When you hear the term “salesman” what comes to mind? For many people, we picture a shady looking character in a polyester suit with his slicked straight back. We’ve all experienced being “sold at.” This is where a sales person pushes and pushes without ever listening to our real needs. They have one goal, sell. The thing is, consumers have more powerthan ever before. There are more choices and options that allow us to avoid such terrible experiences. Sales are still extremely important, but our approach has to change to meet today’s consumer.

I recently had the wonderful pleasure of shopping for a new car, well, a minivan. My wife did her homework and looked up all of the available options in our home town. One Saturday we visited a few local dealerships to see our options.

The first stop was a smaller dealership. The staff was nice, helpful and not pushy. The vans were clean, and aside from a smaller selection to check out, it wasn’t a bad experience. The car salesman took a customer centric approach, and the result was a pleasant experience. We didn’t end up purchasing, but we didn’t have bad feelings.

Next up was a larger dealership. The second we parked it was as if our car was surrounded by sharks. Thankfully we called ahead, but just getting out and having to walk through the salesman gauntlet left both my wife and me feeling dirty. We could just feel their need for a quick sale.

To make matter worse, the person who was “helping” us clearly didn’t care about our needs. The cars we were shown were dirty, smelled bad and all the sales lady wanted was her commission. Needless to say, we did not buy a vehicle and left feeling defeated, annoyed and frustrated.

Later that day my wife went and found a van she liked. She called, and the sales lady placed it on hold and had it shipped to the location nearest to us. It was fast, easy and she actually listened to the needs of my wife and put two more similar vans on hold for us.

Later that week we drove to the closest CarMax, about one and a half hours away to view the vehicles. Right from the start, the experience was different. The first thing we received was a greeting, not a sales pitch. They listened, showed us the vehicles and even gave us an estimate on the trade-in for our current car from them and a third party. It was one of the most pleasant sales experiences I have ever had.

We ended up purchasing a van and felt great about the whole decision. Not only did we get a fair price, but we also didn’t have to argue or play the numbers game. CarMax prices the cars to sell. As a marketer and inbound sales person, I was taking the whole experience in. CarMax understood us. They knew what we wanted and created an experience to meet our needs.

Below are three key lessons I learned about sales from my experience with CarMax:

From Personas to People

One of the first exercises we do when creating a new marketing campaign is building personas. This is to help make sure that our messaging is on target and that we reach our designated audience. But we can’t stop using this knowledge once we are in a sales position. If anything, we need it more.

As a lead moves along their journey developing into a SQL (sales qualified lead), we collect valuable information about them and their needs. This is not just to qualify them, but to also help us tailor our solution to meet their needs. Our persona becomes personified in our SQL. We have to transition from telling a story to a persona and begin telling our story to a person.

Emotion and Logic

There are two forces at the core of every decision we make; emotion and logic. If these two forces are at odds with one another, it creates tension. When it comes to purchasing something, if we are feeling this tension we either don’t buy, or if we do, we have regret.

Sales are about meeting customers needs. If you want to build a tribe of loyal customers, you must be able to help them align both their emotional and logical reasons to buy. This means you have to listen to them and pick up on why they want/need what you are offering. You need to empathize with them and help them align themselves.

Follow Through is Huge

Trust is the currency of today’s economy. If we can’t trust the people we are doing business with; we will go somewhere else. Building trust usually takes time. With CarMax, it began with my wife’s first phone call about the cars. The sales lady listened, empathized and made the process easy. This took stress off my wife, which took stress off me.

You build trust with follow-through. It doesn’t matter what your promise, if there is no follow-through trust cannot be established. From the get go, CarMax explained their process and was very transparent. This eliminated any surprises and again made the process stress free.

The sales process has changed. Users have more options than ever and aren’t afraid to try new things. But sales are still a human process. While you can buy pretty much anything online without speaking to a human, most large purchases still involve conversation. Whether you’re an online company or a brick and mortar location, I believe we can learn a lot from the way CarMax approaches sales. By putting people back at the center, we all win.