I believe the key to engaging a customer is having the ability to talk to their emotions. This is especially true when buying a Mercedes-Benz, where ownership is seen as an accomplishment. Emotions are important because at the end of the day a Mercedes-Benz is not a 'need' – any car will get you from A to B.
So why do people want to drive a Mercedes-Benz? The answers are that they want that sense of accomplishment, they want to see value for money, and the car represents the latest in technology and innovation.
Pre-sale buying process
At Mercedes-Benz a sale usually happens about three days after the customer’s first contact. If you haven’t made the sale within three days, you’ve probably lost it. The customer may have started thinking about buying weeks beforehand. They’ve been doing their online analysis, reading the reviews, comparing. By the time they enter the dealership they pretty much know what they want. They’re looking for a comfortable place and a sales representative who inspires confidence for them to make that purchase.
Our version of the sales funnel is called the RTS, the Road To a Sale. Its key point is the ‘meet and greet’ – the importance of executing a good ‘Hello’.
From there we do a needs analysis where we discover the buyer’s motives. One car could meet ten different customer needs, so if you don’t find out what the customer wants you will confuse them. You have to find out what their main drivers are: safety, economy, performance, dependability? Then when you deliver information about the car you focus on those points.
The customer can be very anxious when they walk in. They have every intention of buying a car, but they see the salesperson and say, ‘I’m just looking… I’ll let you know when I want to talk to you.’ When really what they mean is, ‘I’m here to buy a car. I need a bit of time to feel comfortable, then I’ll go from there.’
The sales process should be a conversation. If you pulled out a ‘needs check list’ for them to fill out, the customer would feel they were being processed. That’s not the expectation of buying a Mercedes-Benz. The customer wants the special relationship that comes with a prestige car. You need to flow with the conversation and take notes, but not in an interrogative style.
After their guest has visited the dealership, the sales team member needs to make contact within 24 hours, with a text message, phone call or email. This could include information that wasn’t delivered on the day or it could answer questions that might have been posed. And sometimes a customer leaves saying they have to talk to their accountant or talk it over with their partner and they will talk with the team member tomorrow. So you follow up on that discussion.
We like to send out a ‘let’s keep in touch’ card in the mail. Then we follow up until the customer says they have bought another car or they tell us to go away. As harsh as that sounds, you have to keep in the loop. But as I said, most transactions happen within three days.
After-sales engagement and retention
We have a very strong loyalty base, one of the strongest in the industry. There’s a very high chance that if you own a Mercedes-Benz you’ll continue to own one thereafter. We work hard to earn that loyalty.
After a sale, the salesperson will engage in a 24-hour follow up to make sure the buyer is comfortable with the car and to ask if they have any questions. Then the customer account goes to our Customer Care Centre, which makes contact at 6, 12, 24 and 36 months, a check in to make sure everything’s okay. Care Centre staff maintain the customer database and make calls to the customer, rather than emailing or texting.
We also run social events throughout the year and invite customers back to those events. It could be a new model launch, or a Father’s Day or Mother’s Day event. We try to engage the customers back to the dealership as much as possible.
Our customers hold their cars for only about three or four years, and most of them have family and friends – referrals are important to our business. You want everyone in the family to be driving the car. Before you know it, you have a sale once a year for as long as you retain that relationship. You have cars coming into the service bay too, there’s a snowball effect and you start to build the business.
Qualities of a good salesperson
We do a salesperson personality analysis, and the stronger performers are the more expressive ones; people who can generate a conversation out of nothing. But I think anyone can be a good salesperson if you adjust your style to the person you are dealing with, rather than that person adjusting to you.
Some buyers are what we call drivers. They know what they want and if you don’t have the answers instantly, they become disinterested. Some people are very analytical, you have to provide every detail possible. And some people just want to have a chat about themselves, their business or their family. I think the right selling style is to be flexible to the person you have in front of you.
Salesperson training and induction happens on two levels. Each dealership holds a three-week induction as an introduction to the dealership. This focuses on the CRM and how the brand is represented.
Then there’s the Mercedes-Benz induction. There’s a training program called Welcome to Mercedes-Benz followed by sales process training called C-Sales, which teaches the seven competencies a Mercedes-Benz salesperson needs.
Importance of consistency
From the start of my career I learned the importance of consistency when you deal with people. As a manager in this environment you’re only as good as your team, and your team has to see your words and actions and believe in you. I believe that comes from consistency of message, in the actions you take and from making sure everyone knows what you stand for. There should be no grey areas.
We try to achieve consistency in our employees so they represent the brand in a similar way. That initial contact with the customer is so important, either to execute the sale at that point or follow up consistently. If you have an employee who misses that three-day window of opportunity because their head’s not in the game, that could be five opportunities lost in the working week. We can’t miss any opportunity, we have a volume base and targets are attached to that.
We meet as a team once a week and review the previous week’s results, then we meet one on one for a discussion and look at any performance reviews that might be needed. We can’t do it quarterly or half-yearly, that’s way too late.
Competition within a sales team
Healthy sales competition is fine, but I don’t like the old school dealerships where it was dog eat dog. The team I like to build is one where if a salesperson is away and their customer comes in, someone else will happily assist with that sale and won’t expect anything in return.
If the competition becomes toxic it can breed one peacock salesperson and potentially six or seven mediocre salespeople. You get an alpha salesperson who owns the sales show. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t produce a good overall result.
But there is healthy competition. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a sales person. The sales person needs to keep striving for that next sale, not expecting it to come to them: proactive not reactive.
Our sales team meet every Tuesday morning which is a key part of fostering that healthy competition. It’s always professional and respectful. We’re always conscious that we need each other as much as we want to outdo each other.
If you can talk to the customer’s emotions, if you can meet their need with a purchase and retain their loyalty, then you have a successful business.
FEBRUARY BUSINESS AFTER FIVE:
Meet the team at the Chamber's February business after five event, hosted by Mercedes-Benz Castle Hill. Guest speaker at the event is Chris Waller - Australian racing trainer best known for training champion mare Winx.