Six Things You Must Know to Sell a Car

The first sales manager I had when I entered the car business always said, “If you build rapport and ask the right questions, your prospect will tell you everything you need to know to sell him a car today. That advice has proved to be correct on so many occasions but it took a while to learn what to ask as well as when and how to ask it. Let’s address both questions so you can develop a consistent and complete process with every prospect.

Discovering what you need to know

Following the Meet & Greet phase, you will want to transition to the Discovery phase and the easiest way to do that is to ask about the prospect’s current vehicle or situation. As you come to completely understand the prospect’s current situation, solutions will present themselves to you (as a car sales professional). Or, if you are new to the business, the information you gather will be valuable to your sales manager or desking manager so you can work as a team to craft a strategy and a solution for the customer that addresses all the issues coming out of the discussion.

The following questions or topics must be covered adequately during the discovery/qualifying phase and if they are, you will have everything you need to know to sell your prospect today. Here’s one of a number of ways to introduce the process so you don’t start off sounding like you are interrogating your prospect. And, it’s always a good idea to get your prospect’s permission to proceed to the next step. Here is a wordtrack I have used: “I value your time. So, to make sure we only spend time today on issues that will help you make an informed decision, I am going to take a couple minutes to ask a few questions to understand your transportation situation. Does that sound fair?”

ask the right questions

Here are the questions and why you need the answers and what you can do with the information:

  1. What is your current situation? By that I mean, what vehicle(s) do you have now? One of their current vehicles is usually what prompted the visit so let’s learn about why it is no longer working for them. There are always interesting stories attached to every vehicle and getting the customer talking about how and where the vehicle has been used will lower anxiety and provide you an insight into the things that are part of the prospect’s life. Most important, you want to avoid talking about the new car he might be considering until you truly understand what he needs and wants. Then, you will be able to offer a solution (that may be different than what he came to the store planning to buy).
  2. Who’s the new or replacement car for? If the vehicle is a replacement, you will have a trade-in opportunity but that question probably got answered in the first question (above). But, you need to know who will be the principal driver so you can involve that person in the discussion. If the car is for a wife, son, daughter, or parent, you want them to be there. If they are not there, your chances of closing the deal approach zero. So, in the process of booking that follow up appointment that includes the other party, asking questions about the other person’s driving habits and preferences will help to nail down the appointment.
  3. What needs to be changed on the new vehicle to make it right for your current situation? On this question, avoid the temptation to accept a shallow answer. For most people (including those who will not admit it) a new car is more than transportation; it’s status, it’s freedom, it’s a reward, it’s a recognition. Or, it might be as simple as a couple driving a compact sedan now have a baby on the way and are thinking that an SUV may be more suited to their new lifestyle. On the other hand, I’ve had several customers who had received a big promotion and determined that their current vehicle did not adequately reflect their new status. My point is that the issues related to getting a new car are frequently bigger than we assume. Few people get a new car just so they can get heated seats (that were not on their previous vehicle) so dig a bit deeper and discover the prospect’s true desire. What people “want” is a much more powerful motivator than what they “need”.
  4. What were the terms of the prior purchase? This is a critical piece of information that sometimes requires detective work or your part but we need to get an idea of how much equity is in the current vehicle. (More often than not, there is no equity and usually it’s negative). If your prospect is only a couple years into a 7-year finance deal, they are probably buried in negative equity but a skillful finance manager sometimes can do some magic. Make sure you are talking directly to the bank (or other lender) who is financing the vehicle so you can get the exact amount currently owing on the loan (or today’s buyout if it’s a lease). Most customers do not know this information but if yours does know the exact amount, he’s done his homework and is probably a serious buyer.
  5. When is the vehicle needed? By simply asking this question, you set up some expectations for delivery and it is good to get such a commitment out on the table. With manufacturers working on just-in-time inventory systems, all but the most popular models and colours are frequently weeks (even months) away from delivery. Give yourself the opportunity to under-promise and over-deliver. There’s nothing worse in sales than to close the deal and discover that the exact car wanted will take many weeks to acquire and deliver especially if the customer assumed he would be driving it in a day or two. Best to get this issue covered ahead of the sale.
  6. Anything special or particular that I should know that would affect your ability to make a decision? This is the question that identifies potential objections or stalls well in advance. You want to make sure that everyone involved in the decision is available. If there was a prior bankruptcy or some credit issues that will impact the transaction, you will want to know about it now. The way to check for credit problems is to ask the following question without any warning (if you want a truthful answer). “By the way, how’s your credit?” If you get any answer except “excellent”, there is probably some credit problem to address.

Armed with the answers to these questions, you have the information you need to select a vehicle, propose a couple workable finance options, and demonstrate why your proposed solution to your customer’s transportation problem is the perfect fit for their needs and wants.

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