There are no tricks.
For dealership owners & management, I think the keys to success in plug-in vehicle sales are:
- Most important of all my tips: Do not draft someone into plug-in vehicle sales! If you select a non-believer, they will struggle and quit. For those who do want to specialize in plug-in vehicle sales, allow them to continue to sell every vehicle type. Plug-in sales are just starting to take off and your salespeople have to be able to make a decent living, until plug-in vehicles go mainstream.
- The person selling plug-in vehicles REALLY needs to understand living with them. Dealerships should assign a demo EV/hybrid, to the salesperson, for 3 months. In my opinion, it is best to select someone who has the ability to charge at home. In other words, probably not an apartment dweller. They should also be able to charge at the dealership. This teaches them the ease of EV ownership/refueling.
- If possible, dealers should hire a person who already owns a plug-in vehicle. They are very enthusiastic about their experience and love to share that enthusiasm. Many of the comment cards sent in by my clients, to my management, comment on my passion for EVs. This sort of thing cannot easily be faked.
- If you offer multiple plug-in and traditional hybrids, understand the use case addressed by each model. Help guide the customer to the most advantageous vehicle for their use case. Sometimes, they come in asking about one vehicle, but you can tell, from a few quick queries, that there is a better choice for them. Be able to explain why one is better for their specific needs than another, but remember: Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t debate. Inform.
- Have chargers where the inventory sits and keep all the vehicles charged. Nothing turns off a buyer quite like finding an EV that can’t be driven for hours. It just points out the time advantage of gas refueling. If your plug-in vehicles support DC Fast Charging, I highly recommend you install one.Its primary purpose would be to charge vehicles when they first arrive, so they may be made available for sale quickly, and for customers’ vehicles after a Service visit. If possible, the charger should be in a publicly accessible area, to attract new clients as well as a way to encourage clients to return. They can always shop for accessories or speak with others thinking about making the switch to a plug-in. (see #2 above)
- If possible, dedicate a building (or an area in a building) that allows discussions with multiple clients, simultaneously. This is important, because the slim profit margins and time needed to educate the buyer makes plug-in vehicle sales labor intensive, for the salesperson. By allowing a salesperson to address multiple buyers, you are doubling or tripling their effectiveness. Have prominent signage and to assure your customers know you have expertise in plug-in vehicles.
- ADVERTISE the fact that you have expertise. Customers want a low price, but they’re willing to pay for someone knowledgeable to guide them. Once they know they’re not going to be on their own, because they’ll have ongoing support from you, will help make sales based on your added value, rather than just price.
- Another way to help reduce the time investment required by salespeople, is to create ways for the clients to learn, even when salespeople are tied up with other clients. For instance, a “learning lounge” where videos or slideshows play continuously, creates a sense of community and helps reduce the time spent answering the same, common questions, over and over.
- Finance departments must realize the new type of buyer a plug-in client represents. They not only have read about the vehicle, in which they’re interested, but also have investigated current offers from manufacturers as well as other dealers (even those in other states). They are already a bit nervous about switching to electricity. If they think you’re taking advantage of them, they’re gone.
- Salespeople must fully understand federal and local incentives and the process of qualifying for and getting them. Believe it or not, I regularly have customers repeat what their tax accountant said, AND IT’S WRONG!
- The salespeople must EVangelize by going out and speaking in public, blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. They should take vehicles to events like NDEW, Earth Day, etc.
- Sales must understand electricity pricing, and how much is saved by driving electrically, as well as which electricity providers have discounts/incentives for the owners of plug-in vehicles. One of the very first questions asked is usually, “How much will having a plug-in car increase my electric bill?“
- Have an electrician contact, to whom you can refer customers, for installation of 240V outlets. This is a simple hurdle for you to resolve for your customers.
- TEST DRIVES ARE MANDATORY! When the client first arrives, ask if they’ve driven a plug-in before. If not, that is the FIRST order of business. It’s called “butts in seats.” People think EVs are about economy or the environment. Those things are true, but the main reason my customers buy, is that we have a very specific test drive that shows off the fun of EV acceleration, handling and safety features. Doing this first will remove barriers to purchase faster than anything else you can do.
- Finally, at least in the early years, it may be important to change the pay structure of the salespeople that work in the plug-in vehicle world. The fact that most clients will visit multiple times, before making a purchase, means that likelihood that they’ll deal with more than one salesperson, is high. Instead of resolving which salespersons split the commission or who’s on the front half, have every salesperson become supportive of all sales and all clients. Commission the department, rather than the person. You may find that the salespeople begin to specialize, increasing sales efficiency. On may be best in test drives and early discussions, another excels at getting the paperwork/deal ready and others may be best at vehicle delivery and post-sales support. Unlike normal vehicle sales, you have to be prepared to let go of employees that aren’t contributing to the dealership’s success, rather that waiting for dwindling commissions to weed them out. This introduces some areas of contention between salespeople (like who gets the manufacturer bonuses, if they exist), but in the long run, your customers will enjoy the efficiency and you and your salespeople will appreciate the lack of contention..