I believe I am fortunate for having spent time in dealerships that were littered with “characters” and old-school, stereotypical car sales folks. It definitely opened my eyes to the full-spectrum of sales strategies employed by others and also taught me how negative perceptions of our industry were created. That being said, having seen and been taught some of these tricks has allowed me to expand my repertoire for online tactics. The oldest, meanest of car sales tricks have some useful applications within the internet sales realm, good and bad.
Disclaimer: The views, tricks, observations, and opinions in this article are mine and should not necessarily reflect the official policies and beliefs of this magazine. (I don’t want anyone else to get in trouble but me.)
– Old school: Rules of most dealerships were set. The first salesperson in the dealership every morning took the first customer. The order you came in was the order you took your dealership’s ups. A simple round robin system was employed after that. If you were the fourth salesperson to walk in that day and there were only three customers, you didn’t speak to anyone.
– New school: Internet leads should be set round robin as well, but dealers should use the CRMs that allow an automatic transfer of a lead if it hasn’t been answered within a specific time. That way, the e-prospect is answered quicker by someone available rather than waiting on the ISM they were originally assigned to. It is no longer about fairness for the sales crew, but what is convenient for the prospect.
The Bait and Switch
– Old school: Advertise your cheapest, stripped down, bare-bones new car for an amazingly lowball price (or your rattiest beater on your used lot) to lure customers into the dealership and, once they see how miserable that particular offering is, you switch them into another vehicle.
– New school: A similar, but acceptable bait and switch tactic you can employ online is by offering the prospect several different options of vehicles – with one being “models start as low as”. It may be misrepresenting what the customer actually wants, but since it is just one option you provide out of many, it is allowed. While they still have the price of the vehicle they inquired about, it is the lower number that will stick in their head.
– Old school: When a showroom customer wanted to leave before the purchase because they were unhappy with the figures/numbers, the salesperson would say they’ve misplaced their keys. This would keep the customer there and allow for more time to make the deal. If the used car manager was approached, they would appear scattershot and act as if they were looking for the keys (that they had in their pocket.)
– New school: In today’s market, ISMs mistakenly attempt to keep information away from customers, hoping that their interest in the vehicle will outweigh their displeasure with the lack of transparency. This is still an unrealistic tactic with dangerous implications. There is no way to play “keepaway” with information regarding an internet customer and come out unscathed.
The Evil ‘attaboy
– Old school: Salespeople used to offer gifts (oil changes, tube of touch-up paint) if their customers would bring their CSI surveys back into the store after the sale. This way, the dealer’s staff could fill it out for them and pump up their numbers.
– New school: Since coaching is forbidden and you cannot directly tell a customer how to fill out their survey, new tactics have been invented.(I invented this, actually, so I don’t believe it is widely used by any means.) This occurs after a deal is completed, while the customer is speaking to his/her sales rep and waiting to enter finance.Have a manager walk over and speak to the salesperson directly. “Hey John, you just got in another survey – all excellent – 100% across the board again.Great job. Keep it up.”It doesn’t even have to be true, but since it is said to the salesperson and not the customer (but within earshot), my belief is it passes the “coaching” rules. (I never asked an OEM so I am out on a limb here.) The benefit is that a customer sees what a positive survey can do for a rep and also likes to be involved with a dealership that promotes positive reinforcement.
– Old school: Just when a customer was walking away because they couldn’t agree on numbers with management , the manager would pull a “Columbo” and remember one more trick to try or question to ask. Often, they’d make the salesperson run out and knock on the customer’s window as they were about to drive away to give it their one last shot.
– New school: The Columbo can be used effectively in two different ways within the internet lead process.The first way, and most simple to create, is the use of a pop-under coupon/certificate. After a customer has visited your site and they are closing out of their browsers, there is just one more little attempt for you to lure them back. Whether it is an additional discount toward a vehicle or a promotion to receive something free for inputting their information, it is one more way to grab them.
The second way a Columbo is effectively deployed is by having an email message (preferably a video message) from the owner/GM with a personal touch.It should let the customer know that the primary decision-maker in the place understands they submitted a lead a little while back. Not only does the message offer to answer any newly discovered questions, but it should offer a specific value just for mentioning that particular video. It makes the customer feel that they have a connection directly to the top.
– Old school: As a customer agrees to a deal, the salesperson is told by the manager to put them on the ladder. The salesperson then has to go back and apologize that they forgot about an extra feature/accessory on the car and it will cost the customer a couple hundred more.The customers usually relent. Then, later, they say they’ve reviewed their credit and it won’t be the payment they expected because the higher rate raises the monthly expense another $20 or so a month.Each time you speak to them, you put them on the proverbial “ladder” taking them higher and higher.
– New school: This also is used two ways in Internet sales, but I don’t approve of either. One way to put an internet customer on the ladder is by sending them a quote on the vehicle they desired, minus one option – or telling them their vehicle is in stock, but not telling them your in-stock model also has a sunroof for instance. You get them in and hope to sell them on the feature, putting them on the ladder. The other way to put a customer on the ladder is by saying “plus fees”. The customer expects the fees to just be taxes, but is asked just prior to signing “how do you want to come up with the destination fee/internet negotiation fee/etc”. They’ve spent time with you and are invested in the sale and the car. They will usually pay a portion of the fee – bringing in more profit on the deal.Either of these tactics will give your dealership a bad reputation in my opinion.
The Time Bomb
– Old school: When a customer is about to leave before purchasing a specific car, the salesperson tells them it will not be available if they walk out. Whether it is a Today Only Price or that another customer is coming to pick it up or that it is being transferred to a “sister store”, it won’t be here when they get back.It attempts to force a decision.
– New school: When emailing a prospect an internet price, ISMs can attach a statement saying that the internet pricing changes every month and offers the prospect a “good until date”. Then, toward month’s end, it gives the ISM the ability to call/email and ask if they haven’t yet purchased, would they like a new, updated quote when the pricing changes. The same can be done for incentives. This is a tactic to have a specific reason for the dealer’s follow up with the e-lead.
Even with the industry turning online, there are still lessons to be learned from our predecessors. Whether right or wrong, these old school tactics do have new applications in today’s online market. The newest performers in our dealerships can still benefit by having a few tricks up their sleeves.