Successful Fact-Finding Leads to Successful Sales

By Ted Ings, Executive Director

If you want to make long term connections with your customers and build brand loyalty, you need to learn to speak their language.

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It sounds easy enough, but every customer is unique and you need to treat them as such. Gone are the days when you can treat every customer in the same way and launch into your standard, well-rehearsed, sales presentation outside in the lot. Customers expect more than that. They want you to pay attention, listen carefully to their needs and ultimately give them what they are asking for. But how do you know what your customer wants?

Reduce the Friction Points

Fact-finding is key to being a good salesperson. This applies to all areas of the dealership, from sales through to service. The sales and customer service process should not only focus on hitting short term targets, but more importantly on long term goals. It’s not just about making the most money out of one sale today, it’s about generating repeat business. You want to build customer loyalty because that’s where the real money is, and to do that effectively you need to listen to what your customer is telling you.

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Setting the Mood

Fact-finding is a conversation, not an interrogation. The best way to get the most information out of your customer is to make them feel comfortable. You need to sit down and ask questions in a relaxed environment. If the customer feels comfortable, they will share more openly with you and it will be easier to talk price later.

Some points to consider when deciding where to start the conversation:

• Avoid your typical office environment, an open cubicle is more informal.

• If you use an office, leave the door open. This ensures a more relaxed atmosphere.

• Offer refreshments before you begin the conversation.

• Make sure your cellphone is on silent, and do not take other calls while dealing with a customer. The person in front of you is your priority.

Engage in conversation

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Ask your customer questions about their lifestyle and their hobbies. The things they like to do will help you formulate a better picture of the type of vehicle and services they require. This conversation will show the customer that you are interested in them and will help you establish a solid connection.

Ask the questions in the right way

It’s not just about the questions you ask, it’s also about how you ask those questions. Questions should be open-ended, i.e. the customer should not be able to give a simple yes or no answer. For example, if you ask your customer, “are you interested in buying a new car?” Their answer will most likely be a simple, “Yes”. But you have learned nothing from this exchange. The moment the customer walked into your showroom, you knew they were interested in buying a new car. But if you ask them, “what features are you looking for in a new car?” They will be forced to think about their needs and give you a more complete answer.

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Open-ended questions usually start with how, why, where, what and who. They are designed to get people talking, and that is what you want. When you’re in the fact-finding phase of the sales process, you want to be doing 20% of the talking and 80% of the listening.

Body language says it all

The art of listening is becoming a lost skill. Salespeople tend to focus more on their own agendas rather than the customer’s needs. This has to change. Part of being an effective listener is showing the customer that you are interested in what they have to say and that you are paying attention. How you react to their comments, the way you take notes, and how you position yourself in the room, all indicate that you are paying attention.

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Here are a few points to consider:

• Sit next to the customer, rather than across a desk.

• Sit up straight and don’t lean away from the customer.

• Maintain appropriate eye contact.

• Don’t stare at your notepad during the entire fact-finding process. Then it will not feel like a conversation but more like an awkward interview.

• Be conversational; laugh, smile and show the customer that you’re enjoying talking to them, and not just going through the motions to make a quick sale.

Add Following and Reflecting Skills to your Box of Tricks

Following skills show the customer that you are fully engaged in the process and these include, note taking, nodding when necessary and asking appropriate questions. Reflecting skills include paraphrasing and reviewing. Reviewing is an easy skill to master if you take good notes, and is an effective way to summarize the information the customer has shared with you. Paraphrasing is slightly more difficult as it involves summarizing the customer’s needs in your own words. Reviewing before you start your presentation is important. It ensures that you have correctly understood the customer’s needs and enables you to personalize your sales pitch to hit all the right notes and not waste the customer’s time.

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Don’t sell too soon

Remember fact-finding is just that. It is about understanding what your customer wants before you start selling. Launching into your sales pitch too early is a rookie mistake and will undermine the trust that you are building with your customer. Wait until you have completed the fact-finding conversation before you make your presentation.

Reduce Friction Points through Proper Fact-Finding

A successful sales pitch is no longer one size fits all. You need to tailor your presentation to the customer in front of you and base it on the facts and information that they have given you during the fact-finding conversation. It is no point spending the time getting to know your customer if you’re not going to do anything constructive with the information.

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When making your presentation, focus on the features and benefits that your customer has specifically shown an interest in. Obviously, it is also important to point out unique features that make your product stand out from the crowd but don’t get bogged down in the small details (unless of course your customer has an analytical personality type). Remember that too much information creates boredom, and if you lose your customer’s attention, they may well lose interest in your product.

The most important thing to remember about a fact-finding session is that it is all about the customer. It is about their agenda, not yours. So listen carefully, pay attention and let the customer drive the process.