How to Sell Customer Financing More Effectively
This column is about consumer finance options. And it may ruffle some feathers. I think that offering options to consumers so they can make the best decision for their vehicle, their budget and their situation is great. What I see as a massive opportunity for our industry is in how we offer that option.
For decades, the most common training approach to offering credit financing to consumers has been to beat them over the head with it. Ever hear of the following?
“Offer it three times.”
“Mention credit terms every time you talk to the customers.”
“Before you mention price, make sure you talk about finance options.”
This was a fine way to do business – in 1982. Consumers have become much more sophisticated and are much more savvy in the way they conduct business. The “offer-three-times” approach is just too blunt of an instrument. It belongs in a museum, not a dealership.
Some may argue, “Hey, I have done this for years and it works. In fact, I signed someone up yesterday.” And I’m sure that’s true. I’m not saying it never works. The issue, however, is that this particular approach is also costing you business.
The main way it’s costing you business is that employees deep down know this approach is aggressive, and after a handful of “No’s,” will simply stop asking customers altogether. I’m sure every shop owner reading this sentence has a few employees that don’t ask for sign-ups unless you stand over them. The reason they don’t ask “three times” is because it’s overly aggressive.
The second way this approach can cost you business is that it can frustrate customers. Some customers like using their existing card or feel they don’t need another credit card. They don’t want to be bludgeoned over and over. Some might even feel insulted by repeated offers, thinking it implies they can’t afford a purchase without having to finance it.
It’s just the wrong approach. So what’s the better way?
In simple terms, it’s about understanding your customer before making any offer. Spending just a few trace minutes talking to the customer and discovering his or her true needs will allow an advisor to tailor the approach, which is what separates professional advisors from basic sales positions.
Consumers today are intelligent. And they are exposed to thousands of sales-oriented impressions a day. Blunt tools no longer have the strength to capture a customer’s attention and create a “yes” moment.
Let’s look at a few examples. A man walks into your store. His decade-old Honda sits in the parking lot. Your advisor is asked a price on a new set of tires. Being skilled at her job, the advisor strikes up a conversation on the way out to the customer’s car. She discovers that the customer is a father who is sending his first-born daughter off to college in a month, in a hand-me down-vehicle.
Instead of beating the customer over the head with repeated generic requests to open a credit card, the advisor informs him that your dealership has a special credit card that can only be used for automotive repairs. The card can be held for maintenance and repair only.
In another scenario, a mother of four children is impatiently waiting in line at your store. She has a million things to do today, including picking her oldest son up from football practice. She is finally greeted by the store manager, who apologizes for the wait and tells her it’s been an unusually hectic afternoon.
The customer states she was driving along and one of her tires went flat. The good Samaritan who helped her put the spare on told her all four tires looked to be in rough shape, so she now unexpectedly needs to purchase four tires. While your store’s manager retrieves the tire size, the conversation turns to unexpected large purchases and how frustrating they can be. The manager, once ready to discuss which tire is best, suggests that if the customer is interested, and since this is an unexpected situation, your dealership has a financing offer that provides interest-free terms for 120 days – and if she wants to use this, it won’t tie up any space on her usual credit card.
In both instances, the key is to engage with the customer and learn something about them. Today’s consumer is tuned into advisors who listen well and will tailor a solution to fit their particular needs. If the individual at your sales counter is only going to repeat memorized lines, today’s customer would probably prefer talking to a kiosk instead of a person.
Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry (www.cardinalbrokers.com). To contact McCarron, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.