True or False: A salesperson's job is to sell cars.

False. A sales person's job is to help a customer buy a car, not simply to sell a car.

Dealerships spend millions on advertising, incentives, and promotions simply to draw buyers into their stores. Yet, sales people who focus on selling cars, meeting quotas, and landing the immediate sale, often succeed at only one thing: turning buyers into shoppers.

As a result, management believes they have teams who don't perform, frustrated salespeople blame the lack of incentives, poor market, or their management, and a negative attitude begins to permeate the entire store. Consider these typical conversations:

#1: Asking the wrong questions can kill a sale before it starts.

Salesperson: “Hi, can I help you?”

Buyer: “No thanks, I am just looking.”

Salesperson: “Ok, Let me know if you need help.”

Shopper: “OK.

The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

#2: No. Don't. Won't. Can't. Negative attitudes and words tend to bring negative results.

Buyer: “I like the model, but I want a silver car.”

Salesperson: “Silver is on back order right now and I can't get it for a month. You really don't want to wait, do you? Let me show you the gold. It has the same rich look as the silver.”

Shopper: “Let me think about it and I'll be-back.”

How many times have you heard that one? Why not build the car on paper before you try to switch the customer on color?

#3: Trying to land the immediate sale can drive buyers out the door.

Buyer: “I am looking for a full size SUV with 4-wheel drive. I have six kids.”

Salesperson: “We do have crossovers which are similar and provide virtually every feature you can find on an SUV. Let me show you one of these, it's a bit smaller, but it should work.”

Shopper: “Thanks anyway, I think I'll look around a bit.”

In each case, the salesperson was more interested in selling cars than in helping the buyer select the right vehicle for them.

When that happens, buyers often become confused or frustrated. They tell the salesperson they will be back. They seldom return. These shoppers then turn to alternative stores or the Internet; shopping until they find what they want and a salesperson who recognizes that.

Turning buyers into loyal clientele by focusing on helping them buy the car they want requires simple changes in behavior beginning with top management.

Ask the right questions and listen to the customer's answers.

First, train every employee at the dealership to really listen — yes, listen — to the customer and to ask questions that are direct, but non-confrontational or pushy.

The idea is to draw out specific information that builds on the salesperson's ability to move the process forward.

If a salesperson greets buyers by saying, “Welcome to APB Motors, I'm Joe Smith and my job today is to help you select a vehicle, and get you a price,” nine times out of 10 the customer will respond positively.

This simple change in approach opens the door and allows salespeople to use well-honed sales techniques to steer the conversation through browsing, into a demo drive, and ultimately a sale — today, tomorrow or even next week.

Asking specific questions allows the salesperson to learn about the type of car a customer is looking for, how they will use it (business or pleasure, etc.); the customer's preferences for style, comfort, color; and what they like and dislike about their current car. Only then can the salesperson find the right car and move to an evaluation drive.

This approach only works if a salesperson truly listens to the customer's responses.

My next column will show how to make this work.

Richard F. Libin is president of Automotive Profit Builders Inc. that works with dealerships on customer satisfaction and maximizing sales and gross profits. He is at rlibin@apb.cc or 508-626-9200.