This article first appeared in Wards Auto.
Millions of Americans participate in fantasy football. There’s nothing like the strategizing, trash-talking and (at least for me) 11th-hour lineup tweaks that lead up to game day each week.
Car dealers are responsible for another team with even more on the line: the sales team.
Just like with a fantasy roster, salespeople’s performance can spell the difference between a win and a loss. They’re out on the front lines every day, working to get customers into the cars of their dreams and bring profit to the dealership with every sale.
It’s tempting to think you can manage a sales team the same way a fantasy team is picked and managed, with an all-star roster consisting of different kinds of salespeople with different sets of skills.
But drafting a winning dealership team requires really only one kind of salesperson: the customer-focused kind.
Customers: The Real MVPs
The sales team’s job isn’t just to sell cars. It’s to sell cars to customers. So it’s critical that every salesperson is laser-focused on getting customers exactly what they want.
What most customers want is simple. Forty-two percent of customers say the best part of the buying experience is the excitement that comes with getting a new car.*
Sure, your salespeople’s top priority is to close the deal. But they need to keep customers’ excitement alive all the way to the point of purchase.
Unexcited customers can become dissatisfied customers, affecting CSI scores, repeat business and referrals.
Treat Them as Teammates, Not Targets
So how can dealers get the sales team to zero in on getting customers what they really want?
First things first: Customers want to buy a vehicle. They don’t want to be sold to. Salespeople shouldn’t be more focused on hitting a monthly quota than on finding the right car for a customer’s needs.
The ideal salesperson should be more like a vehicle specialist, working side-by-side with customers, sharing insight and expertise to help customers choose the best vehicle for them.
This team-player strategy is exactly what customers are asking for. When asked to describe their ideal car salesperson, 66% picked “They should work hard to get me the best deal possible” and 52% went with “They should have expert knowledge of every vehicle on the lot.”
This makes it the sales team’s job to prove they’re knowledgeable, helpful and there to support your customers.
That’s what customers care about in a salesperson: helpfulness and knowledgeability. Not gender, not age, not personality. Nearly 75% of customers are happy to buy from a salesperson of any gender, and 69% would buy from someone of any age.
Rather than matching a Millennial customer with your youngest salesperson, it’s more important to make sure customers know they aren’t in this alone, that they have a trusted partner to back them up.
Ease Up on the Offense
There’s one more important way to help customers get what they want: Dial down the pressure. Your customers want car-buying to be a fun and rewarding experience. Salespeople who push too hard for a decision could end up pushing shoppers away.
A strong offense might be great on fourth and goal in a football game. But it’s not the best dealership strategy. What is? Well, when asked to describe their dream dealership, 53% of customers wanted “a no-pressure sales environment.” Similarly, 36% were looking for “a no-hassle, no-haggling, one-price vehicle policy.” Those factors were valued more highly than a low-price guarantee or even having the best vehicle makes and models in stock.
Customers are saying what they want. It is the salesperson’s job to listen.
Even if aggressiveness could close deals, it might not be worth the long-term cost.
Strong-armed customers might buy today, but they’re unlikely to come back or give positive recommendations to friends and family.
To take the pressure out of customers’ buying experience, let them take the lead. Be close at hand to answer questions and provide insight, but don’t be afraid to step back and give them space.
I know letting customers take control of the sale can feel like a recipe for disaster, but trust me: When you’re celebrating in the end zone, you’ll be glad you did.
Of course, finding the right salespeople matters. So does the business of selling cars. But important, too, is helping customers feel victorious at every stage of the purchase process. There’s no better win than that, not even taking first place in your fantasy league.
Brian Geitner is the president of Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group
*These numbers come from Autotrader’s Car Buyer of the Future Study of 2014. For questions about the study, or anything related to this article, please comment below.