I am constantly amazed at the mistakes that stop sales. When will sales professionals learn people don’t just happen to come to a car dealership? 

A dealership is a destination. People come to a dealership for two reasons: to test drive a vehicle and to buy one.

More often than not, they have done research online and have a vehicle in mind.  They decide which dealership to go to and make an effort to go there. They pick a day and time. They decide who is coming with them, and they drive purposely to the dealership. 

They arrive and are a captive audience, buyers who say, “That’s the car. I want to drive it.” 

The challenge they have is finding a salesperson who properly wants to sell them the car. Here’s a story that was shared with me. There are valuable lessons here for every salesperson.

Jennifer and her father went to a Boston-area Chevrolet dealership to buy a new vehicle. It was Jennifer’s college graduation present. They arrived at 7:30 p.m. on a weekday, checkbook in hand, ready to buy. 

They started to look at car that sat unlocked in the dealership lot. No one from the dealership came to greet them, despite seeing them out the window. After 20 minutes, they went inside.  

Immediately a salesperson ran over to them. It was almost as if he had just seen a rescuer on a deserted island he’d been stranded on for ages. 

It seemed like he couldn’t wait to work with them. The salesman, who told them his name, but didn’t give them a business card, immediately took Jennifer and her father to his desk, where he filled out paperwork. He recorded Jennifer’s email and phone number, and took a copy of her driver’s license. 

Jennifer told him which car she wanted to drive, but the salesman started to pitch another car. After listening for several minutes, Jennifer repeated her original request. He told her he would get the keys and inform his manager. 

About a minute later, he returned, pointed at his watch, and said, “Sorry, we close at 8:00 p.m. Can you come back at another time, maybe Saturday, and test-drive the car then?”

He had spent all that time getting information and filling out paperwork that he didn’t need for a test drive. He had a buyer in front of him and sent them away.

Jennifer and her father left the showroom and returned to the car she wanted to buy. She sat in the driver’s seat. The salesman walked by on the way to his car to leave. He yelled, “Come back and see me tomorrow.”  The rest of the showroom emptied out, leaving Jennifer and her father alone in the car on the lot. 

Who stopped the sale? The salesman and his manager did an excellent job of turning a buyer into a shopper, and sending them to the competition. 

Incidentally, even though the salesman had taken the contact information he needed to follow up, he never did the next day. In fact, Jennifer only heard from him the following week when he called to ask when she was coming in to buy the car.  By then, it was way too late.

With the incredible emphasis on customer-relationship management software and the 72-hour window to success in our business, it’s unimaginable he did not at least call the next day. 

Like many, this dealership had sent advertising emails twice a week and spent thousands of dollars on fliers, mailers, coupons, ads and specials. 

It brightly lit up the premises to make the cars easy to see and to draw customers in from a busy highway. But when a buyer arrived to take a test drive and make a purchase, the salesperson and sales manager chose to send them packing. 

This dealership is less than a mile from where Jennifer works. But she says she will never go back again to purchase anything. Neither will her father.

Dealers don’t like to spend money without getting results. They also don’t expect customers to spend $32,000 (the current average transaction price of a car) without learning more about a vehicle and taking a test drive. 

Yet, every day, salespeople (and sales managers) stop sales. When a customer is at the dealership and salespeople are not ready or willing, they stop a sale. 

When sales staffers tell a customer to come back at a more convenient time for them, they stop a sale.

If every dealership maintained an accurate traffic count, tracked and measured what happened to each and every customer, no one would stop a sale. 

If salespeople worked every single person that came into the showroom, they’d no longer stop the sale. 

Getting customers to say “yes” is simple. Listen to their needs, wants and desires.  Help them find the vehicle they are going to be happy in for the next four to six years. Work on your schedule.  Put them first.

Many customers will say “no” five times before they say “yes.” In rare cases like this one, the customer said “yes” immediately. It was the salesman who said “no.”

The next day Jennifer and her father went across town to another dealership.  Today she is driving the car of her dreams. It is the same make and model that was at the first dealership. But she bought it from the competitor. 

The first dealership had the sale in its hand, but dropped it. It lost money. The salesman lost the commission. He and the store lost potential referrals and return business.

Why would a dealership want to close instead of selling a car? Where are the managers? Who is controlling the sales department?

Business at this dealership must be booming if it can afford to turn customers away. Or is it that they just don’t care? Is a bad attitude and apathy at the heart of poor sales? In many cases, it is. 

When was the last time you were asked these two questions when shopping for a vehicle or for any product for that matter:

“Did you find what you needed?”

“How was your experience with us today?”

There is one key ingredient sales professionals everywhere must possess in order to give customers the red-carpet treatment: they must genuinely care. 

Simply going through the motions pretending like the customer matters won’t work. More likely, it will alienate customers.

When sales professionals truly care, it shows in their attitude. Then, even the simplest smile or offer of help can turn a shopper into a buyer and a customer into a long-term client. 

Understanding how to deliver the red-carpet treatment and learning how to improve processes and skills must be part of ongoing education and training.  Otherwise, customers will be left sitting in their dream cars at an empty dealership before they leave to buy elsewhere. 

Richard F. Libin is the author of the book, “Who Stopped the Sale?” (www.whostoppedthesale.com) and president of Automotive Profit Builder. APB has more than 46 years of experience working with both sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology. He can be reached at rlibin@apb.cc or 508-626-9200 or www.apb.cc.