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Characteristics of top automotive salespeople

Last month I had an opportunity to chat with a diverse group of dealers in a small workshop setting about advertising and overall marketing strategies. We talked about broadcast and cable television, radio, print, Internet advertising including search engine marketing, e-mail, texting and digital signage. But most importantly, we shared ideas on the greatest opportunity of all. ‘Back to the Basics´ one-on-one salesmanship and the importance of reaching out to each and every market-of-one our team had the ability to connect with.

I shared this quote from 18th-century theologian and philosopher Joseph Priestley: "The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate." The means of communication available to us in the 21st-century are far more elaborate than the methods afforded Priestley in the 18th-century. He couldn´t send a text message or an e-mail or even leave a voice-message, but yet he was still confounded by the complexity of communication efforts of the time.

Post this up. There is a reason why top salespeople try to have as many face-to-face meetings with their customers and prospects as possible. And there is a reason why salespeople that communicate almost entirely via e-mail and other non-personal contact methods are usually searching for a new job within six months. Personal, face-to-face communication is a dying art, but those who still rely on it are among the highest paid, most productive people in America. Never settle for an e-mail when you have a phone number. Never settle for a phone call when you have an address. "But what does that have to do with my dealership?" you ask. "Everything!" I respond. Advertising and salesmanship must be merged to create the greatest possible sales efficiency and maximum profitability.

The phone is great. E-mail is wonderful. Texting is cool. But the simple fact is, the more face time you get, the more people you get an opportunity to make a presentation to in-person, the more sales you will make. And the more money both the salesperson and the dealership make.

"But wait!" you say. "My salespeople love to talk to people in person. You never have to nudge anyone to take an up. Our customers are greeted quickly!" "What customers?" I ask. Floor traffic is off in every dealership I´ve visited in the past year. And I´ve visited some extremely good dealerships in very densely populated areas with enormous drive-by traffic. " So you want my salespeople to go ´door-to-door´ to find customers?" you say. "Why not?" I answer. If the customers aren´t coming to you, why not take your show on the road?

Tony has been a friend of mine for almost 20 years. He is a second-generation dealer in small town of about 12,000. Tony´s domestic make dealership has felt the same pinch every other dealer in America has felt this year. Lack of warm bodies walking thru the door. But Tony is selling more cars than some of the import dealerships in the suburbs of a much larger market just 15 minutes away. Why? Tony sat down with his sales staff of 7 people in May of this year and told them that the only way they, or he, could possibly survive in the current environment would be to get more face time. "If fewer people are walking in the door, it stands to reason we´ve got to find new ways to get in their face (in a nice way, of course)," said Tony.

The 7-person sales team held a series of meetings, coming up with creative new ways to get face time. "If our showroom and lot are not full of people actively shopping for a vehicle, then we need to go where they are." said Tony. He printed coupons good for $10.00 off the normal price of a $19.99 oil change and every salesperson was given an ample supply. V.I.P. discount cards were printed as well. Tony´s sales team formulated a plan to divide up retail business and professional business office addresses, with the goal of a visit to every single one within 30 days. Tony´s sales team handed out 4000 business cards in 2007. Tony had three times that number…over 12,000 business cards, printed in May of this year. So far, the sales team has given out over 7000 of those cards thru August 31st of this year.

By the way, Tony´s dealership is not e-illiterate. The dealership has a website and has built an impressive e-mail database. But Tony says it is a lot easier to delete an e-mail than to avoid an in-person pitch from a fellow local businessperson. Tony says it´s also a lot easier to make excuses on the phone or even avoid a call if the caller I.D. has a business name. Tony´s team had a lot of initial apprehension at the concept of going ‘door to door´, but they overcame their fears as the strategy began to pay off. One salesperson now says he would rather ‘stay on the road´ than take floor time even as floor traffic improves.

Tony continued his traditional advertising on both radio and television, focusing the dealership message on all of the reasons why it made so much sense to buy a vehicle now during these slower times. In one advertisement, Tony told the listening audience not to be surprised if they saw one of his salespeople at their front door!

Laura is the manager of a business office with a staff of 40 personnel. She was telling me about the new copier she just installed and explaining how she thought the new features would greatly help office efficiency. I asked how she happened to choose the copier. “An extremely persistent saleswoman showed up at my door,” she said. "She told me she had been trying to reach me by phone for several months but I wouldn´t take her call.” “So here I am!” said the salesperson. Laura agreed to listen and subsequently arranged for a test-run of the new copier. Laura said she would have never considered such a purchase had someone not visited in person. "I toss hundreds of direct mail pieces, if they do actually reach my desk, " she said. "This was the first person selling office equipment that has visited our office in at least 5 years. I thought I should at least give her some consideration for her effort."

Do you remember the story I shared with you about the pelicans of San Francisco? For many years pelicans were tossed so many fish from returning fishing boats that they literally forgot how to fish. Then the fishing boats stopped coming into the bay. Suddenly, the Pelicans were starving to death. Some thought there was a strange disease. Someone suggested bringing Pelicans from Tampa Bay to the San Francisco Bay area to show the California birds how to hunt. It worked. Within a matter of weeks the San Francisco pelicans rediscovered fishing techniques and how to feed themselves.

Isn´t this the right time to have an off-site meeting with your entire sales team? Take them out to lunch or dinner. Talk about this year´s successes and failures. Share my ideas along with those from other sales success resources. Talk about the individual and collective team opportunities of 2009. Get your sales team personally involved in crafting new in-person presentation strategies. Let the team help you craft new marketing and advertising plans to support the mission.

It is time to get back to basics. Back to the days when a sales professional was expected to generate prospects and leads from personal contact and face time. Back to the days when a sales professional was proud of his or her profession. Make 2009 the year your dealership gets ‘in your customer´s face.´ Your place…or theirs.

9/22/08 Copyright © Jim Boldebook (for November 2008 Issue of Dealer Magazine)

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