A great sales manager and friend of mine always said, “It’s all about perception.” How the Internet shopper perceives you and your role in the store will affect whether they visit your dealership or not.
A title is important. While many dealerships are hesitant to throw around manager titles, it is imperative the individuals in the Internet department refer to themselves as Internet sales managers (ISM). Whether or not an employee has been officially given the title or not, they need to communicate with the automotive Internet users (AIU – a new term for Internet shoppers I picked up at a seminar) as a person with manager status.
Anyone who has sold cars knows that the position of manager carries with it the air of authority. Customers often want to work directly with a manager. It makes them feel more important as if they are dealing with a true decision-maker for the store. I often laugh at this because it is quite possibly the worst way to buy a car. I tell friends and family that, when shopping for a new vehicle, always try to work with the person who seems the most new to the business. Those people care more about getting another unit sold rather than focusing on profit. On the other side of the spectrum, a manager’s main focus is on profit. A person is promoted to manager when they are successful at selling consistently at high gross. Why a customer wants to immediately work with the person (manager) who is most adept at making maximum profit, I’ll never know.
The automotive Internet user is different. As I’ve said in countless past articles, the AIU feels they are entitled to better care than that offered to them by an everyday salesperson. They need to feel as if they are dealing with someone who has the power to make significant decisions regarding price and payment. The AIU wants to know they are talking to a manager. If your Internet employees have the official title of “Internet sales consultant”, “Internet sales coordinator” or any variation in between, encourage them to refer to themselves as “manager” in all e-mail, phone, and face-to-face communications with the AIU. While the role and responsibility for your employee won’t change, the perception of the customer and the mindset of the employee will.
When I began in automotive sales, my title was sales consultant. In a perfect world, our sales staff would consult the customer, but today they act more like sales clerks. However, I encourage my sales staff to stretch the limitations of their titles. ‘Sales associate’ holds no weight with a customer. ‘Sales professional’ does, though, as does ‘certified sales professional’ or ‘senior certified sales and leasing specialist’. Since roughly 90 percent of customers are shopping the Internet prior to visiting to dealership, I wouldn’t even mind if sales consultants referred to themselves as ‘Internet specialists’ (provided they did know how to navigate the web and were familiar with the popular automotive sites). It allows the customers to believe they are dealing with an individual who has attained a higher designation from the dealership, and therefore is more important.
In my Internet department, however, I prefer my Internet sales coordinators to refer to themselves as ‘Internet sales managers’. The AIU doesn’t want to think just anyone is responding to their e-mails. They want someone with clout to handle their transaction because they are special. A little hint for those who don’t know: All Internet shoppers believe they are special. That is why, when they show up unannounced, you are expected to recall their name, their vehicle of interest, and all communication you’ve shared. Even though they need to carry the information into the store with them inside a manila folder tucked under their arm, you should know who they are. It is not like you have 250 others you are conversing with. They are the special ones. (Notice any sarcasm there?) The truth is, though, if they are in the store at that very moment, you should treat them as if they are the most important. The title of manager will carry with it a little more authority, allowing you to stand your ground on topics such as price, payment, and trade as well as make the customers feel they are more important than the average walk-in.
Working with an AIU is a little like the early stages of dating. If you present yourself as a servant/lower-class citizen to your potential girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s over before it begins. Men and women want to be with someone that they look up to and are willing to fight for. The same holds true for car shoppers. No consumers look up to sales clerks. People want to interact with their equals. Referring to yourself as a manager to a customer (provided you act accordingly) makes you an equal.
If you are an owner or GM, allow your staff to present themselves with a title of authority. Let them put it on their business cards if they ask. The pay plan dictates their pay, not their business cards, so you have nothing to worry about.
If you are an Internet sales specialist or a similarly titled position, just go ahead and try using a manager title in your e-mail signature. You will begin receiving more favorable responses. Some of these responses may actually ask more detailed questions, requiring decisions out of your pay grade. That’s fine. It opens the door to building credibility and rapport with the AIU and the medium of e-mail always gives you time to find out the answer from the powers that be.
Simply having the title of manager alone won’t even the playing field with your customers. You must act as if you are a manager. You must be as responsible and professional as your management staff. You must be courteous and respectful to the AIU’s wishes. You must position yourself as a customer’s solution.
It is not the title that makes the manager, but the actions. Even if you are not, act as if you are in charge. Act as if you have been doing this for 100 years and you are the best at it. Act as if you are the only person that can help them through their shopping ordeal. If customers perceive you are a person of power and influence in the dealership, they will have confidence in you and everything you say. If this newfound confidence breeds more sales, act as if you own the joint.