Opinion: Just Be Real

A picture of Greg Artman

One of the first things my mentors taught me years ago when teaching me how to be a great salesperson was just to be real.

That seemed simple enough.

The new-hire training program I went through required that we observe the actual RV sales process after the weeklong classroom training. We spent time observing and shadowing the most seasoned and experienced RV salespeople in action. We watched the whole process, from greeting the customers arriving on the dealer lot to negotiating and closing the deal.

The sales professionals spoke to their customers using a natural conversational style. There was no pitch, just everyday people discussing transportation needs with a transportation specialist.

These experts could present the vehicle for sale with ease, addressing customers’ concerns and questions. The sales staff used effective closing techniques that seemed natural to them. The sales numbers on the board at the end of each day proved the professionals were masters of the “just be real” philosophy.

The rest of the week we observed the delivery process, which included turning over the negotiated deal to the business office, conducting the final walkthrough and introducing clients to the service department.

I found the business office—the sales operations center—the most interesting aspect. Here, we watched everything come together. The business manager was a seasoned professional who worked well with the customers and was successful. When we asked him about the key to his success in the business office, he replied, “Just be real.”

That phrase and philosophy stuck with me and has been a baseline I have tried to share throughout my career.

Some readers may think this just-be-real philosophy is a cliché. One would hope so, but from my experience on countless dealership lots, the tactic seems less than commonplace.

During my years working within dealerships across the country—in auto, powersports, RV or marine—sales and business managers always ask for one “magic close” or “word track pitch” to close deals. My response always has been, “You are in the people business, and you have to move peoples’ perception of value.” You do that by just being real.

First Establish Trust

This time of year, business managers are working as if they are drinking from a fire hose. Add in a crazy post-Covid season, inventory issues chasing VINs, delivery schedules, bank calls and more, and the fire hose is wide open.

I conducted a Zoom training session with a business manager who had a little more than one year of experience in the position. He was adamant I provide a “quick close” regarding extended service agreements that will work on everyone. I said no such thing existed and instructed him to just be real and try not to sell or pitch to the customer.

I reminded him he was in the RV industry, and his skill set was in the people business. His responsibilities were to establish a professional relationship based on trust. Until he could gain customers’ trust, he would continue to have an uphill climb every time.

After trust is established, however, the customer’s confidence will make presenting solutions easier and increase your penetrations. After he countered with several reasons why he needed a “magic close” or “pitch,” he sighed and finally opened up to a different sales tactic.

I shared ways to help him create value and confidence when presenting an extended service agreement. We then worked on a value-driven interview process using a just-be-real approach.

He started to understand how customers do not want to be “sold.” He committed to investing more time asking more effective trust-building questions and focusing on understanding what consumers do and do not know about their new unit’s warranty.

Interview Questions

We developed a better interview process that would plant the seed, and create the need, so he could provide value-driven F&I solutions.

Does the customer understand what the manufacturer’s limited warranty is and what it covers? Most do not. Explain what “limited” really means.

Are they aware that no benefits are provided for towing, trip interruption, roadside assistance, and such? Do they understand why manufacturers offer only a 12- or 24-month limited warranty, rather than a term closer to the average ownership time of 4.6 years? I instructed the F&I manager to give his customers the answer. The RV manufacturer does not want that expense or exposure, and therefore passes the exposure on to the customer.

Is your customer familiar with the posted labor rate in your shop? How will inflation over the next few years affect shop labor rates? Just be real and make them aware. Explain that labor rates are not standard nationwide, and customers will be at the market’s mercy while traveling. In some markets, the rates average more than $200 an hour.

Are customers aware most dealerships have more than a two-week service backlog, with many bottlenecks waiting on parts? How will inflation affect parts prices during the next few years? Tell customers this is not a franchised auto dealership with a room filled with parts. Most RV parts must be ordered and shipped.

Present value-driven solutions, then ask for the sale.

“We offer a program that will help to eliminate your exposures of ownership as well as provide peace of mind,” you can say. “This will secure today’s parts prices and labor rates against increases during the next few years. It will pay the labor rates for repairs regardless of the market you are in. If your unit is in a shop overnight on a camping trip that is more than 50 miles from your home waiting on parts, you will be reimbursed for meals and lodging. Another great benefit is that your labor rate is reduced if you return to the selling dealership for repairs. Would $100 or $250 deductible be best?”

We continued and developed more questions. Remember, the definition of sales is a transaction that takes place when perceived value exceeds the cost by one cent.

Happy selling and just be real.

Greg Artman is the national training manager for Diversified Insurance Management, a Higginbotham company. He spent more than 20 years in the automotive, RV, powersports and marine industries as a finance training and management representative, of which the last 16 years have been with Diversified Insurance Management. He worked as management in numerous dealerships.

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