Adopt a Back-to-Basics Approach to Customer Experience

Jeff Williams

Ensure your sales team puts vehicle selection first.

In last month’s article, I discussed the importance of Customer Experience to the success of dealers who want to thrive in this decade of disruption.

This month, I’d like to use an age-old selling principle to develop a back-to-basics approach to delivering a high-value Customer Experience to the customer of today and tomorrow.

When I started in the auto industry 27 years ago, I learned that vehicle selection was the number one job of a salesperson. Period. It wasn’t selling the car. The sale was a by-product of selection—if you earned the customer’s trust by selecting the right vehicle, then, of course, you should sell it to them. Conversely, if the right vehicle wasn’t available, the job was to keep a daily eye on inventory until a suitable vehicle was found, and motto was: “Follow up until the customer buys or dies”.

Of course, anyone who has sold cars knows that selection isn’t an easy job. It takes hard work and quality conversation to discover the customer’s buying motives and needs. Not only do you need to know your product well, but you must also navigate the complex lists of customers’ “nice-to-have” and “must-have” options, as well as their budget.

So many classic closing techniques revolve around selection. For example, closing questions like, “On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the car?” or, “If you were going to buy a vehicle today, is this the one you would choose?” all serve the purpose of confirming vehicle selection before negotiating price.

It seems, however, that in today’s market of hyper-competitive pricing and inventory shortages, we have lost sight of the importance of vehicle selection. Last month, my trainers asked hundreds of sales professionals what the number one job of a sales professional was, and they received dozens of different answers—many of them good answers, such as “selling value,” “serving customers,” and “closing the deal”—but almost nobody identified vehicle selection as most important.

So, how crucial is vehicle selection to the role of automotive sales professionals (or product guides) in today’s market and in the future? Is it still foundational to providing high-value Customer Experience?

To answer this question, let’s project into the future. It’s 2024, and every legacy OEM has at least three different types of powertrains: electric, hybrid, and gasoline. Some OEMs also have diesel- and hydrogen-powered engines. A growing percent of new vehicle sales are now build-to-order. Many brands have their own connected-car user interface, including virtual-personal-assistant services bundled into ownership. Top dealer groups and OEMs have developed seamless digital retailing solutions that allow customers to complete their purchases online.

In the light of these anticipated changes, how significant will vehicle selection be to high-value Customer Experience in 2024? 

To your customers, it could be what’s most essential. Understanding, evaluating, and choosing from the dozens (in some cases hundreds) of options and model configurations available can be overwhelming for consumers. Without a professional guide, product excitement can easily turn to purchase frustration. Consider that even the most seamless digital retailing solution only works if the customer knows exactly which model and option package they want to buy. 

Also consider the negative effect selecting the wrong model has on Customer Experience and the sales opportunities lost when customers decide not to purchase due to lack confidence in their selection.

Now, let’s revisit the back-to-basics approach to Customer Experience that views vehicle selection as the sales team’s number one job. Professionals laser focused on selection and on acting as trusted advisors to their customers by helping them understand their driving needs, evaluate their options, and make the best product decisions will add tremendous value to the customer, the dealership, and the OEM. Automotive professionals like these will be highly valued relational connection points in Customer Experience, growing dealers’ sales while increasing customer loyalty to the dealership as well as the brand.

It will take more than the classic automotive sales training on product knowledge or objection handling techniques to shape sales professionals into trusted advisors whose number one job is to assist customers with vehicle selection. It means training sales teams in the soft skills of communication and coaching them to be masters of the art of conversation. 

It’s very likely that conversation skills will soon be the most valued of selling skills. Conversation skills equip your sales team to connect with your customers, to engage with them in dialogue—by asking questions and sharing stories—and finally, to make recommendations that result in action. Conversation skills need to be mastered and then adapted to in-person, telephone, and digital communication.

So, lets embrace this back-to-basics approach to selling where the number one job of our sales team is vehicle selection. 

Here are three simple questions that your sales team can use to better understand your customer’s needs and find them right vehicle:

  1. Tell me about your current vehicle. Why did you choose it x years ago?
  2. In what significant ways have your driving needs changed since that purchase? 
  3. How do you plan on using your new vehicle over the next few years?

Role play these three powerful questions with your sales team, applying them to each appointment confirmation and each deal closing. Every time they bring you an appointment or a deal to authorize, ask them, “What’s changed for this customer since their last vehicle purchase?” And when a customer isn’t ready to commit to either an appointment or a purchase, ask your sales team, “On a scale of one to 10, how certain are you that you’ve selected the right vehicle for your customer?”

These simple conversation-starting questions will help your team make vehicle selection their number one job, develop their conversation skills, and prepare them for tomorrow’s customers.

Jeff Williams


Jeff Williams is the CEO of Absolute Results and has dedicated the last 20+ years to helping dealerships, OEM’s, and sales people across the globe rethink how they sell cars. His three greatest passions are his family, his business, and his charity work.