Thanks to the ongoing digital revolution, today’s car buyers have a near-limitless amount of information at their fingertips. Historically, auto sales professionals were the primary point of contact for consumers looking to buy or lease a vehicle. But with the rise of third-party comparison websites, and the transparency they now expect from dealership websites, shoppers can research makes and models, sticker prices and local car dealerships without ever having to leave their homes.
For many dealers, adapting to this new sales landscape has been a major headache - auto retailers are starting to question how to be a great car salesperson in the shifting marketplace, and what skills and qualities are necessary to be successful in the digital age.
While it may seem like car dealers are having less of an impact on consumers’ buying decisions, the reality is that the entire sales process has become more of a personalized journey. According to research from AutoTrader, around 54% of consumers would buy a car from a dealership that provides their “preferred experience,” even if another auto seller offered a lower price.
Considering how important first impressions can be, car salespeople still play a vital role in their dealerships’ profitability and financial growth. But for those wondering how to be a great car salesperson, which attributes and hard skills are most important?
Let’s face it, the car salesman stereotype continues to haunt auto dealerships to this day - this aggressive, fast-talking persona has taken a real toll on public perception, with many car buyers viewing dealerships as self-centered and untrustworthy. In fact, a 2019 Gallup poll found that U.S. citizens rank car salespeople the lowest in terms of honesty and ethical standards - just 1% of respondents had “very high” opinions of the profession.
While conversational skills are crucial to a car salesperson’s job, knowing when to listen (and how) is perhaps the most important quality for a successful career. Rather than overwhelming customers with a deluge of vehicle information, financing options and time-sensitive deals, auto sellers should focus on making them feel comfortable and heard. This is not only useful for learning about car buyers’ wants and needs, it’s also a simple way to build rapport and credibility with potential customers. Considering word-of-mouth recommendations have a major impact on shoppers’ car-buying decisions, according to a 2019 survey from Autolist.com.
It’s never been more important to forge lasting relationships with both new and existing customers.
2. Interpersonal skills
Even before personalization became a dominant trend in the auto retail industry, car salespeople relied on their interpersonal skills to help customers feel welcome and confident about their buying decisions. Today’s car sellers act more like responsive guides than heavy-handed tacticians - by acknowledging the independent research consumers have already performed, sales professionals can simultaneously build trust while moving customers closer to the point of purchase.
Although it can be hard to abandon the verbal tricks and closing strategies that have been successful in the past, car dealers should focus on creating sales processes that appeal to people, not general consumer demographics. To that end, auto sellers must be able to adapt their communication style to a diverse range of customers with different wants, needs and expectations. Careful observation is key - a customer’s body language and tone can reveal their level of satisfaction with a test drive and the likelihood of closing a deal. Maintaining eye contact is also important, as it can help car salespeople demonstrate that they’re listening intently and engaged with the conversation (whether or not it’s about buying a car).
3. Industry knowledge
While vehicle information and pricing is widely accessible to car buyers through online channels, questions are bound to pop up during in-person conversations. Offering clear and accurate answers is key, which is why auto sales training can be a valuable resource for both new and mid-career professionals. Work experience alone may not provide the in-depth sales process knowledge or F&I expertise needed to address complex customer inquiries. The more a car salesperson understands about their dealership’s workflow, the better equipped they’ll be to move customers into a “ready to buy” frame of mind.
Automotive knowledge is also crucial, as the industry is currently in a state of technological transformation. As autonomous vehicles become more popular and commercially available, car salespeople will need to find new ways of marketing these products to buyers with very different goals, noted Deloitte in a recent consumer study. For example, discussing safety features may help reassure parents that their desired vehicle is a wise investment.
Ultimately, the more car dealers know about the vehicles they’re selling, the easier it will be to persuade customers that they’ve made the right decision.
As consumers spend more time researching and shopping online, car dealerships will need to pivot their customer service and outreach strategies to better leverage digital communication channels. According to a 2019 study by Cox Automotive, 61% of vehicle shopping is now done online, with the average consumer dedicating just under 14 hours to research before making a purchase. This “always connected” trend has some car dealerships concerned about the long-term viability of their in-store services, but it also offers a unique opportunity to change with the times.
In the age of social media, car salespeople have a direct line of communication to potential customers. But to take full advantage of this powerful customer outreach tool, they must be able to effectively use social media platforms (and dealership websites) to connect with online shoppers and build brand loyalty. This is particularly important for attracting younger car buyers, as the majority of millennials (79%) and Gen Zers (77%) use social media multiple times per day, according to research from The Manifest.
Those with prior experience in digital marketing may be well suited to selling cars in the current landscape, but building a successful career will take more than a few viral posts on Twitter.
If your car dealership is looking to step into the future of auto retailing, the experts at JM&A Group are here to help. With over 40 years of experience working with dealerships across the U.S., we’ve developed a deep understanding of modern automotive sales, F&I and fixed operations processes. Through our comprehensive sales training courses, each member of your staff can learn how to be a great car salesperson in a rapidly changing marketplace.