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Ten Ways To Sell in a Tough Economy

In the late 1990s, author/speaker/trainer John R. Graham presented a sales training seminar to our Lake Erie Marine Trades Association members, and I’ve never forgotten his advice to be successful at selling.

His book 203 Ways To Be Supremely Successful in the New World of Selling is packed with excellent selling ideas, and given the difficult economic times we see ahead, they’re perhaps even more applicable now than they were when the book was released in 1996.

Today, everyone in business likes to believe they’re comfortably seated on the customer service bandwagon. They’re playing the “customers for life” music. Unfortunately, it can be more frenzy than fact, Graham advised. Here are 10 of Graham’s keys to successful selling that are worth implementing in dealerships.

1. Most businesses hold that meeting customers with good, on-time service and delivery is at the heart of continuing relationships with customers. Once the sale is made, however, sales staff should see that good service and delivery is only a starting point. Relationships for the future mean becoming a valued resource for the customer. Salespeople who provide continuing knowledge will be the long-term winners. Put another way, the lowest price and on-time delivery aren’t enough to hold the customer because they come without the benefit of expertise.

2. Price may attract a customer, but information sustains a relationship. Price may get them in the door or the closing room, but that alone will not have them coming back. And as we look at a likely tough sales picture ahead, dealers will need the cash flow from customers coming back for service, updates, repairs and so on. Dealerships aren’t just in the service business; they’re also in the relationship business.

3. Help customers achieve their goals. Yes, efficient, timely service can make customers feel that the dealership recognizes their importance. But simply being a supplier isn’t enough. A valued relationship depends on making a continuing contribution to the customer’s success and enjoyment of the boat.

4. Automation makes today’s business a player, of course, but innovative ideas are still the mark of leadership. There’s no question about the importance of state-of-the-art systems in a dealership. But automation, such as automated emails or having customers make appointments online without human interaction, is the way many businesses operate. To be successful in keeping customers, however, dealerships need to actively look for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. Special events, personal contact, knowing more about your customer’s activities and sharing information tops automation any day. When customers receive valuable information, they’ll be back.

5. Tell customers what to think about your dealership. Fair or not, people come to conclusions by comparison. If you don’t let customers (and prospects) know why it’s in their best interest to buy from you, they’re probably heading to a competitor. Wise salespeople spend time and effort consciously influencing the way their dealership and products are perceived. Touting awards, industry recognitions, product ratings and other things that separate you from the pack isn’t bragging; it’s informing.

6. Name your product or service. One way to differentiate your dealership is to create distinctive names or slogans that reflect what customers want to receive. Basically, the idea is to imbue ordinary ideas with new meaning. I’ve known dealers who labeled their service department “Comfort Care.” Another used the handle “House of Sincere Service.”

7. Do away with “self-serving nonsense,” as Graham puts it. “Most company newsletters or brochures are filled with words and photos that do nothing,” he says. “No one cares that a dealership is the ‘oldest’ or “best” or ‘biggest.’ A better approach is to ask customers what they want to know about. Guaranteed you’ll get a list of things that will make their boating better. Remember, when people identify with your knowledge, they’ll continue to buy what you’re selling.”

8. Be generous. No one admires or wants to do business with a dealership that seems like a one-way street. I recall when I was growing up that my dad bought a Wheeler from Higgs Marine. When the boat was delivered, there was a specially chosen lamp in the saloon with a wonderful card from the Higgs family. My father never forgot that generosity and recognition. It resulted in two larger Wheelers. In other words, finding a way to be generous to an unexpecting customer sells.

9. Take advantage of testimonials. Testimonials increase a dealership’s credibility. Let your customers blow your horn for you. In a case where a customer might be reluctant to give a testimonial, help them out — interview them, then prepare their comments for their approval. Testimonials about special days or activities with their boat, over-the-top work in the service department or an employee who exceeded every expectation all make great testimonial subjects. And great stories are likely all around the dealership; if they’re not, something is seriously failing.

10. Educating your customers. Today’s customers expect information on which to base their buying decision. Their use of the Internet to research product details is a clear indication of the significance of taking the education process seriously. But remember, you’re not selling hardware; you’re selling a lifestyle. You’re selling the vehicle to make their expectations come alive. Finding those in the customer or prospect is the salesperson’s No. 1 goal.

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