At some point in too many dealership car transactions, a customer thinks, “Why are you asking me that?”

More often than not, this is the point at which the salesperson risks stopping the sale.

There are certain questions no salesperson should ask. These (and typical customer responses) include:

  • Can I help you? (No, I’m just looking.)
  • Are you planning to buy a car today? (I haven’t decided.)
  • Are you going to buy right now? (No.)
  • How much do you want to spend? (As little as possible.)
  • How much do you want your payments to be each month? (As low as possible.)
  • If I could _____, would you? (No, but if you could ____, I would consider it.)
  • Why don’t you think about it and come back when you are ready to buy? (I was ready to buy.)
  • Do you need to talk this over with a significant other? (Excuse me?!) This question most often is asked of females shopping alone.

They are questions to avoid asking. Yet, dealership customers across the country hear them every day.

Instead of focusing on finding a vehicle that meets the customers’ needs, wants and desires, flawed salespeople focus on negotiating. As a result, the experience is often impersonal, uncomfortable and often unsuccessful.

All customers want to believe they are getting the best experience and the best deal possible. They want to be asked intelligent, thoughtful questions that demonstrate a salesperson is listening, understanding and sincerely trying to help them buy the right vehicle.

To do this, salespeople need to behave like human beings, not machines following a script.

Asking the wrong questions result in getting difficult responses from increasingly frustrated customers.

We know of a salesperson who asked via email what a customer wanted to pay for a $40,000 car. The reply: “$20,000.” The salesperson stopped responding to the customer’s emails and effectively stopped the sale.

When salespeople fail to ask the right questions, they tarnish the customer experience. It’s their job to guide customers to making a selection by asking thoughtful, relevant questions that tailor each experience to an individual customer.  In doing so, salespeople help customers feel confident about their decision to purchase.

As a sales professional, be aware of word choices and their impact. Too often, we overcomplicate a simple process. We ask questions that lead us nowhere. Instead, ask questions that drive the conversation and customer experience in the right direction.

First, think about the information needed to build a relationship with customers and help them select the right vehicle. Make a list. Then prepare open-ended questions (never ask a question that sets up a yes/no answer) that will start a conversation.

Encourage them to share information, and help you discover what they want, need and desire in a new vehicle. Find out why they came to your business today. Don’t be aggressive. Be sincere and interested.

When talking with customers, be aware of other people who might be accompanying them. Note how they interact. Find out if they are purchasing the vehicle together or if someone is a friend along for support.

Be subtle in finding out whether someone else is involved in making the decision. Then find a respectful way to engage them as well. But take care not to ignore the original customer or defer to one over the other. If there is more than one person in the conversation, treat them equally.

Use their names when you address them. Be friendly and get to know them to build a relationship and trust. Never focus only on one individual and ignore the other.

Listen attentively and you will learn exactly what type of vehicle to show them. The goal is to show customers vehicles they can fall in love with. When that happens, price becomes a secondary consideration.

Use acquired information to ask additional questions that help motivate a customer to close the sale. But remember, the only time to buy a car is the customer’s time. That might be today, tomorrow, next week or next month. Never pressure them because they always have the choice of leaving, going down the road and buying from your competition.

Be sure to do everything possible to make the customer’s decision simple. Then, if they choose to leave without buying at that moment, follow up. The first 72 hours are the most important to closing a sale.

Send an email thanking them for coming in. Go the extra mile and check on a specific item they may have wanted. Call them and invite them back.

In a sense, selling a car is like building a new relationship. Ask thoughtful questions, listen to the responses and use them to build the budding relationship.

Jennifer Libin is the sales director for Automotive Profit Builders. She also is a head varsity gymnastics coach for three high schools. She can be reached at jlibin@apb.cc or 508-626-9200.