more prospect than you would have had otherwise. Religious making 20 or more calls a day can turn the average salesperson’s opportunity to interact with fifty prospects a month into an opportunity to interact with 75 prospects. Assuming a similar 20% closing ratio the salesperson, who religiously does this extra work, should be able to earn 50% more each month. That “extra” volume almost always qualifies that salesperson for more bonuses and factory incentives than the average salesperson earns as well. Salespeople who come to the auto industry from the brokerage and insurance industries, where agents and brokers typically make 80 to 100 telephone calls daily, found themselves to be particularly well suited to build a “book of business” quickly using the telephone prospecting skills they already possessed.

Product Knowledge

A portion of every week should be set aside to expand and refresh your product knowledge. Just as an inventory walk can be particularly useful in getting a head start selling fresh used inventory, acquiring product knowledge is important to selling new vehicles. Today’s customers gather a great deal of information about the vehicles for which they shop on the web. However, they still expect the professional salesperson to know more than they know. 

What the professional salesperson does that the typical buyer does not do as he gathers product information, is to imagine how he will use that product information to vividly and memorably bring the benefits of a vehicle’s features to life in the mind of a prospect. For example, it is one thing to simply know and say that a vehicle has anti-locking brakes.  A good salesperson will imagine how to get a prospect to “see” himself on a rain-slicked street with the whole family aboard when an emergency stop must occur. The salesman will get the customer to “see” himself stomping on the brakes, and “feel” the pulsing under his foot at hundreds of beats per minute, maintaining traction; then “see” himself continuing to steer under conditions that would have caused a vehicle without anti-locking brakes to slide uncontrollably. Finally, he will rehearse one of his patented “trial closing questions”: “Isn’t that they kind of safety you really want for your family…?” 

Contests and Incentives

Simply keeping yourself aware of what money is available to you from contests and incentives, both within the dealership, and from the factory, will allow you to prioritize your work in ways that make you more. Salespeople are usually very good at this. However, I have actually seen a salesperson miss a $500 bonus because his normal day off fell on the last of the month. Instead of scheduling an appointment and selling a prospect on his normal day off, he sold that prospect on the first day of the succeeding month, when that one extra sale in the prior month would have earned him that $500 bonus.

Collect People

Having the inquisitiveness and desire to learn everyone’s “story,” I call “collecting people.” Collecting people can be one of the most enjoyable parts of being a salesperson. It is a skill, an attitude and a goal, which makes money. If you really want to know about a prospect’s life, his family history, how he has grown up, what he has done, you will discover that there are fascinating people out there. There is no better way build rapport, and make your customer very memorable to you, or you to them, than to encourage and listen to their stories. Collect people wherever you can find them, in the service waiting room for example.

Be Sociable Without Being Social

Having a good rapport with other salespeople, especially those on your own crew, can be important and rewarding. There is nothing wrong with a few minutes of social banter scattered throughout your working day. “So! The Red Sox are not going back to the World Series after all….” But beware. Most salespeople are by nature social creatures, and you probably are too. It will be very easy to allow a significant percentage, if not a majority, of your day to disappear in the chitchat that any such group can create. Superstar sales performers do not let social chitchat keep them from moneymaking tasks for very long.

A Partner on the Opposite Crew Is a Good Idea

Under certain conditions, when two salespeople are involved in a single sale the commission is split 50-50. Since a single salesperson cannot work every hour of the day seven days a week it is often beneficial to develop a symbiotic relationship with a salesperson on the opposite crew so you can know that your customers are being handled professionally when you cannot be present, and your partner can as well. However, do not rush into such a relationship.  It is very important that you are confident of a partner’s skill and professionalism or undue friction will result when it is imagined that the other party blew a “sure sale.”

Make a Sale

We began with ‘keeping the end in mind.’ I will end it with that same thought.  Some salespeople get so involved in the organization of each day that in among all the walking, and learning, Today Sheets, prospecting and followup, that they lose sight of the very simple goal: make a sale today! That thought has to be ever-present, guiding your choices and actions throughout each day.

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