Opinion: Anchoring Helps Avoid Conversational Drama

A picture of Jered Sobel

This summer, my first child was born, which is quite exciting! We had a healthy baby girl, and a healthy mother, which is as much as anyone could ask for.

For a couple weeks, I was able to spend more time at home as our baby worked on adjusting to the world. I also spent some time watching TV shows my wife likes.

She enjoys The Bachelor and family-style dramas. Although I loved the time with my new family, the shows kept bothering me as they unfolded. I could not help but notice a pattern…no one seemed to ask the right question for the TV characters’ situation.

As an example, the star-crossed lovers never seemed to have their timing right regarding communication. A character would make a statement or ask a question that led the show’s cast on a journey to deal with an issue that entertained viewers but inherently prevented any resolution. The communication allowed a full story to unfold. The characters miscommunication and misdirected questions led to the drama. Just when the couples were getting along, they would erupt into a fight. The show ends with the couple eventually talking and resolving the conflict created by the miscommunication.

In a crime show, a suspect is often hooked up to a polygraph machine but is never asked the single perfect question that would instantly solve the murder. Granted, instantly solved murders would make for poor TV programming with little entertainment value.

Of course, I saw the family-style sitcom husband who comes home from work and asks, “Is dinner ready yet?” knowing full well the sitcom wife has spent her day overwhelmed with countless things and is barely managing to survive the day. The wife then takes offense at the miscommunication and drama ensues.

In all the shows, the characters’ miscommunication created the drama that stretched a base storyline beyond a mere five minutes into a complete TV program. These shows resonate with the audience because we can all, in some part, relate to the situations, miscommunication and drama depicted on them.

Unlike the TV shows, no RV dealership needs more drama. Quality communication is a major problem for RV salespeople, which is interesting considering how successful salespeople pride themselves on their customer service skills. Asking the right questions, phrased properly, saves time and money, builds trusting customer relationships and generates not only sales but also happy customers.

To better understand the customer’s responses to the salesperson’s questions, we have to scrutinize those inquiries. As we look at the questions, we will examine the concept of “anchoring.”

Anchoring centers around the influence a question’s phrasing has on the answer given. To better serve our customers, we must use proper anchoring throughout our sales presentations.

In a well-delivered presentation, anchoring has many positive benefits: It can relax defensive customers, help consumers share shopping budgets, determine whether a buyer has a trade-in and sell from stock. We can also use anchoring to explain why some products cost more, increase down payments, uncover a customer’s concern, set appointments and handle service issues.

We recognize customers will sometimes mistrust salespeople because of a poor experience at different store, or they may feel unease because they are out of their comfort zone. The correct use of anchoring can prevent customers from feeling they must be dishonest. Poor-quality service from salespeople in how and what they communicate often triggers dishonesty. Miscommunication may arise in the meet-and-greet or in the poor explanation, if one is provided at all, of how salespeople are trained to help.

Either way, we must ask quality questions, early and often, so customers will give accurate information. By doing so, we can provide better service to customers.

To make the point clearly, we can analyze three questions salespeople commonly ask in the product selection step.

  1. What would you like your payments to be?

This is not the best use of the anchoring communication style. The phrasing has too many possible answers that all create other unique problems. The consumer might respond with any of the following:

  1. “What do you think my payments would be on this product?”
  2. “As low as possible!”
  3. “The same as my last RV!”
  4. “We want our payments to be $250 per month.”

Because of the question’s wording, the salesperson could expect any canned or defensive answer they may have heard before. With the current inventory availability and subsequent price increases, a salesperson has limited choices of presentable products. The customer may never have the opportunity to purchase what they can really afford.

  1. What are your current monthly payments on your RV?

Again, this is not the best use of anchoring. If we are asking a question about current monthly payments, we may as well be on a proverbial TV dating show: the one where a small insignificant detail distracts the contestant, and they then forget why they are on the show in the first place.

To put it bluntly, the question is irrelevant, makes no sense and is the perfect example of negative anchoring. The customer probably wants to purchase a product that is bigger, nicer, newer and costs more money than their trade-in is worth. That is why they are talking with the salesperson about a new purchase. They may have very little for a down payment or owe more on their trade than it is worth.

Therefore, keeping the customer’s current monthly payments on a new purchase is often impossible. Why would we ever want to lead the customer to believe otherwise?

  1. So, I don’t waste your time showing you the wrong RV, as far as your monthly payments, were you thinking you wanted to be $500-$550 per month, $550-$600, $700, $800, $1,000 per month range?

This is strong anchoring that provides critical information to help the salesperson better understand the customer. The customer will probably stop you long before you get to the top monthly payment range.

Expect an answer such as, “Whoa! I can only afford $500 per month!” or “I was only thinking about $450 to $500.”

You now effectively discovered the customer’s budget and can give a principle-centered presentation and clear communication, showing them only those units they can afford.

With anchoring, expect the customer to select the lowest number that drops either your mouth or their budget!

Today’s marketplace features ever-changing inventory and constant price increases. In that atmosphere, discovering your customers’ true budget is as important as ever. By doing so, whichever vehicles you show to customers, you will be under their budgets.

If one big gross-making technique carrying over from pre-pandemic, through the pandemic, and post-pandemic exists, anchoring is the one. Properly phrasing your questions concerning budgets enables you to help the customer now, on a product that fits all parties involved.

The constant issue we see in TV and the movies is poor communication, leading to wrong or irrelevant information and the drama that follows. Though watching the characters on screen is entertaining, knowing the miscommunication is directly heading toward a boiling point is not entertaining in real life.

No one can overstate the importance of increasing communication quality between salespeople and their customers. Anchoring may be the single most effective way to grow your gross profit, your volume and your customer service all at the same time.

Work to avoid TV drama in your business. Help your customers share everything accurately up front. Then, you can do your best work for them without the stress.

Jered Sobel serves as faculty at Sobel University, a company dedicated to training top dealerships and salespeople around the country. His previous experience includes working as a dealership salesperson, hiring dealer staff and working as a general sales manager.

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