Modern Selling: Creating a Friend

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By Guido Ebert

Research shows that the two main reasons consumers often dread visiting motorcycle and automobile dealerships are 1) the disrespect inherent in being ignored while on the showfloor, and 2) the way in which salespeople tend to descend upon them like hawks on a field mouse. Polar opposites, but equally harmful to the selling process.

I make it a habit of visiting the five local dealerships near my home in the Minneapolis area. While I’m greeted like a long-lost friend at three dealerships — Hitching Post Hopkins, Leo’s South and Scooterville — at the fourth dealership, I often spend 20 minutes walking the showfloor, milling around the Ducati, Triumph and KTM sections, without anyone speaking with me. At the fifth dealership I’m followed around like I’m a thief on the prowl, explained every vehicle or product I stop to take a look at, and never left to simply enjoy the practice of “browsing.”

Ignoring the customer has obvious drawbacks and has long been taught to be among the top reasons for losing a possible sale, but is attempting to capture and control the customer — considered a “must-do” in many sales textbooks — any better for the selling process?

Some sales trainers working in the industry now say selling shouldn’t be a matter of controlling the customer, but a matter of creating a fan of your establishment — nurturing an enthusiast to share your passion and creating a relationship with someone who’ll come back to your dealership time and time again. That’s an important thing to remember in this time of economic turmoil, when conversion is proving so important.

I recently talked about the subject of “selling” with a powersports industry friend of mine who last month attended an F&I conference targeting automobile dealers. He came back fawning over what he learned from one speaker in particular: Rick Case, the world-
renowned owner of dealerships in South Florida, Atlanta and Northeast Ohio.

“For most of us, we’re enthusiasts and we’re in this industry because it is what we love and have fun with,” my friend says. “What really moved me about Rick Case is that he got into the business for the same reason — because it’s something he loved. But, unlike a lot of our colleagues in the powersports industry, he never lost track of the fact that people also have to like you. And so, he said, it’s important to remember: Nobody coming into a dealership should come within five feet of an employee without being greeted sincerely, and every person who comes in should be treated like a friend you’re planning to ride with next Sunday — not pressured and not ignored.”

In this issue of Dealernews I’ve written about a retailer that appears to have the ingredients for turning retail customers into dealer enthusiasts. Powersports of Joplin owner Garrett Paull operates his business with the tagline “The fun starts here.”

“We go out of our way to make our customers feel important and respected and welcome,” Paull says. “For us, it’s not just about selling bikes but about sharing a lifestyle. So, if you’re not having fun, and you’re not selling fun to your customers, you don’t have any business being in the industry.”

Also in the mag, you’re going to read about Florida Motorsports, a dealership owned by Bill Shenk that represents a new powersports retailer, as well as a new article series for Dealernews, called “Dealer Lab.” Shenk, who also operates dealer 20 Groups through his PowerHouse Dealer Services company, weighs in on the art of sales, focusing on selling a lifestyle, not a product. “It’s a lifestyle business, a relationship business,” Shenk says. “We want to grow our customers through word of mouth, and you don’t do that without an outstanding buying experience.”

Which brings us back to the top: As a result of being snubbed at the one Minneapolis-area dealership and the feeling of being pressured at the other, and despite the fact that I have repeatedly given both of them a chance to become my go-to retailer, I most often spend the majority of my PG&A and service money at the other three dealerships where I’m greeted like a longtime friend.

Want to know which dealerships in my area don’t understand the art of modern selling? One starts with “Moto” and ends with a word that resembles “Guido.” The other dealer name begins with a “T,” rhymes with “how is he,” and ends in “Motorsports.”

This editor’s note can be found in the Dealernews November 2009 issue.

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2 Responses to “Modern Selling: Creating a Friend”

  1. Modern Selling: Creating a Friend- TheAutoMotoCorp.com Says:

    […] Read More of this Dealer News blog post by Guido Ebert […]

  2. Jim Glus Says:

    Boy, it’s amazing that one man can get into my head without ever meeting me. Everything Guido writes in this article has been my sales technique and the way I train sales staff for over 30 yrs. Even if at times it’s been against “company policy”. Nothing bugs me more than exactly what he stated happened to him at both of the two ‘un-named’ dealerships. Talk about both ends of the spectrum. One lets a potential buyer, which a dealer has spent thousands of dollars in advertising to get in the door, walk around like he’s got a deadly disease and the other allows or teaches their sales staff the “buzzard effect”. Why not just get them a perch at the front door.

    Once I aproach and introduce myself to a customer, it may be 20 minutes before we start talking about the bike, boat, rv, or whatever. It only takes a good listener and somebody trained to read the customer to find subjects to talk about to relax the situation. And in most cases, I usually let them be the one to bring the talk back around to the unit in question. Once that happens and you still keep it light, you own him (her) without them even knowing it (oops, is that ok to say ?).

    Oh well, even with all that said I can’t seem to find a job, must be a young 59 isn’t cool anymore in the Motorcycle Industry even thought it’s riders in my age range that are buying the big ticket bikes.

    Thanks for the great article Guido, in my humble opion, you’ve hit it right on the nose.

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