Although dealers may think they know what is going on in their stores, the reality is that no one knows without talking to customers or, better yet, talking to customers who end up elsewhere.
In my last column, I shared a conversation I had with two women who were shopping for a car for their business.
At an international-brand dealership, they encountered a salesman that talked too much about his personal life and not enough about the products they were interested in. At a domestic-brand store, a nail-biting saleswoman repeatedly asked if they were going to buy that day.
There are lessons here for us all. Here is the conclusion of their story.
The liked the cars they looked at. An import had a smooth ride and quiet interior. But they thought it would have been nice to try features, such as the navigation system, even though the salesman didn’t think they could afford it.
“The strange part of it is that if we bought that car we would have got the navigation systems, as we always need directions to meetings and events,” one of the women says.
“The domestic was beautiful, but not as comfortable as we’d hoped. It felt really big and hard to control, so even though the saleswoman offered to let us play with the features, we had to concentrate just on driving.”
It seems as though they narrowed down their decision. I asked if either salesperson helped them decide.
Not at the import store. He already had decided they were just shoppers and not buyers.
“After the test drive, we got out of the car and all stood there,” one woman says. “It was awkward. We finally asked if the car came in other colors. The salesman led us to the reception area and asked us to wait while he got us a brochure.
“He came back after a few minutes saying he didn’t have a brochure, but we could find more information on the website, and gave us one business card between us.
“We noticed it didn’t have a URL, so we asked. He wrote down the manufacturer’s web address – not the dealer’s.”
Wait a minute. He directed them away from the dealership?
“Yes. On top of that, I can’t believe that in a multimillion-dollar building, with all these people and all these cars, he didn’t have a computer terminal where he could show us a color chart.”
On the other hand, the saleswoman at the domestic store asked what colors and features the women liked. But then she pushed different options, colors and even models, ones she described as top sellers.
“Sounds like neither one focused on your needs,” I said.
“Neither cared about us or about really selling us the car we wanted or needed,” said one of my friends. “We were never asked about our trade, our price range or shown anything but the reception area.
They felt the import-store salesman didn’t take them seriously. If they had bought there, it would have been in spite of the salesperson. He seemed more interested in talking about his girlfriend. He made lots of assumptions, never asking what they wanted.
“He talked down to us,” one woman says. “I hate to say it, but it felt like he didn’t take us seriously because we were women. The saleswoman at the domestic store knew we wanted to buy a car, but she seemed to have her own agenda. And she was distracted or nervous, like she really wasn’t sure how to go to the next step.”
I asked if there anything good about the shopping experience.
“We really liked the import dealership as a whole,” says one of the business partners. “It was clearly new and well-kept, even though it was a bit cold in terms of décor, and the cars were truly luxurious. If we were given the chance, we would have bought a car there.”
They got the car they wanted, but not at either of those dealerships. They went to a store down the road they hadn’t initially considered visiting. They’re glad they ended up there.
“They were intent on helping us find a car that met our needs,” says one woman. “They showed us around and introduced us to the manger, the service manager, the finance guy. It felt like we were really important guests in their home.”
Here is the point: Two financially independent career women, people who represent the front line of customers for virtually every retail establishment, were turned off by two dealerships they proactively sought out.
These dealerships spend lots of money trying to attract this type of buyer, only to have salespeople blow it and drive customers to a competitor.
This should serve as a vivid reminder to every sales manager and retail business owner that the people who represent the store on the front line directly affect your bottom line.
In the import store, the women were not taken seriously enough by the salesman even to be shown a color chart. They were taken more seriously at the domestic dealership, but the saleswoman there only wanted to sell vehicles she was interested in.
Although dealership principals and managers may think they know what is going on in their stores, the reality is that no one really knows unless they are “shopping” their stores, talking with customers or, better yet, talking with customers who end up elsewhere.
Richard F. Libin is president of Automotive Profit Builders. He can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-9200 or www.apb.cc.