SEMA Member News - May/June 2010

Stepping Stones

Research, Education and Reinforcement

By Zane Clark

  This 2009 Cadillac DTS features a Vogue Tyre and Rubber Company “Vintage Edition” package. It is typical of the type of restyling that allows a consumer to manifest self-expression. This type of differentiation drives the restyling industry and will sustain it.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Sage) 
The restyling industry represents a unique yet diverse segment that is predicated upon personal choice. By nature, restyling allows a consumer to manifest his style or self-expression. This differentiation drives the industry and will sustain it. It is impossible to mass-produce individual taste, so restylers must be cognizant of consumer trends and, more importantly, their psyches.

Consumers in today’s economy are motivated more by need than by want. Restyling is considered a luxury or an add-on that is not critical to the mechanical functionality of the vehicle, which necessitates a selling approach that is part consultative and part provocative.

Accessories are emotional purchases, and the psyche of a prospective customer must be nurtured through a process of research, education and reinforcement. In the car-dealer community, this process is the cornerstone of successful accessory integration and a fundamental component in creating a restyling-conducive culture.


The research phase of the restyling sale requires that seeds be planted. The initial goal of the salesperson is to investigate consumer patterns and to elicit feedback regarding accessories and equipped vehicles.

It is imperative to have representative vehicles equipped with various levels of trim. Despite the quality of a catalog and the tools available on the Internet, the best resource to emotionally engage a customer is the actual vehicle itself. If a customer can see it, touch it and feel it, he is more likely to buy it. The vehicle also allows a salesperson to gauge a customer’s interest and gain valuable feedback regarding the way it is styled.

Let’s assume that the customer is interested in a Cadillac DTS. As part of the process, the salesperson should walk the customer around to locate the vehicle that best matches his requirements. During this walk, the customer must be shown a restyled vehicle. The simple act of doing this will provide the salesperson with invaluable insight regarding the customer’s style and customization needs. This groundwork will begin to create a consumer mind-set that extends beyond the vehicle purchase itself.

Next, the salesperson must research customer buying trends by determining what equipment and options are on the vehicle he currently drives. This is critical because it allows the salesperson to build value propositions and to better understand customer likes and dislikes. For example, the customer’s current vehicle may be equipped with a sunroof, and the car he is looking to purchase may not have one. This discussion will yield pertinent information about use, quality and expectations—all of which can be used as closing tools.

Whether the customer’s current vehicle is loaded or stock, the indicators set forth by closely examining it will provide a firsthand understanding of his personality and buying patterns. More importantly, both aspects of the research phase actively keep customers engaged in the sales process.


The salesperson must build on the research phase to begin the process of education. It is essential to have a sales team that is knowledgeable about the products and services being offered. It is equally important to employ a team that possesses a high emotional IQ. These two characteristics allow the salesperson to formulate a sales strategy that best utilizes the information gained during the research stage.

Traditional solution-selling techniques suggest that the salesperson ask questions to identify needs. However, the salesperson can use an insightful hypothesis to provoke a response based on what he has learned through research. For example, rather than ask if the customer will regularly use a sunroof, the salesperson might say, “I know you would really miss the fresh air and view.” A provocative approach is important because it creates a dialogue, and subsequent conversations provide even greater insight.

The goal of education is not to overwhelm a customer with non-applicable data but to focus the sales presentation on known factors. In the research phase, the customer has identified his needs and wants. The education phase packages those needs and wants into a value proposition. In other words, the job of the salesperson in the education phase is to remind the customer of what he wants to buy.


The last phase in this process is reinforcement. As we mentioned earlier, accessory purchases are generally rooted in want rather than need and are emotional at the core. For this reason, the salesperson must transition from researcher and educator to comforter. People have a psychological need to be reassured, to be validated. This holds true when they are considering a want-based purchase.

Now that a relationship has been established and trust earned, the customer relies on the salesperson as a point of reference. Simple statements, such as “You are going to love that sunroof,” or “That sunroof is trouble free,” reassure the customer that he is making a sound buying decision. In simple terms, people are motivated by either pain or pleasure. They will do what brings them pleasure and are averse to what brings pain or discomfort. Reinforcing a buying decision allows a customer to make the mental hurdle from consideration to consummation.

The process of research, education and reinforcement is rooted in the salesperson’s ability to listen. This practice, above all, is an inherent attribute of a salesperson who can close deals but, more importantly, provide exceptional service. By researching a customer’s wants, educating him on those wants and then reinforcing his wants, a salesperson is being a professional as opposed to an order taker.

Restyling reflects a personal choice. As such, we ought to find out what that choice is.