We have opined in these pages before about how for every Tesla sold in America, there are two or three glowing stories written about the electric automaker. There are days when over 50 percent of the pieces on auto industry news feeds are about Tesla, which is not bad for a company capturing 0.1 percent of the U.S. automobile market. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is truly a marketing and public relations genius.
Given that, it is fascinating when a negative story surfaces about Tesla’s way of doing business and the slobbering media is strangely silent.
A customer study conducted by research firm Pied Piper Management Company revealed that Tesla dealers are dead last in converting prospects into buyers. Labeling Tesla sales representatives as “museum curators,” PPMC calls Tesla out for not asking questions about prospects’ driving habits and how they plan to use their new vehicle, as well as their inability to ask for the sale. PPMC noted that the fact that many Tesla outlets are not able to offer test drives, which also contributed to the poor ranking.
Said PPMC chief Fran O’Hagan:
“Dealerships that sell proactively — think of them as doing everything they can to be helpful to a car-shopper — not only end up selling a lot more vehicles, they also end up with happy shoppers and customers. On the other hand, customers don’t usually mind the ‘museum curator’ dealerships, with courteous salespeople who answer questions but do nothing to proactively sell. The difference is that the ‘museum curator’ dealerships end up much less successful; selling fewer vehicles … “
Say what you want about the current franchised dealer system, but what is wrong with showing interest in the customer, offering a demo drive and asking for the sale? It is not happening at Tesla outlets.
Mercedes-Benz backed up their up recent winning of the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index award by topping the PPMC survey. I can tell you from firsthand experience that Mercedes-Benz has tirelessly worked the past four years to change the culture of their dealerships’ sales operations and the top ranking shows their efforts are paying off.
The PPMC survey supports what we wrote in 2013: If Tesla wants to succeed in America they need to drop their direct sales strategy and join the traditional franchised dealer network by partnering with an established brand. If not, and their government subsidies dry up, Tesla will be a goner.
(As an aside, it is nice to see PPMC emerge as a potential competitor to long-time customer satisfaction surveying firm J.D. Power and Associates, a company despised by automakers. They complain that J.D. Power is a monopoly and that they charge outrageous fees to advertise winning an award. The sheer number of J.D. Power surveys about the automobile buying and ownership experience is so high that I expect to see this headline someday, “Jeep Wins J.D. Power Award For Customer Satisfaction For Windshield Wiper Stalk Operation During The First 47 Days Of Ownership.”)