US 6125356 Portable sales presentation system with selective scripted seller prompts
ABSTRACT – A handheld computer unit for use by, e.g., a car sales person (seller) prompts the seller with a standard script to be followed at each step in the process after a prospect enters a dealership. The prospect’s response to the scripted questions is used to identify the prospect’s particular interests of a general nature, e.g., safety, and of a specific nature, e.g., trailer towing capacity. When either a general or specific interest is identified, the seller is prompted to tailor the conversation to address the prospect’s interests. Among other things, the handheld unit can perform functions such as (i) permitting the seller to retrieve useful information such as inventory availability from a sales information data store; (ii) displaying option-sensitive prompts to aid the seller in discussing specific vehicles under consideration; (iii) accessing remote communications links to external data sources to obtain information on credit-worthiness of the prospect, financing terms, and availability; (iv) displaying motivational information such as the percentage likelihood of consummating the sale successfully; (v) providing a communications link with management personnel.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Source Code Appendix
The microfiche appendix filed herewith contains computer-program source code and database information for an illustrative implementation of the invention. The source code is copyrighted and is the property of the assignee of this application. Authorization is granted to make copies of the source code in conjunction with making facsimiles of this application and any patent(s) issuing thereon, but all other rights are reserved.
The cost of any goods or services that are sold include costs of marketing. Every item (tangible or intangible) that is sold has included in its costs, the costs of “selling” it. Millions of people are employed in “selling” and hundreds of millions of man-hours are expended in direct face-to-face “selling” every year in the United States. The cost of “selling” is every bit as real a part of the cost of an item or service as is the direct labor cost involved in manufacturing the item or providing the service.
It is generally estimated that less than 10 percent of a salesperson’s total time is spent actually “selling”–i.e. the direct face-to-face contact with a prospective buyer. Therefore the efficiency of the face-to-face sales process is directly related to the quality with which the face-to-face contact is carried out.
The present invention relates to a computer system that addresses some common information-flow problems in a large “industry,” namely the sales process. The computer system organizes specific information to assist salesmen or saleswomen (referred to generically as “sellers”) and management in making a presentation to a potential purchaser (“prospect”), in a methodical and consistent manner. Use of the system by a seller produces a number of practical benefits, including a more effective matching of the prospect’s needs to one or more specific products or services to the needs of the prospect, as well as faster determination of appropriate financing arrangements. This in turn results in a more satisfactory experience for the prospect and better on-the-job training for an inexperienced seller, both of which lead to more effective utilization of capital by the seller or his or her employer.
In a nutshell, the computer system reduces costs associated with selling, resulting in exactly the same benefits–lower cost and more effective utilization of capital–as systems which reduce costs associated with research, development, design, manufacturing, maintenance, etc.
Human-Factors Problems in Large-Volume Sales Organizations
The sales process can be usefully thought of as an interaction between a prospect and a seller. When performed correctly, the process comprises a logical series of exchanges of information between the seller and the prospect, between the seller and management, between management and a credit bureau, etc. The actual steps will vary depending upon the type of product and the industry, but the concept of the sales process being a sequence of definable information exchanges remains the same.
Historically, however, the actual process of selling, when done on a large scale, has been a disorganized one. Some people are thought of as “born sellers” and need little training to be effective. With suitable training, many other individuals can learn the sales process and achieve good results. In large sales organizations such as car dealerships, however, turnover is frequently high. As a result, it is often not possible to count on having a population of sellers who all either are born sellers or have had suitable training. That means that variations in natural ability and training lead to what amount to inefficiencies of scale, with a concomitant reduction in productivity.
Such inefficiencies are not inherent to large-scale sales. A significant weakness of selling on a large scale is the inability to enforce a certain measure of standardization of the sales process on large numbers of sellers so that they consistently utilize proven sales techniques.
Sales efficiency (defined here as the ratio between sales consummated to prospective buyers dealt with) improves dramatically when sellers record sufficiently complete data on sales prospects to achieve other goals, such as follow-up communication by phone or mail with those prospects that did not make a purchase, correct determination of closing ratios for each individual seller, or analysis of the advertising source that initially captured the prospect’s attention. Inefficient sellers can be given additional training or, if necessary, weeded out when correct determination of sales efficiency ratios for individual sellers can be made accurately, quickly, and with reduced overhead. Advertising efficiency (defined here as the ratio of advertising dollars spent to the gross sales volume produced) is enhanced by analyzing the advertising sources that initially capture prospect attention.
An illustration of the need for such a system can be seen in a car dealership, an area in which very large dollar volume sales occur and the sales process is sometimes poorly administered. In general, dealerships have several characteristics in common:
1. Due to less-than-perfect (or even virtually non-existent) pre-employment screening, dealerships may hire sellers that lack true sales proficiency, a problem in most types of retail sales operations.
2. Due to long hours, Saturday work days, and a poor industry image, car dealerships may suffer from high levels of personnel turnover, particularly in the sales departments (in which 100%+turnover per year is not uncommon).
3. Due to turnover, dealerships are faced with a constant re-training need, which in some cases is poorly accomplished.
4. Many dealerships hire experienced sellers from other dealerships on the assumption that they are good at what they do and do not require training, when in fact these experienced sellers may use very poor sales techniques.
5. Many dealerships refrain from hiring new, inexperienced sellers because they do not want to make an investment in training or suffer loss of productivity as a new seller comes up to speed.
6. Ironically, dealerships do not want to invest in sales training precisely because turnover is high and the investment would be “wasted” in their view. This tends to produce high failure rates among new sellers.
Prior Attempts at Standardizing the Sales Process
A scattered few vehicle manufacturers (e.g., Lexus, Infiniti, and Saturn) have spent large amounts of time and money attempting to improve the quality and consistency of procedures to if control the sales process. Dealerships that exert control over the vehicle sales process have in general been far more successful than those that have not. Many of these dealerships have elaborate pencil and paper control procedures. Some employ computerized systems, but as far as is known they record data only after the fact.
Despite the modest success of these procedures, direct real-time supervision of the sales process has long been recognized as difficult. To be effective, such supervision must take place where the sales presentations are made, i.e., in changing physical locations throughout the dealership, not at a desk or counter where a supervisor can observe. A sales manager’s presence during the conversations between the seller and the prospect, however, is likely to undermine the rapport-building that can be critical to the success of the sales process.
The problem is exacerbated by the need for ready communication between the seller and his or her manager, or “control desk.” Thus, the need for direct managerial supervision is simultaneously created and made more difficult by the nature of the business. The need is highlighted by the fact that, because considerable advertising dollars are invested in attracting new business to the dealership, each prospect that is handled less than optimally may represent a substantial lost profit opportunity.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A computer system in accordance with the present invention addresses many of these problems, including improvement, standardization, and enforcement of the sales process; efficient training of new sellers; and real-time control of the process by management. The system comprises one or more handheld computer units used by sellers that may be linked with a central computer unit. Each dealership decides the exact sequence that it would like its sellers to follow. The handheld unit then prompts the seller with a standard script to be followed at each step in the process after a prospect enters the dealership. The prospect’s responses to the scripted questions are used to identify the prospect’s motivation (e.g., safety) or specific interest (e.g., trailer towing capacity). Software switches can be used to indicate motivations or specific interests. The switches are monitored during the sales presentation. When a motivation or interest is identified, the handheld unit prompts the seller to introduce information corresponding to the identified interest