OK, here's the truth about sex appeal: It's all in your head. And when it comes to selling pre-owned vehicles, sex appeal sells!

A little spit and polish spiffs up inventory. When you make your inventory better-looking, you control where shoppers will look. People buy with their eyes.

If their eyes land on sharp-looking, front-line-ready vehicles and adept sales people, you've made a big step along the road to a sale.

But when their eyes land on a neglected vehicle and encounter a salesperson who neglects his or her personal presentation, that shopper's snap-quick decision, whether conscious or unconscious, is to hightail it out of your lot!

Forget all the technology and razzmatazz. What sells more used vehicles are good-looking cars and trucks on the lot and presentable and knowledgeable sales people available to help turn shoppers into buyers.

And with the prevailing pressures on new-car margins, it will be your skill at commanding the most from your pre-owned department that is going to carry you through tough times.

Now is the time to initiate small, yet very powerful changes, in your used department. Here they are:

Better Prices, Fewer Discounts

Dealers and managers all agree that the No.1 reason a customer will purchase a pre-owned vehicle is the vehicle's condition. When you've got diamonds on the lot, you can ask for more and discount less.

Don't we see this all the time at the auction? Two cars come through the auction lane — exact year, model, mileage, tire wear, equipment, and the like — except for one thing: one's dirty and one's clean.

How much will the clean, presentable vehicle command over its identical but unkempt sister? When I ask this question of attendees in my used-car manager workshops they all agree: at least $500!

So, front-line-condition pre-owned vehicles draw shoppers' eyes.

But then a slob saunters from the used-car department office and flicks away a cigarette just as the buyer raises his or her eyes and sees him coming.

Oops. “Nice cars,” the shopper thinks. “But what's with this guy?”

It's Not Just the Cars

Your cars bring more money on the line when they're in front-line condition. Your sales people will bring in more profits to the store when they are in front-line condition too.

Below I have compiled two lists that compare vehicle condition to a parallel “people” condition. See if some of these don't apply to your dealership.

Vehicles Condition:

• Dead battery/no spark

• Dirty exterior

• Dirty interior

• No certified stickers

• No pricing on vehicles

• Sloppy lot appearance

• Mismatched tires

• Aged inventory

• Damaged windshields

Salesperson Condition:

• Lack of motivation and enthusiasm

• No dress code or not enforced

• Negative internal thoughts

• Poor marketing & prospecting expectations

• No nametags

• Inadequate training

• Poor team work — no encouragement

• Wrong person for the position

• Poor vision — lack of goal setting and coaching

Vehicle preparation and inspection to get them ready for the lot is a physical step. You may need to prepare and inspect your sales staff as well, but you can't run a buffer across them (though you might want to).

No, polishing up a sales staff is an attitude and behavior job, one that requires you to become part preacher, coach, mom and Catholic-school teacher.

You'll need to introduce them to new ideas, coach them daily to practice those new ideas, give them a shoulder to cry on and someone to tell them they're loved — and someone who can put a ruler across the back of their hands when they deserve it. That person, Mr. Used-Car Manager, is you.

OK, big challenge, I know. So start small, and start with a plan. Try these:

Vehicle Condition:

• New batteries in all recons; vehicles started daily to avoid “I-hope-this-sucker-starts” prayers.

• Wash pre-owned vehicles twice as often as new vehicles; clean vehicles are a No. 1 reason to buy.

• Sales staff arranges lot, not attendants. Another set of eyes keeps interiors clean.

• Use all marketing materials, including flags and stickers.

• Put prices on all vehicles. This builds buyer trust.

• Assign at least one attendant to “fine-tune” the look and line-up of bumpers.

• New tires can make the deal. Safety builds trust and avoids owners' extra expense.

• Adhere to a strict turn policy. Turn is more important than front-end gross!

• Special attention to the windshield pays off.

Salesperson Condition:

• Motivation, enthusiasm and passion start with a “spark” from leadership. (This is you. How is your own battery?)

• Dress professionally. Adhere to your store's dress code. People buy with their eyes — and they buy you too!

• Teach you staff positive self-talk techniques. People who feel good about themselves produce more. When was the last time a motivation speaker talked to your team?

• Teach your staff prospecting as the No.1 step on the road to the sale. The first step is not the greeting!

• Suggest nametags for all staff. Customers love them and nametags help new hires get acquainted with co-workers faster.

• Don't come down on sales people for outcomes they haven't been trained to handle differently. Make sales meetings instructional.

• When managers attend sales training sessions everyone wins. The key to cohesion is a consistent showing of a strong team.

• Establish strong hiring practices that focus on being more selective. Look for people who are trainable — and hire more women, the gender that consistently puts more deals on the board!

• Work on getting an improved vision for your business, which only comes through goal setting. Conduct continuous improvement reviews every 14 days. Catch people doing things right and you'll see the difference!

The Eyes Have It

Front-line-ready means your vehicles have great eye appeal to shoppers.

When your inventory is eye candy and your sales staff (while perhaps not eye candy) is at least polished and presentable, volume and grosses will increase. (We prove it all the time with certified-vehicle numbers.)

Improve the condition of your used inventory and improve the appearance of your staff. Bring both up to front-line-ready condition and watch your net profits take on an improved appearance, too.

Paul H. Webb is a principal of Street Smart/I.T.S., Inc., (www.StreetSmartSalesTraining.com), a used inventory performance improvement company. He is at 888-469-711.