Successful selling is as much about what not to do as is it is about what to do. Rural Lifestyle Dealer talked with Floyd Jerkins, president and project director of Jerkins Creative Consulting, to learn what advice he and his group of specialists share with their dealership clients about cultivating the sale — and what to do when you lose the sale. 

How would you describe today’s equipment customers?

First, we’re selling to a much more intelligent buyer. Prior to about 5 years ago, people were more aloof in their purchases and money flowed more freely. Now, after going through the recession, buyers are scrutinizing their purchases more and have been forced to be smarter. The Internet has afforded people the opportunity to scour for information at home without going into the dealership right away.

Second, the decision maker may not be the one who visits your dealership. Today, the person running the machine isn’t necessarily buying the machine. The mid to large landscapers have survived and become stronger and those owners and decision makers may be removed from researching equipment. This means the salesperson needs to work with the decision maker early in the buying process and not just wait for them to visit the dealership.

What common mistakes do you see among salespeople?

The biggest mistake salespeople make is to prejudge customers. It’s a huge issue that still surprises me today. A customer is always a buyer — it’s just a matter of where they are going to buy and from what salesperson.

And assuming that price will win the deal is another problem. The gross profit from a sale is in the mind of the salesperson. There are certainly customers who are price conscious, but what people want is value for their money. It doesn’t matter how cheap the price is if they don’t think they’re getting value. And if the salesperson talks only price, that’s all a customer is going to think about. Salespeople need to slow down and build value in the product and show their confidence in the product and the dealership.

The customer’s perception of the value of the dealership begins when they visit the dealership’s website. If the website is good, the customer is more likely to check out the dealership in person. Then, if they aren’t greeted at the door or if the displays are dusty and not laid out well, the dealership loses value.

And, a salesperson should never blame the manufacturer for anything in front of the customer. When a salesperson throws a manufacturer to the wolves, they look bad, too. If there are issues with the parts or warranty, you need to deal with it. You are the front line, not the manufacturer. The customer may want to fire the manufacturer, but don’t give them a reason to fire you, too.

How can salespeople improve their techniques?

Role playing is one of the best ways to make salespeople more knowledgeable — and effective. The role playing should be done with the entire sales team. One person should act as the salesperson and another team member act as the customer. The team should provide input on the most common objections they hear. Not everybody is having the same problems, so role playing utilizes the “brain trust” of the team and gives them a common voice. It also helps point out problem areas, such as when a salesperson is conceding too quickly on price or when they missed a chance to add value by introducing them to the service team during the presentation phase.

Role playing also points out opportunities for suggestive selling. The first purchase is the hardest and the second decision is much easier. For instance, did a customer pick up bearings, but didn’t buy grease? Or, if the person is buying a compact tractor, ask about the terrain of their property and work in statements like “Have you considered this?” in terms of attachments. Often, the salesperson is excited about getting that first sale and then moves on the next customer without making the most of the opportunity.

What opportunities are salespeople missing to build relationships and increase sales?

Having a good customer relationship management system is critical. When you’re handling 30 or 40 customers, you may be able to remember them in your head, but most salespeople are handling many customers as well as many makes and models of equipment.

Making sure you have all the customer details in the system helps you sell your relationship. For instance, a rule of thumb is to follow up 3 days after the sale, 30 days after the sale, 90 days after the sale and then after that based on the style of the customer. During those calls, the salesperson should ask what the customer might be looking for next year. Then, offer to drop them a note when the equipment becomes available in that timeframe. Or, use those calls to ask them for referrals. Most dealerships are not training their teams to seek out referrals.

When you lose a sale, ask for referrals, too. When a customer buys from somebody else, that usually generates a negative emotion on the part of the salesperson. Instead, use that opportunity to congratulate them on making a good decision and have the courage to say, “I hope your decision didn’t have anything to do with me personally.” Then, ask if they know of someone else who might be looking for equipment.

Then, whether you won or lost the sale, send them a thank you note to set them up for the next sale. You have to earn the right to be their salesperson.