31 Oct

In the last two installments, we looked at how poorly most dealerships handle incoming sales calls and some tips at getting the information you need from each call. In this segment I want to talk about five things you should never do or say during that first call.

1.     Fill out the application

Completing the actual credit application is something that needs to be done in person. You can’t look a person in the eyes or watch their body language over the telephone. Proper underwriting is critical to success in dealer controlled financing and getting the right information on the application is vital to successful underwriting. Read more about that here.

Also, the last thing you want is for that opening contact with the customer to sound like the Spanish Inquisition. That first conversation should be about building rapport; not probing for the information you need to make a lending decision. Trying to take shortcuts here will make it more difficult to set an appointment to get the prospect to visit your dealership.

2.     Focus on one vehicle

This is one of the most common mistakes. Often, the prospective customer will call about a particular vehicle. If you continue to talk only about that vehicle, you are allowing the prospect to control the conversation. Once the customer has control, it is difficult to get them to relinquish it and assume control yourself. Sometimes that even continues once they come to the dealership. Your odds of closing a sale drop dramatically if you are not in control.

Also, if you have been in this business any length of time at all, you have experienced a customer getting focused on a particular vehicle only to discover, after you have completed the application process, that they do not qualify for that particular vehicle. At this point, it is very difficult to get a prospect off of that car and onto a different one. They are more likely to get upset and walk away.

3.     Talk about price

I realize that a significant number of your incoming sales calls will be a potential customer calling to ask the price on a particular vehicle. However, you must take control of the call and move it away from a discussion on price. Giving a prospective buyer a price only gives them a reason not to come to your dealership to see the vehicle for themselves if they believe your price to be too high. Without knowing about your financing program and the benefits of buying from your dealership, they put all the focus on that price.

The solution is to explore their needs and what they are looking for in a vehicle. This may allow you to offer some alternatives in addition to the vehicle they initially called about. Also, in the Buy Here – Pay Here business, price is actually not a deciding factor, in most cases. Rather, potential customers are more likely to be more interested in whether they can afford the vehicle. By explaining your financing program and its flexibility, it is easier to get that appointment for them to come in to discuss their specific situation and find out how you can help them get into a new vehicle.

Some dealers instruct their staff that prices are not to be given over the phone under any circumstances. I believe that takes this issue a bit too far. Telling a customer that you are not allowed to provide prices does nothing to build rapport with the customer and sets up an adversarial tone to the conversation. I would recommend that, if you have to discuss numbers, you do so by talking in ranges. For example;

We have several late model minivans like you are looking for. They range from $9995 to $12995. When would be a good time for you to come in to look at them?

4.     Talk down to the prospect

Unfortunately, we see this way too often in the BHPH or LHPH business. We know our customers have issues with their credit; however, that does not mean they deserve any less respect than the buyer at a new car store with an 800 Beacon score. If your associates convey the impression to these callers that the associate thinks they are better than the prospect, they are likely to choose not to do business with you. It is important that you monitor how these types of calls are handled to make sure your staff continues to be friendly and professional with all potential buyers.

5.     Get overly friendly

This one kind of goes along with #4 in that your personnel should be friendly and professional with every caller. I have heard employees call prospects “Honey” or “Babe” or “Buddy” or “Pal” on the phone. People want to be treated in a friendly manner but they also desire and deserve a certain amount of professionalism and respect. Being overly familiar can be as much of a ‘turn-off’ for some people as being rude.

Handling telephone calls from potential buyers is not rocket science. You should have a plan and a process in place for what your goals are and what information you want to obtain from each call. You should be friendly and look to build rapport with the caller while being courteous, respectful and professional at the same time. You should always try to set an appointment for the caller to visit the dealership.

You want to ask questions to learn more about the prospect but don’t try to do all of your qualification over the phone. Learn enough to know that the prospect meets your basic qualifications but try to do the in-depth qualifying at the dealership.

Good phone technique can be learned and must be practiced. Just like every other skill, practice makes perfect. Employees should practice on each other and you should test every employee regularly to make sure they are representing you and your dealership the way you want them to. Remember, you can’t expect what you don’t inspect.