by michele sprague

w r i t e  s t y l i n g s

​​​​​​​​​​​A World of Difference

The late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, knew the importance of customer satisfaction. He knew he could make a world of difference with customers by consistently putting them first. With that simple but powerful idea, his “empire” grew from a local five-and-dime store in Newport, Arkansas, to the number one retailer in the country.

Strong focus on the customer worked for Wal-Mart, and it can work for you. You can make a world of difference with your customers–and, as you do, to your own success.

There’s no time like the beginning of a new year to make changes that will ensure a more successful and productive future. Let’s start with how you can make a difference with your customers so they come back to you. Then, let’s look at setting goals, along with plans to achieve them.

Wow Prospects And Customers
Customers are your most valuable asset, and you want them to come back every time they purchase a car. The way to make that happen is to exceed their expectations, said Jack Snader, president of Systema Corporation in North Brook, Illinois, which offers assessment-driven training for salespeople.

“Think of the times when people gave you service that just blew your mind,” Snader said. “It’s not just being extra nice and friendly,” he added, explaining that it’s what you do to help them and what you do to build a relationship that counts. The key, he said, is to become an added value to prospects and customers.

Now think of ways you can be an added value to your prospects and customers. Become the salesperson of their choice because you go out of your way to help. You take time to get to know them and their car needs. And you break through the salesperson/customer barrier and become a friend or advisor.

William Handley, a salesperson at Justus Buick Company in West Caldwell, New Jersey, for instance, makes it a point to walk through the service department waiting room several times a day.

“I’ll stop and chew the fat with my customers,” he said, adding that many times they’re surprised he remembers them. Talking to people and recognizing them makes them feel good, he added.

Like a good friend, always follow up on what you say you will do. If you promised to get an answer, do it quickly. Better yet, learn as much as you can about your products and competing products so customers feel confident coming to you for information and advice.

Marie Fortune, a salesperson at Jim Hardman Buick-Pontiac-GMC in Gainesville, Georgia, does just that. She’s determined to wow prospects and customers with her professionalism and knowledge.

Fortune has a special reason for the effort she makes–the scarcity of women in auto sales. “People have a mindset that it’s a man thing,” she said. “I’m trying to overcome that obstacle.”

But knowing product is just as important for men. As Handley said, “Customers come in with product knowledge you can’t believe. If you just sit there–da, da, da, I’ll get it, I’ll get it for you–there is only so much they’ll tolerate and off they’ll go.”

It takes consistent work and dedication to exceed customers’ expectations. But if you do, you’ll build a family of lifetime customers.

The Dealership Family
The word “family” conjures images of caring, belonging and looking out for each other. It’s a warm, comfortable, fuzzy feeling. Everyone wants to be part of a family.

Walton knew the importance of treating customers like they’re part of Wal-Mart’s family. In fact, the people who greet customers as soon as they walk through the door are chosen for the job because their appearance and manner remind customers of a warm, welcoming, understanding grandfather or grandmother.

People don’t like being ignored–especially when they walk into a dealership and see a group of salespeople conversing socially, Fortune pointed out: “They almost feel as if they’ve imposed on your territory.”

Then there’s the other extreme–salespeople tripping over each other’s feet trying to get to the customer first. Neither situation helps put a customer at ease.

It does put customers at ease, however, when they see you and your co-workers aid and support each other. For example, when Fortune has customers in her office it’s not unusual for other salespeople to pop in and offer them coffee or soft drinks. By helping each other they create an atmosphere of a dealership family that works well together.

Fortune also enjoys taking customers through the service department and introducing them to the service advisors. Again this shows customers that you respect each other and work as a team with just one purpose–to be of service to them.

Such teamwork builds mutual respect and loyalty, which is apparent to customers and prospects. It makes for a dealership family that attracts customers.

You can make a difference with customers and prospects to they want to come back and work with you again. As a salesperson, however, you can’t afford to wait for customers to walk through the door. You must make things happen. That’s why it’s necessary to set goals and make plans to achieve them.

The Road To Success
If you know where you want to go and begin traveling in that direction, you won’t make the mistake that many people make–wandering aimlessly through the year, going wherever circumstances lead them. So plan your work, and work your plan. The best way to start is by establishing long-term and short-term goals, then planning your work to forward those goals.

Before you begin to groan over thoughts of unfulfilled goals in the past, here’s a thoughtful observation from George Gordon, a salesman at Bay Buick-GMC Truck in Torrance, California. “Companies and individuals who make plans never completely adhere to them,” he noted, “but they do better than people or companies that do not make plans.”

In order for your goals to work they must be specific and realistic–and you must really want to achieve them. Major goals must be broken down into smaller, manageable goals so you get a sense of accomplishment. And you must forgive yourself if you slack off every now and then, and get back on track.

“People set so many goals that are so far out of reach that they can’t get near them,” Handley said. “Then they’re disgusted and feel like a failure.”

No doubt plans and goals get tossed out the window at this point. That’s when it’s time to sit down, re-evaluate your goals and give yourself permission to change them.

“Set reasonable goals,” Handley advised, “so if you reach them you’re successful–and you’re satisfied with yourself.”

If you fall a little short, you’re still successful, he said, explaining that you still sold more cars, made more money, learned more about the product, and so on, than you might have if you hadn’t set goals.

Soul Searching And Goal Setting
So let’s do some serious soul searching and set some goals. First, look at where you are today. Based on that, where do you see yourself 10 years from now? What will you be doing? How will you be dressed? How much money will you make? And where will you live?

Do you like that picture? If not, what do you want to accomplish within the next 10 years? What do you want for yourself and your family? And what do you need to do to reach these goals?

Now review the past year and steps you took to obtain your current level of success. What worked, what didn’t? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Did you wait for the dealership to draw people in, or did you actively prospect?

Write down your main goals, then break them down into a series of little goals, along with your plans and dates for achievement. You’re on your way–if you work your pan.

Mini-Goals Make A Difference
Don’t become overwhelmed by the distance you’ll need to travel to reach your goals. “Set your sights on one day at a time or one month at a time," Fortune advised.

One of her goals is to increase sales by at least one or two cars a month. But she won’t dwell on the numbers if they sometimes fall short; she concentrates on successes. Fortune knows she’ll reach her ultimate monthly sales goal.

She focuses on a series of mini-goals she can feel good about accomplishing–improving her selling techniques, increasing prospecting and personal follow ups, consistently learning about the product, etc.

It’s important to schedule your time so you get the maximum benefit out of it, Sander added. Use non-floor time to call prospects, send personal letters and develop a plan to market yourself.

Snader suggests giving speeches at local group meetings on how to buy a car, leasing vs. buying, and other high-interest topics. Or write a column for local groups or newspapers. Perhaps you could even start your own newsletter, as several ESP salespeople have. But make sure your writing skills are up to par, or ask a knowledgeable friend to look your stories over before they’re printed.

Track The Results
Follow your strategy to achieve your mini-goals as closely as possible. And keep track of your progress.

You can’t monitor your progress too much, said Gordon, who suggests a weekly review. Then you can see the work invested, the results and the status of your goals. Are you on target, or do you need to re-evaluate your goals, strategies or work habits?

Don’t lose heart if you don’t zoom to the top of the sales chart immediately. Remember that, as Snader put it, “It’s a constant building process. You’re building a practice just like a dentist builds a practice. Never lose contact with your customers.”

The payoff will come. And like Sam Walton, your success in making customers feel like part of your dealership’s family will make a difference–a world of difference. Loyal bonds will be established, and satisfied customers will return looking for you. And they’ll probably send referrals.

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magazine article

published in

ESP (effective selling principles)

a magazine for

Buick Motor Division's

sales people


michele sprague

contributing writer