Monday, July 28, 2008

On the Lot

How does a car salesman hook a new customer? -by being a keen observer of social norms and human nature. How does a Master Facilitator ensure learning and transfer? – by being a keen observer of social norms and human nature. Have we become car salesmen?

No, they have become us! The skills of human dynamics and persuasion have long been a part of the “oldest profession” ( no, not THAT one - I mean teaching!)

The problem is, according to a Gallup poll, 95 percent of us believe car salesmen have low ethical standards. Twice as many people trust lawyers as car salesmen. That doesn’t bode well for skill sets that are shared by facilitators. What are they doing wrong and we are doing right? What can we learn from their amazing persuasive skills while maintaining the ethics of OUR profession?

Car Sales and Facilitation – the same or different?

Robert V. Levine, a California State University at Fresno psychologist, spent weeks as a car salesman while writing his book The Power of Persuasion. Here's some of what he's gleaned about car salesmen (in italics) and my comments on how we can improve the image of those skill sets in our classrooms…

The Low-Ball

Salesmen often lure customers by quoting an impossibly low price over the phone. When the customer arrives, the "low-baller" excuses himself—to the bathroom, a phone call or family emergency—leaving a second salesperson to explain that the first had misquoted the price. The key is that once on the lot, the likelihood of that person buying increases by 30%.

In our classrooms, we often “jazz” up our course titles to enhance their appeal – a good idea that gets our reluctant learners in the door – where we differ from the example above, is that we still have to deliver. Once we get a learner into a classroom, we become responsible for their safety in the learning process – we MUST deliver on the advertised “price”..

Common Ties

Successful salesmen try to latch onto anything they have in common with the buyer, such as a link to the buyer's job or college.

As a facilitator, we need to stop espousing our credentials and emphasizing just how different we are from the learner – here is where we learn from the car salesman that we need to actively seek commalities and build our relationship based on those, not our resume!

Sensing the Vibe

If attempts at a personal connection have failed, smart salespeople bump the customer to a colleague. If there's a sale, they'll split the commission.

We know that emotion and engagement are key to adult learning, if we can’t build a personal bridge to our learners, we need to make sure that the emotion and engagement comes from somewhere. We cant just bump the learner to a colleague (although there is something to be said about the value of teaching in duos), but we can change our instructional style in the moment and help those learners make other connections to facilitate their learning, even if its from within the classroom or with their classmates.

Never Let Them Say No

A major tenet of auto sales: Never ask a customer a question that can be answered with a "no." It stops the sales pitch in its tracks. Instead of asking if a customer is interested in a particular model, a savvy salesman might ask, "Do you prefer the economic four-cylinder or the power of the six-cylinder?"


Stall and Then Stall Some More

A good salesman will eat up as much time as possible, rattling off safety features and crisscrossing the car lot. As the minutes tick by, many buyers feel guilty about walking away. Not only would they have wasted the salesperson's time, but they may regret having wasted their own time.

For our learners, bring them into the material early on by focusing on practical, useable tips that they can immediately apply and gain personal benefit from. If you get your learners engaged within 20 minutes, they will not “drop out” later – wither mentally or physically as they will feel they have invested a lot already.

The Key Swap

Giving the customer the keys mentally prepares the buyer for the sale. A dealership may even "lend" the car for a weekend. Buyers rarely give the car back. Alternatively, a dealer may try to get you to hand him your keys, hoping you'll feel you've already traded in the old car.

Give your learners the key. Instead of spending the whole class talking about what they “should do", “when” – get them active and behind the wheel of the new information or skills early on and then test drive – even if it means breaking training into several short sessions where they try out new learning back on the job between classes – these “test drives” helps them feel “safe behind the wheel;” when it is time to walk off the lot with their accumulated new learning.

Point of No Return

If a customer agrees to a test drive, salesmen know they've probably sold the car. By then the customers have spent so long on the car lot that they tell themselves that if they don't go through with the purchase, they'll have to go through the process all over again.

If your learners agree to give you their time and attention and you get them actively engaged in trying our new ways of doing things (the “test” drive) and they have both successes and failures where they get to try again – research shows they will attempt to apply at least 30% (and up to 90%) of what they have learned when back on the job.

Buy the car but remember the salesman

If we learn and apply the skills of appropriate persuasion with the single intent of helping our learners become more effective at work, they will “buy the car”. If we do it without leaving any fingerprints, they may just come back for a second vehicle.

Here’s a real life story from a new car buyer after the salesman made his price offer…

I told him, “This isn’t fair. I’ve spent all this time getting ready for a big fight, and you’re asking for less than my worst offer would have been.” And what he told me was that he makes a lot of his money off of repeat buyers like me, and that while he doesn’t intend to lose money on the deal, he wants to reward that kind of loyalty with the best deal he can make. And I believe him.
(Afterwards I looked at a bunch of sites where people list how much they spent on their new car, and I got a better deal than any of them.)

So here’s my advice: if you’re buying a Honda, go to Brown’s Honda City and ask for Ken King. Actually, you might want to call ahead and schedule a test drive - he gets that many repeat customers. He’s fair, he’s low pressure, and he’ll make you wish you’d never shopped anywhere else.

Here’s a real life story from an adult learner in a leadership class.

I told my boss what I told you - “This isn’t fair. I came in here prepared for a fight – I was sure you were going to try to tell me I had to be a different person to be a good leader. But you’re telling me I am fine the way I am and just have to find my strengths in leadership?” and then I told him what you said – that I owned the learning not you and your job was to make sure I got to be the best I could be – and not a cookie cutter version of a “theory of leadership”.

(Afterwards, I looked at a bunch of sites on leadership where people talk about the traits and characteristics of good leaders – and some of mine where on there – and I got a better deal on figuring it out tan any of them. You made me do the work but it was worth it.)So my advice to my colleagues is, if you want corporate training that makes sense and where you actually learn something, take a course from Janet Dean – she’s’ fair, makes you work hard but is low pressure, and you will wish you never took any course from anyone else.”

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