- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO Rule No. 1 for car salesmen: Don't ask customers, "May I help you?"
It seems harmless enough, but those four words allow the customer to take control of negotiations not a good thing, David Martin tells auto sales trainees.
"If the customer says, 'No,' or 'I'm just looking,' it creates one more objection for the salesman to overcome," Mr. Martin said in his "10 Questions that Can Kill a Sale" training session at this week's National Automobile Dealers Association convention.
In years past, such objections might have prompted the "hard sell" from a savvy salesman and his equally attuned sales manager.
That doesn't work these days. Backed by the Internet and numerous consumer publications, potential buyers have as much information as many dealers on retail pricing, trade-in values and features.
These better-informed buyers have made it that much more important for salespeople to know how to build integrity and maintain a potential deal's momentum, Mr. Martin says.
He advises avoiding questions that bring customers' ego into play or give them an opportunity to bolt. So, instead of, "May I help you," Mr. Martin advocates something more conversational, such as "What brings you into our dealership today?"
"It doesn't mean they still won't say they're just looking, but you'll find they won't say it as often," said Mr. Martin, a principal in Mar-Kee Consulting Group Inc. in Alabama.
Other queries that can make a customer uncomfortable: How much do you want to spend? What do you want your payments to be? How much do you want to put down?
Martin suggests asking the customer to define a range, which adds flexibility to negotiations.
The key to cinching the deal? The test drive."We want them to fall in love with the car," Mr. Martin says.
That makes it much more difficult for customers to walk away and tilts more power to the sales person. In fact, some consumer car-buying guides urge car shoppers to avoid a test drive until a price is negotiated to minimize the emotional aspect of the deal.
James Botsacos, a Toyota and Hummer dealer in Flemington, N.J., who attended the session, has another approach for selling to a well-informed customer: Tell them everything.
Mr. Botsacos said he lays out the cost of the car, including dealer rebates and other incentives, and simply negotiates profit.

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