• May 1st 2014 at 6:00AM
  • 251
Car salesmen follow an intricate formula when conversin... Car salesmen follow an intricate formula when conversing with customers over the phone (Alamy).
When you start calling dealerships about your next new car, consider this: The salesperson at the other end of the line could be a veritable ninja in the use of the phone as a sales tool.

Jerry Thibeau, a Rochester, N.Y.-based sales trainer, ought to know. In late 2009, he started a company, Phone-Up Ninjas, to build up the telephone skills of dealership staffs.

Thibeau teaches everything from phone etiquette and a "positive and productive" attitude, to scores of sales tips and techniques. One of his specialties is to convert the call-in shopper into flesh-and-blood presence on the dealership floor.

The bottom line for consumers: They could be at a disadvantage in dealing with these ninjas.

From the dealers' standpoint, the rationale for ninja training is simple: Over the years, they have seen much of the sales transaction move onto the Internet – witness all the shopping and financing sites now available. So they risk missing the boat entirely if they aren't good at bringing customers onto their lots.

Good phone training can help them do this, often at the expense of a dealership down the street or across town. That, at least, is how the thinking runs.

The bottom line for consumers: They could be at a disadvantage in dealing with these ninjas. While they have clearly improved their bargaining position in the car buying game in recent years, precious few have coaches giving them pointers.

Thibeau contends they have nothing to worry about. Salespeople trained in his ninja arts are well prepared to introduce them to the right vehicles -- at the dealership, naturally. No customer can fully evaluate a vehicle from miles away, he said.

Salespeople no doubt agree, even though they may not be fully sold on the merits of phone training.

"Salespeople seem to think that their best customers are those who walk into a dealership. They almost see phone customers as a bother," Thibeau said. That's a big mistake, he said. "These people are ready to buy a car."

It could cost a dealership $5,000 to attack sales inertia with a good training ninja program, Thibeau says. He personally provides onsite training for $2,000 a day, plus expenses. But there are other alternatives, including webinars and remote coaching.

As part of his "mystery shopping" service, a member of his staff calls a store and pretends to be a customer. The conversation is recorded and then put under a microscope.

The firm uses audio editing software to drive home the instruction, replaying the conversation for the salesperson with constructive comments inserted at the precise point where the individual could have used a little help. Thibeau's team is also ready to critique emails and the telephone calls responding to Internet sales leads.

"We submit the Internet lead and then wait to see when the response comes back to us," he said. "We check to see if email was personalized at all or if any video was incorporated."

Getting the appointment is crucial, as it is in any sales profession. The true ninja moves ahead forthrightly with an invitation.

Dealers have a big enough problem with their staffs' performance on the telephone, Thibeau said. It's not uncommon for the salesperson to fumble a call right at the start. "People need to be 'upbeat and personal' when they answer the phone. That's the first mistake that people make," he said. "They don't answer the phone with any passion."

"If you call four dealerships, and all of them sound crummy on the phone, guess where you are going to go? The closest one. This is an opportunity for dealerships to set themselves apart."

He recommends the following as an opener: "It's a wonderful day at (dealership) this is (your name) how may I help you today?" Then the salesperson should ask a few questions to determine the customer's needs.

Getting the appointment is crucial, as it is in any sales profession. The true ninja moves ahead forthrightly with an invitation.

"If you ask in a weak manner, like, 'Hey, John, do you think you might want to come down to the dealership on of these days?' The customer is going to say, 'Well, I don't know – maybe.'

"Instead, the salesperson should ask: 'When would you like to come down and look at a new automobile – now or later today.'"

It's absolutely critical to get customers' names and contact information so they aren't lost forever once they hang up, he said. The problem is that many customers are reluctant to give that out.

The key is not to divulge anything significant in that first phone call, Thibeau said. He advises sales staff to say they need to check availability.

The dealership could lose a sale if the caller gets too much information too quickly, Thibeau said. If a salesperson were to instantly reveal that a Ford Focus has an unattractive color and 87,000 miles on it, the prospect might lose interest.

But with a little research, the sales staff might identify a similar car with a better color and fewer miles on it. The result could be a sale -- and a happy customer.

Thibeau's training sessions also relate to the basic "blocking and tackling" of sales work, including identifying a buyer's objections. One of Thibeau's sample ninja scripts goes like this:

- The reason I am calling you is to thank you for taking the time to visit our dealership. I really do appreciate the opportunity to assist you with the selection of a (make) (model).

- I often find that our customers will think of questions they forgot to ask me while in the dealership, do you have any questions about the (model) that I could answer for you? Is the (model) the vehicle you would really like to own? If you had to pick one reason that prevented you from purchasing, what would you pick?

In their arsenal, true Phone-Up Ninjas also have an exquisitely non-judgmental approach to the bane of a salesperson's existence: the no-show.

- Is (customer first name only) there?

- I hope I am not getting you at a bad time?

- This is (your full name) at (your dealership name).

- The reason I am calling is apologize for not being able to help you yesterday. With the big sale going on we got real busy here. So if you did come in I hope one of my associates was able to help you. You were not able to come in? Well I am glad I didn't miss you then.

A few rounds of training will improve performance measurably, Thibeau said, provided that salespeople take it seriously. His tracking and scoring systems reveal those who don't. The dealership is sure to suffer when they fail to, he said.

"You would think that someone who has been in the business for 10 years would know how to do a phone-up properly. The veterans are usually the worst, The new people will at least try, and after they run into rejection, they become like the veterans."

The training will get them past the obstacles, he said. A couple years ago, the long-time sales veteran came up with the idea of embedding tips and suggestions into recordings of sales conversations. He began experimenting with audio editing software on his own and then hired a programmer to help him develop a system.

It helps that many dealerships have special 800 numbers whose messages advise callers that their conversations may be recorded for "quality reasons." Those calls are the raw material of many of his coaching sessions.

"We are the quality control," he said "It is a great opportunity – here we have a real-life example that we can teach from."

The laggards naturally "aren't going to be allowed to take phone calls any more."

His staff will listen to the recordings, alert to opportunities for improvements, and then insert their tips. The next time the salespeople hear these conversations, they will hear themselves, the customer, and the coach's interjections at various steps along the way.

For a typical 10-person sales staff, with two critiques apiece, the cost works out to $700, or $35 per round of tips and critiques. Thibeau considers that a bargain.

Phone-Up Ninjas gives the salesperson a score on the original conversation, tracks whether the individual has listened to the coaching, and ranks the individual against other salespeople in the dealership and against Phone-Up Ninja's industry averages.

"Then we start watching the needle move. They get better."

As newly trained staff improve their sales record, the laggards naturally "aren't going to be allowed to take phone calls any more," Thibeau said.

That has to be the equivalent of relieving one of the ancient ninjas of his sword. There is no word yet on whether Thibeau's firm is planning on therapy sessions to deal with the letdown.



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  • 251 Comments
      middle8farm
      • 4 Years Ago
      That's why I do all my homework on the internet before I ever e-mail, call or visit a dealer.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wow, "Even though you know the car is available you tell the customer you have to check to see if it is available, you do this to get the contact information." Wow being trained to lie, its no wonder people hate buying cars and car salespeople. It is hard to trust dealers when treated like this. If I was given this line I might call back, but most likely I would see the dealership as incompetent, you mean it takes you 15 min to see if you have a car? I would not give them my name.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Its still your decision whether or not to buy. They are just trying to increase the probability that you'll actually show up to look at the car that you called about (and maybe its gone and they may have something better). I doubt that to many people can see the value of a car without going to look at it. I wonder how many cars haven't been bought by people that have called dealerships (without any phone training) that would have really appreciated the the car that they had called about (or something else that the dealership had in stock) had they actually shown up to look at and test drive the car. I'll bet that most of us have missed out on nice cars because of the poor job done on the phone.
      robgersh
      • 4 Years Ago
      ggggjhkjytjty- try getting them to pay for the repair before you leavre the shop. Usually you pay and get reimbursed. Secondly the aftermarket warranty companies go belly up often and you're hosed.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Where does Aol get these people. I've never seen a site, so included with ridiculous and false information, just to get people to try and read it. From the bad headlines thas mislead the user as to the true content, to the stuff that is just so wrong and unbelievavle, Aol should be liable for posting it. Do they do this just to "sell more ads" as they get paid everytime someone opens the page with all the ads, and they get paid even more when you click on one. And they say Lawyers, Salesmen and Doctors are not honest. How about some reasonable thinking here.
      billbarbflanagan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Anybody getting 2K plus expenses would be foolish not to hype his own mission , this the problem with car buying. The poor little rich kids who own the store know only what these gurus tell them. They are what gives good honest salesmen a bad name. Warm , friendly greetings, honest advertising,, good product knowledge and NO carnival atmosphere is still the best method of selling anything.
      • 4 Years Ago
      We all know there are DISHONEST car dealers out there, that does not make them all dishonest. Think of this, would you call a grocery store and purchase your produce with out seeing it first? Would you buy a pair of shoes with out trying them on to see if they fit good, feel comfortable? I don't and that is minor purchases. What idiot would want to buy a car over the phone? A complex piece of machinery, that cost A LOT more than those shoes you try on before buying. So if a dealer ask questions about what you are looking for in your vehicle maybe they want to see what they have available to meet your needs if the car you are calling about is not there anymore. You think that they ONLY train these people to get you in their dealership? Sure they want you to come in, yes they want you to buy from them, DUH! What business doesn't want you to buy their product and not the competitors? But please have enough sense to know they are trained in vehicle knowledge. If they aren't then RUN. Dealerships, at least the good ones, will want you to come in but they will know the cars they sell. They will care about getting you in WHAT you NEED and can AFFORD. Also, what idiot thinks they can get a value of their trade on the phone? HELLO that is STUPID. You want someone to give you a price for your old car with out looking at it or driving it???? OK, then you should not get to see, or drive or get very little information on the car you want to buy, right? Just agree on the price, you do not NEED to see it, drive it or nothing. Problem with buyers is they want it their way. They want you to give them a lot of money for their trade that the dealership has not even seen. (so lets take the buyers word, they don't ever lie either) Then they want the dealership agree to sell the new vehicle for next to nothing. How does the person wanting to buy the car know they even want that car or even know if that car is worth the asking price? My thoughts is that most car buyers are unrealistic as to what their trade is worth and what they should pay. They BELIEVE that dealerships are making HUGE amounts of money off the car they buy. HELLO, having a car stock, a building for offices and staff to pay is not free. I have yet to meet a dealer who is not strictly paid on commission. SO before you judge maybe you should try walking in their shoes for a week. Deal with the BS they have to from the "honest" customers. I KNOW of a dealership who has a strict policy. Any Salesman caught lying to a customer, 1st offense a warning second offense termination, no if ands or buts. Will they try to get you to come in the dealership, yes, of course. It is better to see WHAT you want to buy. Any GOOD dealer will want you to COME IN and see what you are wanting to buy. They ones who are willing to sell me a car on the phone??? No way I will shop there. They do not care if it is right for me, they do not care about anything but the money, the quick buck. Think about that, Some of you said you would not work with a dealership that wont sell to you on the phone. You say dealers are liars. So if they are liars and they are telling you over the phone how great the car is and you buy it..... I do not understand WHAT person WITH a BRAIN in their head would want to buy over the phone. Get info on the phone, sure....but go see it, they can't make you buy it by getting you to go look. But it is in YOUR best interest to go to the dealership and look. Do not just look at the car look at the dealership itself look at their service department. Do NOT JUDGE ALL DEALERSHIPS EQUAL
      • 4 Years Ago
      I just HATE this kind of article. It demonstrates gross disrespect for the public, and denigrates those who try to bring a little dignity and integrity to the profession.. Many, many dealerships have gone to salaried employees for the simple reason that there is not enough profit in the vehicles these days to make commission sales attractive to people. Do you REALLY think that car and truck sales persons are the only ones who use deception? ALL sales persons are "trained" to do things a certain way. I was one of the top salespeople in the country for a major manufacturer, and believe me, I did it by being scrupulously honest, NEVER playing games with my clientele, KNOWING my product inside and out (as well as the competition's product lines) and being always available to my buyers.. I participated in making training films for the company which were designed to teach new sales people that integrity, stability and CARING about the customer were the things which really mattered. . It doesn't matter what kind of sales one is in, if one does not respect the potential buyer, it is a lost cause. I STILL run into people who think that I am less than brilliant because I am a tiny woman, and now old to boot!!!!! Car sales persons have to pass polygraphs, drug tests, background checks, etc. Not many professions are as carefully screened as they are. Many are college graduates, as well. I LOVE cars and trucks, and wish that I still had the physical ability to help people buy their dreams. Had I not sustained a serious injury, I would still be playing with my cars and trucks. I am very proud of my record as a sales person, and have all the thank you notes and even a couple of newspaper articles to back up my record. People DO find unique ways to thank you for a job well done. It was great fun, and the automotive industry enabled me to raise my children in a more than acceptable life style.
      Marcie
      • 4 Years Ago
      Cars salespeople are a big pain in the butt. They want to talk about everything except price. I don't care how nice they are, I'm not there to make friends. If they won't give me prices, I'll never go for an appointment.
      Walt
      • 4 Years Ago
      I always wanted to be a car salesmen since i was a kid. I finally got hooked up to a dealer in a training position. After several days I realized I could not lie and cheat people like i was instructed to. So I looked for other *************** a dirty business with plenty of dirty people.
      Major Rogers
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sorry for the duplication. It didn't look as if it went through.
      WESLEY
      • 2 Years Ago
      I had a Toyots salesman try to sell me a Toyota truck, And I must have made him mad, I told him when I needed to tow the space shuttle 15 feet I would think about calling him, But a Dodge, Chevy or Ford will do the same thing , He hung up on me. Very rude
        Maine Used Car Deals
        • 2 Months Ago
        @WESLEY
        I would argue that your condescending remark was a good tell that you would be more trouble than you were worth as a potential buyer. On to the next one!
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