Successful Sales Strategies Series (Part I): How to greet and initially treat customers

Following is the first of a three-part series:

By Bob Clements

During the past few years, I have devoted most of my articles in Outdoor Power Equipment toward service, parts and marketing issues in dealerships. After talking with OPE Editor Steve Noe last year about the 2011 editorial lineup, we decided to devote the February, March and April issues to the wholegoods side of the dealership and focus specifically on sales and sales-related ideas. It was exciting to me because although our expertise at Bob Clements International is in creating high-performance service and parts departments, I started my company almost 25 years ago by training both retail and outside salespeople. As a matter of fact, about half of all my speaking engagements today are to salespeople outside of the OPE industry, sharing ideas with them on how they can reach a higher level of performance and profitability.

During this three-part series, we are going to be looking at ways to ramp up the sales side of your dealership and take advantage of your marketing and sales efforts to bring potential customers through your doors.

In this article, I want to cover the various steps to the selling process and the importance of working to refine the selling skills of you and your salespeople to close more business. In March OPE, we will spend time discussing the demonstration/presentation process and various ways to overcome objections like price or competition. I will conclude the series in April OPE by focusing on negotiation and closing techniques that will help to improve your margins.

People buy people — not mowers or string trimmers

If you knew everything you could possibly know about all the equipment you carry and all the competitive equipment you deal with on a daily basis, it would make sense that you would make more sales, wouldn’t? Well, you would think that would be the case, but it is actually far from the truth. One of the most basic and fundamental things you need to understand about the selling process is that people buy people first and equipment later. I am not saying that you don’t need to know about your equipment, but it is more important to believe in it than it is to know about it. Customers know the difference between a salesperson and a true believer. The more passion you have for the products you sell, the more equipment you will sell at a higher margin.

Defining the sales process

If you have read my past articles, you will know that I believe to have a successful dealership, you have to have good processes, and the better you are at defining and refining those processes, the more money you will make. Just as there is a defined process for service and parts, there is also a process for selling. In sales, the process begins with the greeting; flows into qualification, which builds into the presentation; and concludes with negotiation and closing. Let’s focus on the first three elements of the process: greeting, qualification and presenting.


The first few minutes of your initial contact with a customer are crucial. Like building a house on a cracked foundation, it’s a lot more difficult to have a positive sales experience if you don’t start out on the right foot. Based on the initial moments of the greeting, impressions will be formed quickly, a tone will develop, chemistry will or won’t develop, and the foundation for the rest of your interactions with the customer will be established. Keep in mind that we all form almost instantaneous subjective judgments about people we meet; once they are formed, they are hard to change. This is bad news if your first impressions are weak. But it’s great news if your first impressions are strong.

As customers enter your dealership, your goal is to create an environment that makes them feel comfortable. Comfort is the key to creating a strong, positive, first impression. Don’t approach customers too quickly. Let them have a moment to acclimate themselves to your showroom and then approach them and say something like, “Welcome to our dealership. My name is Bob. I work here. If you have any questions or I can help you in any way, just let me know. I will be over here.” Point to the spot or area where you will be, pause for a moment, and give them a chance to respond. If they say “thanks,” leave them alone for a while — they are not ready to interact with you. Give them time to settle in. On the other hand, if they ask a question, you can engage them and begin the qualification process.

Before we address the qualification process, I have a couple of quick points. As you approach customers in the greeting process, pay particular attention to their facial expressions. If a customer enters your dealership and you notice that person’s eyebrows are down and mouth is tight, the customer is on a mission and wants to get in and get out with no warm and fuzzy talk. Move fast; get to the point. On the other hand, if a customer comes in with eyebrows up and a nice smile or grin, then that person is more of a relational buyer and will appreciate a slower approach and the opportunity to move at his or her own pace. Once customers settle in, your goal is to re-engage them and begin the transition from greeting to the next phase of the selling process in which you will begin to build rapport and ask the questions that will lead to your presentation.


In most cases, if you give customers time to “settle in,” they will begin to “settle on” what it is that compelled them to walk into your dealership. This “settle on” time is important for customers because it gives them a sense of control. Keep in mind that people build up a natural wall of defense when they walk into a sales situation, and the more you allow them to “settle in” and “settle on” what they want, the less you seem like a salesperson, which is a good thing from the customers’ perspective. As you transition from the greeting to the qualification process, you will want to focus your efforts on building rapport.

Rapport is the sense or feeling that customers have in the selling process that makes them believe you have things in common with them. The more they feel you are like them, the more open they will be with you as you begin asking the questions that will lead you to show or demonstrate the equipment they are considering purchasing. The most effective way to build rapport in the beginning is not by jumping in and asking questions, but to first physically stand the way they are standing; 55 percent of all the rapport you are going to build is based upon how your body position and posture are similar or different to that of your customer. I always recommend to salespeople that they literally stand the way the customer is standing before actually talking to them. If you walk up to a customer who is leaning up against the ROPS on a zero-turn mower, the best thing you can do initially is to walk to the other side of the mower, lean up against the ROPS, and then ask a question. If the customer is standing in front of the handheld display with arms crossed looking at a chain saw, walk up beside that customer, cross your arms, look for a brief moment at the chain saws, and then ask a question. This process of “mirroring” the customer is one of the fastest ways to get a customer to subconsciously feel the two of you are alike.

Remember, the more you are like your customers — in every aspect — the more they will like you. If they like you, they will want to buy from you. When people enter your dealership, they have already decided to buy. By coming into your dealership, they are trying to decide what to buy and if they want to buy it from you. Remember, you are the product in the beginning, so sell yourself and everything else will fall into place.

Ask the right questions

The best approach to selling is asking good questions, and then listening intently to the answers. Selling is not about talking well; it’s the ability to gather information, consolidate it, and provide a helpful solution. Customers want to talk! They want to tell you about their “world,” their “unique” problems, and themselves! Even if you’ve heard it a million times before and you know what they are going to say before they say it, let them talk. Customers buy from you based more on how well you listen than on how well you talk.

The questions you are going to begin asking will allow customers to help you present them with the right solution that they would be willing to buy. At this point in the selling process, you become like a detective, hunting for facts that will help you solve the crime, or in this case, close the sale. The first question I encourage salespeople to ask is, “Are you considering a ‘mower, chain saw or string trimmer’ to replace what you have; looking for one to add to what you already have; or is this the first one that you are considering investing in?” This initial question will set up my next series of questions and, if I do my job and listen intently to what they are saying, give me the ability to do a presentation that focuses specifically on what they will be ultimately willing to purchase.

I want to pause for a moment and break that question down, so that you understand exactly what I am trying to accomplish. By asking if they are replacing or adding to what they have, I can follow up with questions that give me important insight into what they like or dislike about what they currently have, as well as what they would change or improve on if they could turn back time and buy what they currently own. Every bit of information will add to my ability to lead them to the right product, at the right price point, and help me close the sale faster.

You will notice on the third part of my initial question, I asked, “Is this the first one you are considering investing in?” I purposely avoided the word “buying” and instead used the word “investing,” because when people think about buying something, they focus more on price than on value. If I focus them on investing in a “mower, string trimmer or chain saw,” they begin to think more long term and price becomes less of a factor. It also allows me to begin the setup of selling an extended service package or program with the equipment to help improve my margins.

As you ask questions in this stage of the process, make sure you ask, “Who other than yourself would be involved in making a final decision on this?” and “What timeframe are you looking at as you consider making this type of investment?” Both questions will give you the ability to sharpen your focus. If the customer says, “I need to bring my wife in because she will also be using the mower,” you know she is the final decision maker and want to do a presentation to the customer to get him excited about bringing his wife in so you can present to them both at the same time.

In part two, our focus will be on moving from the qualification process into the demonstration/presentation process and on how to deal with the most common objections that come up as you move the customer toward the closing sequence. Focus your energy over the next few weeks on your greeting and qualification, and watch your sales soar!

 Bob Clements is the president of Bob Clements International, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in the development of high-performance dealerships. His organization works hands on with dealerships throughout North America, helping them attain the personal freedom and financial wealth all owners strive to achieve. For more information, contact Bob Clements at (800) 480-0737 or or visit his Web site at

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