In the business world, few tools impact our daily lives as much as email. Alternately called the “killer app” and “the bane of our existence,” email makes communicating with one another easier and more convenient. If your only method of responding to email is to type in the answers and hit the send key, though, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Kathy Kimmel, manager of automotive consulting and dealer training at Cars.com, says your best email response may be on the phone. 

“While it might be easier and safer to respond only by email, salespeople really need to follow up by phone,” Kimmel says. “On the phone, you can pick up on shoppers’ tone of voice, establish a dialog, determine how serious they are and figure out if the vehicle they’re asking about is really what they want or need. You can get a sense of who the buyer is and give the person a sense of who you are. A little small talk or establishing of common ground can go a long way toward building the kind of relationship that leads to a sale.” 

Of course, there’s more to phone follow-up than simply picking up the phone and dialing the number. A bad call can work against you, either delaying the sale or driving the customer away. You have to be prepared to make the right call. 

Six Secrets to Winning on the Phone 

In a recent Cars.com DealerADvantage Live webinar, several dealer experts shared their thoughts on six secrets to winning on the phone: 

  • Have the online listings up on your computer. “Be sure you’re seeing what the customer is seeing,” says Nancy PointduJour, business development manager/internet manager for Brunswick Toyota in Brunswick, N.J. “There’s nothing worse than you saying one thing and the customer looking at a listing that says something else.” It’s all about being prepared and presenting a professional appearance.
  • Listen, talk carefully. One of the talents that draw people toward sales as a profession is being a good talker. Being an effective salesperson, however, requires good listening skills – and it’s even more important on the phone. Demonstrate you’re listening by repeating back what prospects are saying, and take notes as you go in case you need to refer back to them later in the conversation. The fact is: Customers are often willing to tell you exactly how to move them through the sales process. You just have to listen for those cues and connect with them to get them from the phone to the store.
  • Open your inventory. Some customers know exactly what they want. Others only think they do, or have obstacles (e.g., price or lifestyle) that get in the way. If all you have handy is the original vehicle the buyer identified, the decision becomes yes or no. Opening your inventory allows you to provide alternatives that help keep the dialog going and show you’re looking out for them. Asking a question such as “Are you sold on this exact vehicle, or would you like the nicest one like it?” can help open the prospect to possibilities he/she may not have considered before. Even if you land on the original vehicle in the end, you’ve taken the opportunity to learn more about the prospect and to create a working relationship that can translate into repeat and referral business.
  • Sell the value of your store. This can’t be emphasized enough. Thanks to the internet, pricing these days is pretty much transparent, and there is not a lot of difference in price from store to store. The differentiators are the things about your store that are unique. Letting the customer know you have things such as free wireless internet access in the waiting area and/or computer lounges can be an advantage. Sell the local experience, such as free shuttle service to and from work when they drop off a vehicle for service. You have these services for a reason; be sure your prospects know they’re available.
  • Use the strategic hold. Excusing yourself to put customers on hold while you retrieve the additional information is a great technique that helps them process the information you’ve provided so far. It’s also one of the best techniques for obtaining more contact information, says PointduJour. “First, explain why you’re going to put them on hold,” she says. “Say you want to check something about current inventory, or you want to see what’s coming in over the next couple of weeks. Then use assumptive language to ask for their phone number in case you accidentally get disconnected. Statements such as ‘Are you calling from work or home?’ or ‘What is the spelling of your last name?’ helps you capture the information you’ll need down the line to move the sale along.”
  • Ask for the appointment. This is an area where salespeople often fall short on the phone. They’ll answer the questions, but will hesitate to ask for the appointment. Don’t. If the prospect appears to be serious, invite him/her to come to the store to see the vehicle. If the customer is agreeable, set the appointment for an odd time, suggests Kimmel. “Psychologically, using a time such as 3:45 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. makes it seem more real and more important,” she says. “The prospect will feel like he/she is giving something of value by coming in; you want to be sure he/she feels like you are too. Also, be sure to confirm the appointment the day before. That attention to detail lets prospects know you value them and their business.”

Quote the Price

At the end of the day, both experts agree that good phone skills are about more than answering questions. They’re about building trust.

“If prospects ask for a price, don’t try to skirt the issue; just give it to them,” Kimmel says. “If you hold back they’ll think you have something to hide. You want them to feel as though they can trust you.”

Adds PointduJour: “The most successful internet dealerships around the country provide pricing upfront. It’s the price of entry at this point.”

Avoid the Trap

Whether you work for a large dealer group or a single-point store, don’t fall into the email trap that essentially shifts control to the shopper and leaves you waiting for them to move forward. Take the initiative. Following up on your emails with phone calls can help both set yourself apart from your competitors and set the stage for closing the sale.