Lessons from buying a car – 1990s style

Think back to the 1990s… think about the journey of purchasing a vehicle.

In order for you to learn about the vehicle you were interested in, you most likely picked up a booklet or a brochure from the dealership. Next, you went back to the dealership and physically checked out the vehicle, including a test drive. The only price you knew was the sticker price in the window—and this was where the negotiation started. This sales cycle could take weeks and even months, as you would go from dealership to dealership to check out your different options, comparing prices and features. The seller held all the dealing power, and you, the buyer, would be won or lost over bells and whistles that could be provided.

Doesn’t that seem archaic? Now jump ahead 20 years…

The process of purchasing a car is MUCH different. Today you can research everything about a vehicle without ever leaving your home. You are able to discover how much the car is actually worth, how much every dealership in town is selling it for, and can even figure out exactly how much each dealership paid for it. You can watch videos online and read endless forums, putting YOU, the buyer in charge. You can make your decision before you even step foot into a dealership, putting the salesperson in a much different, and arguably more difficult, position than a few decades ago. Instead of the “sales cycle” taking weeks or months, it (at least the part where you are working with the sales person) can now take minutes or hours, and instead of being won by bells and whistles, you are often won over by the sales professional and their approach in this new paradigm.

It is essential for sales professionals to understand and embrace these changes.

Imagine you walk into a car dealership today, and the salesman has a one-track mind—to sell you a car. He immediately makes assumptions of who you are and what you want, but even worse—he has an agenda, to sell you the monthly promotion. Maybe this would have worked in the 1990s, but today, you already know exactly what you want. And instead of being charmed and wooed, you see right through his intentions (to profit himself) and you leave, annoyed.

What if the salesperson had put his/her needs on hold, and looked to serve, YOU, the customer, first. What if he had taken the time to get to know you and what you were looking for? And what if after listening to your “problem”, he provided a “solution”, even if that meant it didn’t directly benefit him. “You know what, my buddy over at another dealership actually has a better vehicle for your needs than I do. I am going to send you his way because I know he will be able to answer all of your questions and help you find exactly what you are looking for.” Any buyer would be pleasantly surprised, possibly even shocked, and would most likely come back to—if not start with—that same dealership in the future.

These examples represent a shift in selling across all industries, be that with consumers as buyers or corporations as buyers. Customers don’t want to be sold; they want to be served. Technology has put buyers charge of the buying cycle, allowing them to do the necessary research before even reaching out to a sales professional. This doesn’t mean sales professionals don’t need to be informed, but it means their approach needs to change, dramatically.

Today, listening is more important than ever, and solving a customer’s problem is more important than making a sale. A key to sales success is gaining buyer trust, and this can only come with time and the intention to serve the buyer first and foremost. Sure, the initial sale might be lost, but a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship will be won, and this relationship is sure to bring more business down the road.

Set yourself and your sales team apart from the crowd, and step out of the 1990s.