Auto Dealers Need To Employ Active Listening

Auto dealerships whose salespeople employ “active listening” have a higher chance of closing the deal, according to a study by Marchex.

Gone are the days of walking lots and kicking tires. Most shopping happens online. Enticing a customer to take the final step and show up in person at a dealership has become increasingly difficult.

The phone call, which historically played a small part in the purchase process, has become a “moment of truth” critical to dealership success, according to Marchex. 

From a customer’s point of view, the act of buying a car is stressful. Customers are often put off by slow or nonexistent answers to contact requests or the difficulty in getting ahold of a salesperson once they arrive at the dealership.



Consumers are calling much later in the purchase process, meaning that handling inbound calls is much more critical to the path to purchase than ever before.

The report analyzed 6,200 sales conversations during January from auto dealerships across the United States. The study identified key behaviors that successful auto salespeople use in calls.   

Top-performing salespeople actively listened to callers 179% more often than bottom performers — a practice that leads to more visits to dealerships and ultimately more sales.

Top performers — defined in the report as the top 25% of salespeople — relied on active-listening techniques, such as repeating and clarifying information. According to the study, top performers then used that information to provide callers with more relevant recommendations.

As the final installment of a three-part series on call handling at auto dealerships, this study benchmarked the specific goal of the salespeople relative to the outcomes of their conversations, which was to get inbound callers to schedule an appointment to either look at a car or take a test drive.

Top sales performers requested the caller’s name 163% more often than bottom performers, and provided their direct contact information to callers 40% more often than bottom performers. They also got the caller’s contact information and laughed during more than half of their calls, which kept the calls positive and helped the caller to feel relaxed.

The data is especially critical today, when dealer visits are at an all-time low, says Matt Muilenburg, head of automotive at Marchex.

“Taking the time to listen and create these high-value experiences increases customer visits to dealerships and ultimately leads to more sales,” Mullenberg states.

The report also found that asking about the caller’s needs and preferences leads to more successful outcomes. Top performers asked callers about their needs 57% more often than lower-performing salespeople. 

Top performers often asked questions that actively engaged callers about their preferences, such as: “Did you need third-row seating?” and “Are you wanting leather seats?” Such questions help guide sales conversations and provide the caller with more comprehensive information, the report found.

Dealerships that value the caller experience give themselves an edge over dealerships that don’t, since callers can simply hang up and find a dealership that will answer their questions, according to the report. Dealers who take proactive steps to optimize inbound phone calls know the conversation is key.

“Understanding and empathy drive sales,” added Muilenburg. “This data helps dealers understand how to deliver empathy at critical moments and capture the interests of the customer over the phone.”

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