My 82-year-old father recently went shopping for a new car and was kind enough to explain the experience to me in classic old guy detail. I haven’t been able to forget it. If my father was on social media, I can only imagine what he’d be tweeting. But he’s not. So I’ll share the story for him.

In my lifetime, my father has owned four cars. In my driving career, I am on my eighth car. My father takes his cars very seriously.

If only the dealers took him as seriously.

Below is a description of the many sales people my father met on his adventure. In many cases, it’s a cautionary tale, but filled with many great lessons.

1. The Vulture

The first dealer my father visited was driven out of idle curiosity for the price offering – it was a notoriously cheaper car brand.

When my father step foot on the lot, this dealer’s sales people went into attack mode.

“They were vultures” he said, “swarming towards me.”

He just wanted to take a look. As he went into further details, I could not help but envision day-walking aggressive zombies. I admit, it was not REALLY that dramatic, but close enough.

Of course, that type of “customer relations” did not bode well for a sale- or even a look at the product. He was out of there as fast as his car, even on its last leg, would take him.

Lessons I immediately took from this story:

Listen with care and watch body language

As sales people, we need to immediately identify a number of items.

  • What are the needs of your potential?
  • How is your service line or product relevant to their needs?
  • What are their goals?
  • What is their prior experience like with a service like yours? What has worked for them in the past? What has not worked?
  • What is their view of you and your brand?

Keep asking questions and truly listening; not just waiting for your turn to sell.You will gain more credibility by asking questions and learning more about them. It will also help you become better attuned to their needs, so you can create a more targeted experience for them. Nobody likes to be sold too. But we all like being shown the item that perfectly addresses all of our wants and needs.

As you’re asking questions and listening to your prospect’s responses, watch and observe their behaviors. Are they walking quick trying to outpace you? Are they fidgeting? Where is their eye contact? If someone is noticeably uncomfortable or trying to get away, back off and let them feel more in control of the situation. You’re not going to sell to anyone by backing them into a corner.

Don’t swarm or oversell.

You hate that too, right? The sales person who doesn’t get the hint you don’t want to be bothered and follows you around the store?

Avoid the unnecessary tension and treat them like an inquisitive and curious human being who will talk to you more as they gain a feeling of trust and safety. Selling anything, buying anything, should be a relationship. Even the cashier at your local grocer and you should have a pleasant exchange, right? No one will want to buy if they are agitated or, in my fathers’ case, are actually running like hell in the other direction.

 

2. The Features Guy

Stop 2 was a local American car dealer. The sales men were “sharp, less vulture like”, said my dad, but focused on selling “the bells and whistles”.

The Bluetooth capability?
Satellite radio?

Not really of interest for the overly practical/not technical 82 year old. He doesn’t even own a cell phone.

The value proposition that my father cared about were price, warranty, and ratings. If the salesman who had approached him thought a bit about his perspective (or even asked!) before “selling”, my father may have bought that car with Bluetooth.

Lessons from this stop:

Know your audience

For many of us in sales, this means doing your research ahead of time to develop a clear picture of who your customer is. Where can you find this information? In her post on content strategy, Lisa outlined a number of ways to get intimate with your audience, including leveraging site analytics, using the social Web to collect data about conversations happening around your service area, and turning to industry research tools like Comcast or Quantcast to familiarize yourself with searcher behavior and intent. These are all fantastic places to start.

However, this won’t work for all industries, for all occasions. For the on-the-spot salesperson, you may have to invest more in demographic profiling, without assuming too much. It comes back to asking those questions and observing the behavior of the person you’re talking to..

Know your industry and what YOU are selling

This reminded me of a statistic I read recently: “Safety, utility and fuel efficiency
Obviously this statistic is car related, but do you know your own service line or products inside and out? Do you know your competition and what makes you the better choice?
Knowing this information and honing in your Unique Selling Proposition is what will make you a great sales person. What is your customer after and how do you sell what you sell in a way that speaks to that? You are never going to be able to sell as much as you can of whatever it is you sell without this knowledge base. And whatever your field is, you have to keep up on it. It will evolve so you need to, too.

Talk with your potential, not above them

Avoid jargon, buzzwords, and complicated language as much as possible when talking to a prospective customer. Let the smart buyer be the smart buyer without trying to belittle their personal experience or insight. You also shouldn’t assume that your expert knowledge is common knowledge. Our own little marketing industry has so many acronyms I know these blank looks too well! Use the same language your customer users to help them relate to what you’re talking about. If you’re not sure of the words and phrases they’re naturally using to talking about their experiences and hunt for information, again, using tools like the social Web or keyword research tools like Google Analytics can be incredibly powerful.

3. The Pretty Woman Experience

Next stop on my father’s journey: The upscale car brand. “What the hell?”, he thought, my father has worked hard (still does), he deserves a car everyone else in his neighborhood already drives.
For this visit, my father took it upon himself to wear his classic cheap-looking old man suit. The one that’s blue and white checkered. Yep, that’s right. As a tween, I remember being embarrassed by it. Now I find it so charming that he does it on purpose. It’s spectacular.

He walked through the dealership, walked around the lot, obviously seen, and was totally and completely ignored. I have gotten this many times myself when shopping at an upscale clothing boutique on a day I was just not that put together. My father meandered around barely acknowledged. No one really engaged him, no one even said “Hi.” None of the hunter sales people saw him as a worthy target. So they pretended not to see him. And he left.

What did my sales mind learn from this dealer story?

Judging a book by its cover is a bad idea

While all sales requires some bit of demographic profiling, never assume someone isn’t worth your time or that they won’t have the budget to make your day interesting. Don’t assume period. And do everyone a favor and take the ego out of it.

Mental sales games are no way to do business for either party

Be straight forward, please. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard confusing pitches. Aconfused potential is a lost one. Be clear and direct. Ask yourself, can you simplify more? If so, do that. Then follow up to make sure there are no questions.

Presentation is important, but it’s not everything.

While you might work for a product or service a rockstar, it’s a mistake to think that alone will do your selling for you. Engagement matters. Start a worthy relationship. AND have a killer presentation.

My father’s last stop?

4. The Guy You Trust

The last dealer for my dad as the reliable dealer. It’s the one he’s been fairly loyal to. The one he gravitates towards. The one that, after research, he feels always comes through.

When my father stepped foot on this lot the sales person educated him, offered him relevant facts, and understood the options he would care about. He even made a few jokes and listened to my dad’s jokes. Not even knowing my father looked elsewhere, he was awarded for his brand loyalty.

Last takeaways:

Be dependable: You can and should strive to be the best at what you sell. But be that rock, too..

  • A sense of humor is always an asset: As an old friend told me once, who does not like to laugh?
  • Be knowledgeable. Be unassuming.: It’s always flattering.
  • Be real: This is the most important one of all.

But It’s Not Just About Cars…

Of course, this is not just applicable to car purchases; it is about anybody selling anything and anybody buying anything.

Sometimes we put on an act that we think puts our best foot forward given the specific situation we are in, when it’s not actually our best foot. Our best foot often comes with old fashioned hard work, knowledge, preparation, awareness, recognition, drive, a sense of humor, and modesty.

More often though- it comes from just being a real and truly decent human being.
And in sales or not, this is a good way to buy- or sell- or interact.

Oh, and by the way? My father paid cash for his car, suckers.