Every company in the world wants to create brand loyalty and improve sales figures. But in our experience, the only way to achieve that is by giving your customers a reason to trust you. Pursuing the hard sell with every person who walks through the doors of your showroom or store is a sure-fire way to chase away a large portion of your customer base, especially in the digital age when people have easy access to all of the information they need to make an informed decision on their own. So, what are the alternatives to the hard sell? And can they really lead you to improve sales figures throughout your company? The first change you need to make as a business, if you want to get away from “old school” sales tactics and start to improve sales figures, is to change the way you communicate with your customers. No one who walks into your showroom or store should feel like they’re being “sold to” — instead, your sales executives should engage them in a genuine dialogue and do everything they can to help fulfil their needs. This means being honest with potential customers. For example, while it might be better for your business if they buy a premium product, the standard version might be the better option for them, and you should train your sales executives to point them in this direction. While this may mean you lose out on a few big sales every now and then in the short term, your customers are likely to appreciate your refreshing honesty, and you’re almost certain to be the first place they return whenever they need to buy again. Moreover, these customers are likely to spread the word about the exceptional service you provided them with — and even the best sales pitch in the world is nowhere near as effective as a recommendation from a close friend or family member. Just think of all of the times you’ve gone to a restaurant or watched a movie on a friend’s recommendation. Now imagine how much more successful your business could be if you could take advantage of the fact we place the recommendations made to us by family and friends so highly. You’re unlikely to receive many rave reviews from those who you apply the hard sell to so, if you want your business to improve sales figures and enjoy real long-term success, you’d be well advised to drop the old school tactics in favour of a softer approach to sales. In the digital age, online reviews also have a big sway on consumers. People are more connected than ever, and you could see a forum post or Facebook status from a complete stranger that could totally affect your opinion of a company — both negatively or positively. You can’t stop people talking about your brand online, so it’s crucial that you make sure people are raving about your customer service online rather than complaining about it. Of course, telling your sales staff to give honest advice to your customers rather than try to upsell to them whenever they can is unlikely to be popular with your executives if you’re paying them on commission. To combat this here at Lookers, we’re currently trialling a pay structure that turns the traditional automotive dealership model on its head in a few of our franchises — rather than rewarding our staff with a sales commission alongside their fixed pay, we’re incentivising them with bonuses based on KPIs such as the quality of customer experience. While this is currently being run on a trial basis, we’re hoping it will successfully align our sales executives’ interests with our own long-term strategy and, alongside the training we provide, make us an industry leader when it comes to customer service. In short, focusing your efforts and resources on providing exceptional customer service rather than on pursuing the hard sell is likely to lead to much greater long-term results that will improve sales figures. While making the transition from a sales-focussed approach — which many companies have had great success with in the past — to being customer service-centric can be challenging, in my opinion, it’s absolutely essential for any business that hopes to see sustained success into the future that can improve sales figures. Duncan McPhee is the franchise director at Lookers, one of the UK’s largest car dealershipsImage: Shutterstock
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