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Three ways to build customer trust as a car salesman

Find three ways to build customer trust as a car salesman and hear Don Pepper's tips for car dealerships to change sales commissions to improve trust.

I work for a car dealership and get paid on commission. Our customers know this, and it can be very difficult to gain a customer's trust, since they know we want to make a sale. Can you offer any tips for improving the customer experience in order to build customer trust in this situation?
We've always felt that car sales commissions are antithetical to customer trust. Our first recommendation would be that car dealerships change the sales compensation structure, so that sales people are paid not just a one-time, transaction-based commission, but a more long-term, relationship-based commission. For instance, rather than paying a $500 commission for moving a particular car off the lot, what if the dealership were to pay you $300 for selling the car, but then "assign" the customer to you, so that every time this new customer came to your dealership and spent any money at all (including not just a second car, or a replacement for the one you sold, but also every service visit), your pay would be credited with, say, 3% of the revenue?

This kind of sales compensation structure is more aligned with the kind of objectives that we suggest should motivate...

companies and sales people to build long-term, trust-based relationships with customers.

However, let's just work with what you can do, personally, given that you are "trapped" in the sales compensation scheme offered by your dealership, and that you cannot, by yourself, change that scheme. First, remember that there are two dimensions to customer trust. A customer will trust you only if (1) they believe you intend to help them – to act in their interest – and (2) they believe that you are competent to act in this manner. Both these conditions have to be true. You have to have the desire to do the right thing for the customer and the capability to do it. So don't lose sight of the details that will convince a customer of your capabilities, such as reasonable prices, product quality, being on time, having a clean and neat office and organizing and explaining the test drives, the walkthroughs and the paperwork.

Assuming you can prove your capability and competence, there some trust-inspiring actions you can take that might persuade the customer you are "on their side" in the negotiation and transaction. Here are a few ideas:

First, of course, listen carefully to better understand a particular customer's perspective, ambitions, fears, anxieties and needs. Listening is not always a natural talent for us sales-oriented types. Personally, I constantly have to work overtly and consciously to force myself to try to be a constructive, active listener. And good listening does not mean leaping to conclusions. It means trying to put yourself in the customer's own head in order to understand what it feels like to be that customer. It means "crossing the street" in order to leave your own world behind and experience the world that this person experiences.

Second, solve the customer's problem from the customer's point of view. If you listen carefully enough, you'll begin to see how the customer views the problem, and what the issues are, from the customer's perspective. Solving the problem, or meeting customer needs (however you want to conceptualize this process), may or may not involve your brand of car or your car dealership. If you don't honestly believe your car is the best possible way to meet the customer's need, then don't pretend it is, just to make the sale. Remember, you live in your car brand's world, but your customer lives in the real world, with all sorts of other brands and products available.

And third, always be scrupulously honest with the customer. Yes, selling involves persuasion, and persuasion often involves what kind of "spin" to put on a product feature or a benefit or cost. But there's a difference between putting your product in the best light and deceiving a customer, even by omission. Again, if you can't honestly say that your product is best for a customer, then don't pretend it is.


Hear more in Creating Customer Value, a SearchCRM.com monthly podcast series with Peppers and Rogers.

This was last published in March 2009

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